Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Protests, threats and the FBI: The story of FAU’s inactive Students for Justice in Palestine chapter

Years before the State University System of Florida ordered a statewide SJP ban, FAU’s SJP chapter had already met its demise.
FAU Student for Justice in Palestines old logo, courtesy of @SJP_FAU on Twitter/X.
FAU Student for Justice in Palestine’s old logo, courtesy of @SJP_FAU on Twitter/X.

FAU Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) co-founder and former president Noor Fawzy wanted to maintain a cozy relationship with the university — but a call from the FBI changed it all.

Federal law enforcement officers contacted Fawzy when she was still an FAU student about an anonymous death threat via email. It was one of many tense situations she encountered as the university’s SJP chapter president.

“I did receive a death threat. It was horrifying and vile. The FBI was involved. The university assisted with the investigation into the death threat, and I was grateful for that. […] Other students and I were published on third-party websites and targeted for our campus activism, and there were videos posted on the internet calling for, among other things, adverse measures against SJP members at FAU,” Fawzy, the daughter of immigrants from Palestine, said.

The university’s SJP chapter — inactive since 2020 — saw its fair share of controversy on campus before it disappeared. 

How it all started

Fawzy said the relationship between (SJP) and the university was mutually great until “Off-campus pro-Israel opposition groups exerted pressure to silence, intimidate and get us punished for our campus advocacy,” she said. Fawzy said she could remember two in particular the Anti-Defamation League and the Zionist Organization of America.

In March 2012, SJP members distributed mock eviction notices throughout the Glades Park Tower, Heritage Park Tower and Indian River Tower dormitories. They aimed to bring awareness about what they felt were human rights violations in Palestine by mimicking Israel’s housing demolition notices. 

Fawzy said she started receiving emails containing threats in April 2012. She believes they were retaliatory in response to the mock eviction notice initiatives. 

Courtesy of Rayna Exelbierd, a Jewish FAU alumna who received a mock eviction notice from SJP in April 2012.


According to former SJP president Nadine Aly, the mock notices generated controversy among the FAU community despite the Department of Housing and Residential Education’s approval. 

“We all regularly received death threats at FAU; the administration was extremely unhelpful and even at times threatened to sanction us,” Nadine wrote.

Former SJP advisor and current history professor Eric Hanne described his experience being the SJP advisor as tumultuous, marked by personal threats and institutional pressure, especially with that specific campaign. 

“The way it was covered in the press, however, was that Jewish students were being targeted. And certain elements outside the press promoted this aspect of the story. And they tried to make, they tried to victimize only certain students, and it got really ugly. There were legal threats, I got legal threats emailed to me,” Hanne said.

Rayna Exelbierd, a Jewish FAU alum, received a mock eviction notice. She believes the notices targeted pro-Israel students.

“I came home to my dorm and I had an eviction notice on it. I was the only dorm on my floor who had it. So, I felt very targeted. And then the president of SJP on Monday, when I asked her for an apology, she said I had no case and that no one would ever listen to me,” said Exelbierd, a former resident of Israel and a granddaughter of Holocaust survivors.

In a later update on the report, FAUPD Officer Torsan Cowart noted he had confirmed similar SJP initiatives at universities like Tufts, Yale, Harvard and the University of Chicago had occurred without such threats.

He concluded that the mock eviction notices at FAU closely resembled those at Yale, suggesting that using these notices was a common strategy among SJP chapters nationwide.

“It appears that the serving of these notices is a standard tactic used by SJP around the country and this campaign had been modeled after those previous SJP initiatives that were conducted by their members at the other universities,” Cowart wrote. 

Later that April, officials from the FAU Police Department interviewed Maria “Gabby” Aleksinko regarding the incident involving eviction notices distributed on campus. She was the General Public Relations Officer who created flyers and promotional material for SJP. 

“Gabby said that SJP President Noor Fawzy communicated with Housing Officials to get the eviction notices approved to be passed out. Gabby explained that she and Fawzy met with Associate Director of Housing Artie Jamison and explained their plan. Gabby said she remembers leaving the meeting feeling relieved that this had gotten approved and that they could move forward with posting the eviction notices,” the report reads.

During the interview, the police officers inquired if Aleksinko had received any communication about the eviction notices. She mentioned the last email she received was from the SJP group, and the one prior was from Charles Brown, FAU spokesperson,  who stated that SJP had breached university policies by distributing the flyers. These violations included improper use of the county seal and posting the notices directly on student dormitory doors. 

