The University of Southern California suspended a professor after he told anti-Israel students protesting on campus that "Hamas are murderers" who "should be killed."
"You people are ignorant, really ignorant. ... Hamas are murderers. That’s all they are. Every one should be killed, and I hope they all are killed," economics professor John Strauss told a group of anti-Israel demonstrators on Nov. 9, according to the Los Angeles Times. Strauss learned the next day that the university was placing him on paid administrative leave, barring him from campus and not allowing him to teach undergraduates for the rest of the semester—though he could teach graduate students via Zoom.
A pro-Palestinian campus group published a video of Strauss's comments on Instagram, claiming that he was "calling for the death of Hamas/Palestinians." The Times reported that the group later clarified that Strauss "did not say he wanted Palestinians to be killed, but Hamas" but then said that people could "draw your own conclusion about whether or not he wished death upon just Hamas or civilians as well." The Muslim Student Union at the school accused Strauss of "repeatedly calling for the murder of the entirety of Palestine" and expressing "a desire for the death of those supporting Palestine." Another pro-Palestinian account not affiliated with the university shared only the latter portion of his remarks and claimed falsely that he told the students he hoped "you get killed and I hope they all are (*Gaza)."
Students also claimed that, earlier in the day, Strauss stepped on a list of names of Gazans killed in Israel's war against Hamas, which began when Hamas terrorists killed about 1,200 Israelis during their Oct. 7 attacks. The Palestinian death toll is over 14,000, according to Hamas's health ministry. Strauss told the Times that he may have stepped on the list of names, but it was unintentional if he did so.
Days after the school placed Strauss on leave, it informed him that it was also investigating several complaints against him directed to its equity, diversity, and Title IX office. Multiple groups that protect free expression criticized the school. One of them, Academic Freedom Alliance, gave Strauss legal counsel and sent a letter to the university denouncing its actions.
"The university becomes the instrument of a heckler’s veto," the letter read, "when it punishes a member of the faculty when other members of the campus community or of the general public react vociferously enough to a professor’s lawful speech."
At around the time the alliance sent the letter, the school had allowed Strauss to teach undergraduates via Zoom but kept in place his ban from campus.
A spokesman for the university did not comment on the specifics of Strauss's case to the Times but noted that "the university is always willing to change its approach as it receives and considers more information; our north star is protecting the safety of our community."