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Opponents of latest AR state tax cuts say they benefit wealthy Arkansans; Julian Assange agrees to a plea deal that would allow him to avoid imprisonment in US; Tech-based carbon-capture projects make headway in local government; NV nonprofit calls Biden's student debt initiatives economic justice.

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A Minnesota town claims the oldest rural Pride Festival while rural educators say they need support to teach kids social issues, rural businesses can suffer when dollar stores come to town and prairie states like South Dakota are getting help to protect grasslands.

Silencing dissent: Where can students debate Israel-Palestinian conflict?

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Friday, March 22, 2024   

As the Israel-Hamas conflict continues, students find it hard to freely express opinions as universities shut down groups due to political tensions and accusations of antisemitism.

John Ocampo, an undergrad at Florida State University, was part of Students for Justice in Palestine on campus, which no longer exists. He explained they faced challenges even before Gov. Ron DeSantis and the state system got involved.

He pointed out the group was not registered due to students being "doxed" on sites targeting people seen as anti-Israel or anti-Jewish.

"My email has been hacked, my CashApp, my WhatsApp, everything," Ocampo recounted. "That's what really discouraged people from continuing this, because our personal social medias, our personal lives, and even our bank accounts are all at risk."

Ocampo noted students pushing for peace or advocating for a ceasefire were unfairly labeled as "antisemitic." He highlights the case of Students for a Democratic Society, suspended after members chanted pro-Palestinian slogans at a Board of Trustees meeting in November. The university said it supports rigorous debate and assembly but students may not disrupt university business.

Will Hanley, associate professor of history at Florida State, said the clampdown affects both student organizations and his teaching of Middle Eastern History.

"I feel really restricted in what I can do," Hanley explained. "I certainly don't feel like I can organize talks or discussions where students will feel safe exploring ideas."

Hanley urged state education officials to foster environments where students can freely debate, make mistakes and engage in learning from diverse perspectives, regardless of agreement.

This week, University of South Florida students launched a hunger strike to protest the school's alleged investments in pro-Israel companies, a claim the university denies. Initially planned by Students for Socialism, the effort faced a cease-and-desist letter from university officials. So students came together with no affiliation to any campus group to hold the strike.

Ocampo acknowledged it is challenging to organize under such conditions.

"There's no set meeting space," Ocampo pointed out. "The places that you're at are not ideal, and it doesn't seem like it's a huge deal, but it really starts to fracture the organizing over time."

Students for Justice in Palestine on two Florida campuses have filed lawsuits after their closure. However, a federal judge denied injunctions on First Amendment grounds, stating students had not demonstrated chilled speech or imminent punishment. The legal challenges are ongoing.

References:  
Survey Hillel 11/20/2023

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