Aleksinko told police that the group was unaware of these restrictions and would have refrained from their actions had they known. They had attempted to follow the correct procedures and regretted any unintended violations.

Additionally, Aleksinko said there were many public misconceptions around the distribution of these eviction notices when the situation garnered international attention – one of which was that the notices were exclusively placed on the doors of Jewish students. Those misconceptions, she told the police, exacerbated the situation and heightened the severity of the backlash experienced by the group, subsequently leading to death threats. 

The provost at the time, Gary Perry, called Hanne to ensure the students acted according to university policies. Hanne believes staff kept SJP under a lot of scrutiny because FAU viewed SJP’s advocacy efforts in a negative light. 

Perry, who stepped down from his position as provost in 2018 and is still a neuroscience professor at the university, did not respond to multiple requests for comment. 

“I do think that the SJP board members were not treated well. When I sent word to the police about legal threats that I had been receiving in an email or the fact that some of my students were receiving death threats, I never heard back about that,” Hanne said. “It really kind of soured me on that.”

It was only the beginning

On April 19, 2012, students at the Owls for Israel Special Lunch Presentation by Col. Bentzi Gruber of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). In response, SJP members walk out in protest. 

The FAU alum referred specifically to how the university handled their walkout during the Owls for Israel Special Lunch Presentation by Col. Bentzi Gruber of the IDF, “Ethics in the Field,” with battlefield footage. 

“The walkout was brief and peaceful, and it was on campus. […] I was present, stood up and gave a brief speech, about 40 seconds long, definitely less than a minute, challenging his narrative about what actually happened in that war,” Fawzy explained. “The walk-out was one to two minutes long and it was peaceful. We complied with FAU police after they told us to leave and they allowed us to continue the protest outside the event afterward.” 

Exelbierd remembers the event differently. “First of all, it wasn’t a silent protest,” she said. “It was not. But I agree that that’s what changed the game because, again, up until that point, it was housing, and it was leadership. It didn’t make it to the disciplinary dean until there was a police report because they technically hadn’t broken, hadn’t broken legal laws. Well, that’s a lie because on the eviction notice, using Palm Beach County seal government seal without approval is illegal.” 

The police report stated that on April 19, 2013, at Gruber’s speech, a group of students, including Noor Fawzy, Rebeca Sosa and Renata Glebocki, stood in front of the room while the speaker was speaking. The group had a banner with “WAR CRIMINALS” written on it while a female started reading from a printout. 

“The group was escorted out without further incident. The group went outside the building and continued their protest until the event concluded at 1500 hours. This case is closed,” the report reads.

In the police report, Fawzy explained that during the event, members of the audience started to make inappropriate anti-Islamic comments such as: “Assalamu Alaikum War Criminal,” “Cunt” and “terrorist spy.”

Fawzy told police she believed comments were directed at her because she is Muslim. Sosa and Glebocki told police that they also heard anti-Islamic remarks.

The report concluded that “All the above-mentioned parties stated that they left the event peacefully. The SJP members completed and signed the FAU Police Department written statements, and consequently, the case was closed.”  

The UP reported that Fawzy and two other SJP members received an email one week after the walk-out saying the administration had received a complaint that, according to Fawzy, alleged the three individuals had engaged in “disruptive behavior” during Gruber’s speech. It is unclear who submitted the complaint.

“We were told we were being ‘monitored’ by external pro-Israel opposition groups and individuals that wrote letters to the university in response to authorized campus events we were holding,” said Fawzy. 

Hanne, Fawzy and Aly told the UP they received both death and legal threats while part of the student organization. The same claims were made in a 2013 story by Lisa Rab from the Broward Palm Beach New Times.

FBI personnel interviewed Fawzy during their investigation of the anonymous death threat she received.

“I reported the threat to FAU police. They spoke with me, prepared a report and pointed out some potential warning signs of what to look out for in connection with the threat, such as any slashed tires on my car,” Fawzy said. “There may have been a campus investigation due to the threat. The FBI investigated the source of the death threat and stopped all further contact coming from the source.”

Amid outside pressure and escalating tension, Fawzy soon saw a drastic change in her circumstances.

“Upon graduating from FAU in 2013, the university had me sign an agreement that severely restricted my ability to return to the university for post-graduate studies and other purposes. This was in response to a brief walk-out protest I was involved in on campus,” Fawzy concluded.

Fawzy resents how the university handled the protest and the subsequent discipline. In a 2013 statement, the university claimed that students voluntarily agreed to any procedures that stemmed from the event.

