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In November 2023, USC Economics professor John Strauss found himself at the center of a controversy that resulted from his public condemnation of Hamas, a Palestinian group widely recognized as a terrorist organization.
Strauss, who is Jewish, was caught in a storm created by edited video footage that was circulated by students. Consequently, the professor was barred from teaching on campus, necessitating his shift to online teaching for the rest of the semester.
In the full-length video, Strauss can be heard criticizing Hamas and its supporters, claiming, “People are ignorant…Hamas are murderers; that’s all they are. Every one should be killed and I hope they all are.”
However, the video was edited and was shared on various USC student and alumni Instagram accounts and a community petition only contained the latter part of his statement, implying a broader desire for violence against Palestinians when it was, in fact, only Hamas. As a result of the edited video being shared, the professor found himself facing allegations of promoting and inciting violence against Palestinians.
Strauss, however, fervently rejects these claims, citing gross misrepresentation of his remarks. He argues that his comments, intended to be solely about Hamas, were manipulated to sound like a call for the murder of all Palestinians. USC’s Annenberg Media, in its reporting on the incident, noted that the professor was subsequently placed on administrative leave with full pay and permitted to continue conducting his classes via Zoom.
Strauss’s conduct during the pro-Palestinian march that took place earlier that month on USC grounds sparked the controversy. The students had erected an installation listing the names of Palestinian civilians who perished in Israel’s retaliation against Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel that reportedly cost nearly 1,200 civilian lives.
Strauss states that when he passed the installation on his way to class, he felt provoked by what he perceived as the anti-Semitic, anti-Israel sentiments he overheard. He vocalized his support for Israel and his condemnation of Hamas.
However, allegations arose that he had stepped on the list of names while trying to communicate with the protestors, an action he refutes as accidental.
An Instagram post by @uscgraduatesforpalestine dated November 11, although now edited, claimed that Strauss disrespected the event and the Palestinian lives remembered by stepping on their names. However, he continuously stressed his focus was on Hamas, not civilian Palestinians.
Soon after the incident, an outrage ensued amongst the university community leading to a change.org petition bearing thousands of signatures demanding Strauss’ termination. Several social media accounts connected to the university urged fellow students to lodge complaints against him.