A tenured Jewish professor at the University of Southern California was barred from the campus and instructed to teach remotely after getting into a verbal altercation with students attending a memorial for people killed in Gaza during Israel’s bombardment of the territory, the Forward reported.
John Strauss, an economics professor, was walking past the gathering when he commented that “People are ignorant,” and stopped to talk with a small group of students.
“Hamas are murderers. That’s all they are,” he said during the conversation. “Everyone should be killed, and I hope they all are killed.”
A shortened version of the exchange with students went viral in a video posted to X, formerly known as Twitter, in which only Strauss’s statement about the killing of people is audible. The clip received millions of views, according to the Forward. (Two versions of videos of the interaction can be seen here.)
Strauss said in an interview with USC Annenberg Media that his comments were not directed towards Palestinians in general, according to the Forward.
“Every one of them referred, of course, to Hamas,” Strauss said. He added that he shouted “Israel forever” during the exchange, and that he is “Jewish” and “very pro-Israel.”
A petition calling for the termination of Strauss has collected more than 5,000 signatures on Change.org, and a competing petition calling to reinstate him has collected more than 3,000 signatures, the Forward reported. As of publication, the petitions show nearly 6,500 and nearly 9,000, respectively.
PEN America, which promotes free speech for writers, said in a statement on Friday that USC’s response to the incident was a “shocking overreaction.”
Andrew Guzman, the university's provost, said in a letter to Strauss that the decision to keep him off-campus was not disciplinary and was “designed to minimize disruption to the educational environment and to ensure a safe environment for both you and students,” the Forward reported.
(This article was updated to include information about USC's letter to Professor Strauss, which the Forward added to its article after it was originally published.)