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USC professor banished from campus after anti-Hamas comments go viral

An economics professor from the University of Southern California is required to teach via Zoom for the rest of the fall semester after a heated exchange with a group of pro-Palestinian demonstrators, prompting an academic freedom group to demand his full reinstatement.

Tenured Professor John Strauss, who is Jewish, “will be teaching his two classes remotely for the rest of the semester,” USC said in a statement to The College Fix.

At issue is an early November interaction the professor had with students engaged in a protest organized by USC Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation, USC Graduates for Palestine, and Trojans for Palestine.

In an original unedited video of the exchange, Strauss can be heard saying “people are ignorant” as he walked by, adding “Hamas are murderers. That’s all they are. Every one should be killed, and I hope they all are.”

Instagram accounts @uscgraduatesforpalestine and @uscscale posted a shorter edited video to their accounts on Nov. 9 with student faces blurred. In the video, Strauss’s comments about Hamas were edited out, leaving only his words, “every one should be killed, and I hope they all are.”

The same edited video, which has now attracted over 2 million views on X, was posted by activist Tara Alami, reported Forward. The edited version was also posted to larger accounts @cravingpalestine and @shaunking.

Strauss clarified his comments in an interview posted to YouTube on Nov. 14 with Annenberg Media in which he said their initial coverage of the incident misrepresented what occurred.

“Every one of them, of course, referred to Hamas,” Strauss told the outlet. “Then that later was changed to, in the video that was released publicly that was heavily doctored, to Palestinians should be murdered. And that’s not what I said at all.”

“The video that was put out there by the pro-Palestinian students was doctored and claimed I said things that I never meant,” Strauss said. “I’ve asked the administration and the provost’s office to make a statement to that effect.”

Two petitions have gained momentum on social media, one in support of Strauss, which currently has over 9,000 signatures, and one demanding his termination, with over 6,500 signatures.

The petition in support of Strauss demands a complete review of the incident, and reexamination of university policies regarding professor suspensions.

In the interview, Strauss said he first encountered the protest on the way to teach his class, when he heard the students shouting “from the river to the sea,” which he said is code for the destruction of Israel.

He said he responded by yelling back, “Israel forever. Hamas are murderers.”

After teaching his class, Strauss told Annenberg Media he had stopped to talk with a group of Jewish students when a woman yelled, “Shame on you Professor Strauss. Shame on you.”

Strauss said he responded back, “No, shame on you,” afterwhich, protesters could be seen in the video moving closer to Strauss. According to a detailed timeline in the petition calling for Strauss’s reinstatement, a protester moved “aggressively” toward Strauss and students had to hold the person back.

Strauss, who was also accused of intentionally stepping on signs containing the names of dead Palestinian civilians, said in the Annenberg interview that it was not intentional.

“After I heard someone yell, ‘shame on you Professor Strauss,’ so I moved towards that person, and then I must have stepped on a sign or two,” he said.

Following the dispute, USC put Strauss on paid administrative leave on Nov. 10, Annenberg Media reported. The university then allowed him to continue teaching his graduate course via zoom, and in the interview with Annenberg Media, Strauss said he is now able to teach his undergraduate course online as well.

A university statement made to the Daily Trojan states Strauss is not on administrative leave, just teaching remotely.

The Academic Freedom Alliance, a coalition of college and university faculty focused on protecting freedom of expression, issued a letter to USC Provost Andrew Guzman on behalf of Strauss, calling for his immediate reinstatement.

The letter, obtained by The College Fix, states “the university’s actions represent an egregious violation of the principles of freedom of expression and due process which the University of Southern California has contractually committed itself.”

The letter also stated that Strauss’s comments are “fully in bounds of protected First Amendment speech.”

Since the videos of his comments went viral, Strauss said in the interview he has received an influx of emails, including statements like, “I hope you die fascist pig” and “Palestine forever.”

When asked in retrospect if he would approach the situation differently, Strauss said no.

Howard Muncy, director of operations for Academic Freedom Alliance, told The College Fix that the organization has not received a reply from their letter.

Strauss did not respond to a request for comment from The College Fix.

Asked by NBC whether he was removed from campus for his safety, Strauss said “that is maybe part of it, it’s a little hard to tell.”

He added: “I am very unhappy that the administration is not supporting me.”

The embattled professor has some supporters among faculty, including USC chemistry Professor Anna Krylov, a vocal proponent of campus free speech.

“My opinion is that Prof. Strauss should be reinstated immediately and that apologies are due for the disruption, and emotional and reputational damage that this involuntary administrative leave has caused him,” she told The College Fix via email.

MORE: Forty pro-Palestinian protesters arrested at University of Michigan

IMAGE: NBC Los Angeles screenshot

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About the Author
Peyton Sorosinski -- California State University