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GOP Presidential Candidates Threaten to Revoke Visas From Pro-Palestine Students

GOP candidates have also called for defunding universities that allow Palestinian solidarity protests on campus.

New York University students held a rally to support Palestine at Washington Square Park in New York on October 25, 2023.

Republican presidential candidates — including former President Donald Trump, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott — have called for the federal government to revoke visas from international students who support Palestine.

“Under the Trump administration, we will revoke the student visas of radical anti-American and antisemitic foreigners at our colleges and universities and we will send them straight back home,” Trump said in Iowa on October 16, falsely conflating anti-Zionism with antisemitism.

Trump also vowed to expand his “Muslim ban” to include Palestinian people from Gaza if reelected. “If you want to abolish the state of Israel, you’re disqualified,” he said.

On October 20, DeSantis similarly pledged to revoke visas from students who have engaged in Palestinian solidarity protests on college campuses. “You see students demonstrating in our country in favor of Hamas. Remember, some of them are foreigners,” DeSantis said. “I’m canceling your visa and I’m sending you home.”

Some GOP presidential candidates have demanded that the federal government revoke funding from universities that allow students to hold Palestinian solidarity protests — which are protected under the First Amendment — on their campuses.

On Tuesday, after George Washington University (GWU) students projected messages including “Glory to our martyrs,” “Divestment from Zionist genocide now” and “Free Palestine from the river to the sea,” onto the side of a campus building, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina said on social media, “If this was done by a foreign national, deport them. If the college coddles them, revoke their taxpayer funding.”

Last week, Scott introduced legislation in response to Palestinian solidarity protests on college campuses across the country. The bill would defund colleges and universities that “peddle antisemitism or authorize, fund or facilitate events that promote violent antisemitism.” The legislation cites the International Holocaust Remembrance Association (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, which Jewish students and anti-Zionist organizers have said is “harmful because rather than addressing the roots of antisemitism in Christian hegemony and white supremacy, the definition acts as though criticism of Israel is the source of antisemitism.”

“First, it weaponizes the idea of antisemitism as a tool for criminalizing the speech and advocacy of Palestinians and those working in solidarity with them; and second, it obscures what actual antisemitism is actually about,” students Taylor Fox, Rachel Krumholz and Sarah Frieman wrote for Truthout in February. “And in doing so, it wrongly and dangerously pits Palestinian liberation against Jewish safety.”

Gov. Doug Burgum of North Dakota, whose administration enacted anti-boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) legislation this year, also jumped on social media after the GWU Palestinian solidarity protest. “The students responsible should be held accountable and if the university fails to do so it should lose any federal funding,” he said on X. In another post, he implied that he would “fully enforce” a Trump-era executive order to use Title VI of the Civil Rights Act to revoke federal funding for any university that allows “anti-Israel radicalism.”

“Certain presidential candidates are competing to see who can come up with the worst punishments for protesting, but these proposals are nonstarters,” the American Civil Liberties Union said on social media. “The First Amendment protects all people who live in this country, whether they’re here as citizens, foreign nationals, or visitors.”

While First Amendment experts have said that such policies would likely be unconstitutional, this rhetoric is threatening the safety and livelihoods of pro-Palestine organizers across the country.

Palestine Legal, an organization whose mission is to bolster the Palestine solidarity movement by challenging efforts to threaten, harass and legally bully activists into silence and inaction, has asserted that in the last two weeks, the group has responded to over 260 incidents of “McCarthyite backlash” in response to people advocating for an end to Israel’s genocide of Palestinians in Gaza.

“We have spoken to people being fired from their jobs for sharing social media posts or signing statements that support Palestinian human rights,” the organization said on social media. “We’ve spoken to professors who are being questioned, whose classes are being canceled and are being locked out of their emails for supporting Palestinian rights or who have faced calls for removal.”

Many pro-Palestine students have been put on a website called ‘College Terror List’ which seeks to make these students unemployable. Palestine Legal recently wrote to universities, including Harvard, demanding that they protect students who have been doxed and harassed by anti-Palestinian vigilante groups like Canary Mission and Accuracy in Media.

“We’ve had an exponential surge in requests for legal help. It has been like nothing we’ve seen before,” Radhika Sainath, a senior staff attorney at Palestine Legal, told Jewish Currents. “There is an increase in people who are really concerned with the genocidal intentions of Israel right now — and they’re being met with immense McCarthyite backlash and suppression.”

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