That year, she graduated from FAU with a 4.0 GPA and said she won the top university award for campus involvement, leadership and community service.

In the shadows since 2020 

How events unfolded for the chapter and its members after 2013 is unclear. The UP made various attempts to reach former FAU SJP members but did not receive a response.

Seeking to trace the last activities of the FAU chapter, efforts were made by the UP to identify the most recent recorded activity of the group. The last post they made on their Instagram account @sjpfau — the profile seems to have been deleted — was on July 4, 2020. Another account with the user @sjp_fau still exists, but the last post was made on October 18, 2015.

According to Donald Van Pelt Jr., the university’s assistant vice president for student engagement, the last time SJP was an actively recognized chapter was in the fall of 2020. 

“The president was Aseel Abdelhamid. Our records indicate that this group did not complete the annual registration or all requirements as prescribed in [FAU] regulation 4.006,” Van Pelt said. 

Abdelhamid did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Aly, the former SJP president, believes the chapter’s inability to reactivate in recent years is directly related to the university administration’s actions.

“It comes as no surprise [that there is no active chapter], the university has a horrendously ugly track record when it comes to free speech on campus, especially if that free speech criticizes the state of Israel,” Aly wrote in an email to the UP. “FAU (and a lot of Western countries) love to conflate anti-Zionism with antisemitism. So I think FAU is purposely hindering free speech on campus and making it difficult to revive SJP.” 

An FAU alumna who prefers to remain unnamed for security reasons attempted to revive the SJP chapter while a student from 2019 to 2023. She claims to have faced challenges due to faculty members’ reluctance.

“The biggest challenge was getting a sponsor. Honestly, they were scared to sign off or to be the sponsor for an SJP club,” she said.

As a historian, Hanne believes the primary issue is the general public’s limited understanding of the Gaza Strip’s history, combined with the tendency to equate criticism of specific Israeli government policies with antisemitism.

“It’s a label that is thrown at you,” Hanne said. “With that comes, [for instance, if] you protest the treatment of what’s going on right now in Gaza [or] anything about that, you are labeled as supporting Hamas? No. I mean, that’s an offensive thing to say in a blanket statement, and it’s counterproductive; it can lead to violence.”

FAU has been without an active SJP chapter for years. In October of the previous year, the chancellor of the State University System (SUS) of Florida, Ray Rodrigues, ordered the “deactivation” of the two remaining SJP groups at state universities, which exist at the University of Florida and the University of South Florida. The directive, he wrote, was issued “in consultation with Governor DeSantis.”

The UP contacted FAU spokesperson Joshua Glanzer to inquire about the university’s perspective on the ban and any possible initiatives to protect the pro-Palestine student population. Glanzer responded, “The ban specifically targeted SJP. We don’t have an active chapter.”

Despite this order, Rodrigues acknowledged at a Nov. 9 SUS Board of Governors meeting that both SJP groups continued their operations. He explained that this was because the constitutions of these groups, submitted at the start of the academic year for registration, declared their independence from the national SJP organization. Thus, the universities did not proceed with deactivating their SJP chapters.

“The constitutions of both organizations, which were submitted by them at the beginning of the school year when they were registered as an active student-registered organization, clearly state their organization is not subservient or under the national Students for Justice in Palestine SJP,” Rodrigues said. “Therefore, the universities have not deactivated their university chapters of SJP.”

The ACLU, ACLU of Florida, and Palestine Legal filed lawsuits to protect their rights in response to the deactivation attempt. On January 31, a federal judge dismissed this lawsuit, stating that Florida officials had no intention of deactivating the SJP chapter involved in the lawsuit. 

Although the court did not address the First Amendment claims directly, it recognized that the fear and anxiety caused by the deactivation order were unwarranted since there were no plans to enforce it.

The court’s decision highlighted the unnecessary distress experienced by the students, amplified by the Governor’s harsh criticism of them. However, it also clarified that the Chancellor’s and the university’s subsequent communications had made it evident that they did not intend to follow through with the deactivation. 

Sofia De La Espriella is the News Editor for the University Press. Email [email protected] or message her on Instagram @sofidelaespriella for information regarding this or other stories.


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About the Contributor
Sofia De La Espriella
Sofia De La Espriella, Editor-in-Chief
Sofia is a senior double majoring in multimedia journalism and history. She is passionate about governance, foreign relations, and the Latin American region. On a determined path toward graduate school, Sofia aims to specialize in these fields and acquire an in-depth understanding of their intricacies. Ultimately, she aspires to become a respected political journalist.

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