Texas Governor Orders Pro-Palestine Student Activists "Disciplined"
Date: 
April 09 2024
blog Series: 

Texas Governor Greg Abbott issued  Executive Order No. GA-44 on March 17, which proposes to address “acts of antisemitism in institutions of higher education.”

Abbott ordered Texas universities to review and update free speech policies to punish pro-Palestine organizing, which he deemed as “antisemitic speech and acts.” 

The order called for “appropriate punishments, including expulsion,” specifying that pro-Palestine student organizations such as the Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC) and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) be “disciplined for violating these policies.”  

National Students for Justice in Palestine, along with 11 Texas chapters of SJP and PSC, co-released a statement on Instagram responding to the governor’s decree on March 28. 

“We, the undersigned Palestine solidarity organizations on campus, recognize this mischaracterization of our political organizing as nothing less than arbitrary censorship of our just movement. We condemn the racist campaign being launched in violation of our state and federal constitutions and reaffirm our commitment to fight for the liberation of Palestine on our campuses and communities,” the statement read.

The statement also noted that Abbott has “leveraged the highest level of state action to suppress” the student movement in Texas and that this action exists in a larger continuum of national censorship of student organizers: 

“From Florida's illegal barring of SJPs, to Columbia University's dismissal of hate crimes against pro-Palestine students, to George Washington University's unjustly targeting of SJP leadership, and now Texas. United States institutions are trying to quell a political movement that is far larger than the sum of its parts.”

The statement identifies Abbott’s executive order as a distraction from the organizations’ “honest message” and from the ongoing genocide in Gaza. 

Ending with a simple plea to university administrators, the undersigned organizations call on their universities to “protect [their] student body and their constitutional rights.” 

The statement reminds university administrators of Abbott’s recent codification of the end of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) programs at state-funded universities, which resulted in the closure of DEI offices across the state, including the LGBTQ Resource Center at the University of Houston.

The student groups ask “people of consciousness” to reject Executive Order No. GA-44, and take action by signing a petition supporting their statement. 

The PSC and SJP chapters encourage students to remain unwavering in their efforts, and to resist distraction, calling on “neighbors” to defend the student movement steadfastly.  

Where Abbott’s Executive Order applies to state-funded universities, private institutions have legal flexibility that public universities do not. For example, following Abbott’s banning of DEI offices, Rice University’s LGBTQ+ student organization offered “honorary membership” to impacted students at nearby public universities.

However, private universities in Texas join their public counterparts in cracking down on pro-Palestine student and faculty organizing. 

Across Texas, campus offices of ‘equal opportunity’ have lately served as a mechanism of repression of pro-Palestine student and faculty voices, as Zionists use formal discrimination complaints alleging ‘antisemitism’ to revoke the free speech rights of organizers.  

On March 27, Rice University’s Office of Access, Equity, and Equal Opportunity ordered no vote to proceed on a student governance resolution that proposed the divestment of the Student Association funds from companies complicit in Israel’s genocide of Palestinians. 

“The no vote order goes against the majority will of the student body, who would have voted to pass [the resolution],” reads a statement released on Instagram by Rice University Students for Justice in Palestine. 

“[The resolution] was tabled by orders of Dr. Richard Baker from the Access, Equity, and Equal Opportunity Office due to a discrimination complaint filed by a single student against the authors of the resolution and the Student Association President,” Rice SJP told Palestine Square. 

Other Texas universities have encroached on the free speech rights of pro-Palestine community members in more disciplinary ways, as one public institution saw a professor suspended over pro-Palestine social media posts. 

Last month, Texas Tech University suspended Professor Fúnez-Flores “pending an investigation by the Office of Equal Opportunity into whether his ‘learning or working environments’ involve ‘discriminatory harassment,’” according to a GoFundMe page set up by Jewish writer and professor Alana Lentin to pay for Fúnez’s legal fees. 

Fúnez was suspended after attacks from “right-wing media misrepresented his statements and actions” in support of Palestine. An open letter in support of the professor has over 2,000 signatures, garnering international attention and recognition. 

As Texan schools grapple with what Abbott’s latest order could mean for the free speech rights of pro-Palestine students across the state, the student movement remains steadfast, organizing town halls, legal rights workshops, and protests in the face of institutional repression.   

About The Author: 

Anna Rajagopal is a South Asian Jewish organizer, journalist and writer based in Houston, Texas. Anna's work focuses on Palestinian movement building and resistance in exile.

Read more