The University of Southern California (USC) has reinstated a Jewish professor it banished from campus after he got into a verbal clash with a group of Pro-Palestinian student activists.
Economics professor John Strauss, who was required to teach remotely for the remainder of the fall semester, is now allowed to return to campus while the university investigates comments he made at a Pro-Palestine event in November.
The restrictions placed on Mr. Strauss ended Saturday, the day after the regular fall semester courses ended.
The professor “has in no way been disciplined or punished for engaging in protected speech” and was only told to stay off the Los Angeles campus in an effort to “ensure a safe learning environment,” the university said in a statement, reported by student newspaper the Daily Trojan.
The banishment came after an interaction Mr. Strauss had on Nov. 9 with Pro-Palestinian protesters on the USC campus. The protest was part of “Shut It Down for Palestine,” a worldwide movement of demonstrations calling for “an immediate ceasefire, cutting all aid to Israel and lifting the siege on Gaza.”
Viral VideoIn a 20-second video of the exchange, Mr. Strauss can be heard saying “people are ignorant” as he walked by the protesters.
“It’s just to pay respect for those who were killed,” said one of the two protesters who approached the Jewish professor.
“Hamas are murderers,” Mr. Strauss told the protesters. “That’s all they are. Every one should be killed, and I hope they all are.”
Pro-Palestinian student groups such as USC Graduates in Solidarity with Palestine and USC Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation shared the video on Instagram, but their post began with a shortened version of the clip in which Mr. Strauss’s reference to Hamas terrorists was omitted, leaving only his words that “every one should be killed, and I hope they all are.”
The shorter clip went viral on social media, where Pro-Palestinian users claimed the professor was harassing the student activists and advocating for the killing of the over 2 million Palestinians living in Gaza.
The rapid spread of the shorter video was followed by calls for USC to fire Mr. Strauss. Within hours of the event, Pro-Palestinian students filed “multiple complaints” against him with the USC Office for Equity, Equal Opportunity, and Title IX for discrimination on the basis of “national origin and hate speech,” the Daily Trojan reported.
“His racist, xenophobic behavior ... is unacceptable,” an online petition for Mr. Strauss’ removal read. “His remarks—‘everyone should be killed, and I hope they all are’—are not only offensive but also promote and incite violence.”
In response, USC put Strauss on paid administrative leave on Nov. 10. The university later allowed him to resume teaching all of his courses, but relegated him to teach online.
In the days since his banishment, an online petition for Mr. Strauss’ reinstatement garnered over 21,000 supporting signatures—about three times as many as the one demanding his termination.
“The manipulation of video footage falsely portrays Professor Strauss as calling for every Palestinian to die. This mischaracterization is reprehensible,” the counterpetition read. “Professor Strauss explicitly identified Hamas terrorists as the problem, not Palestinian civilians. There is recorded proof of this specific encounter circulating, and there were several eyewitnesses.”
Setting the Record StraightIn an interview with USC publication Annenberg Media, Mr. Strauss provided more context, including what happened prior to the his interaction with protesters on Nov. 9.
According to Mr. Strauss, he first encountered the Pro-Palestinian gathering on the way to teach his class, when he heard the students shouting “From the River to the Sea,” which he took as equivalent to a calling for the destruction of Israel.
He said he responded by yelling back, “Israel forever. Hamas are murderers.”
After teaching his class, Mr. Strauss said he had stopped to talk with a group of Jewish students when a woman yelled, “Shame on you, Professor Strauss. Shame on you.”
The professor said he responded back, “No, shame on you,” after which, protesters could be seen in the video approaching him.
“Every one of them referred, of course, to Hamas,” he told Annenberg Media, referring to his “everyone should be killed” remark.
While USC insisted that it never meant to punish or discipline Mr. Strauss, his attorney, Samantha Harris, says otherwise.
“This is a step in the right direction,” Ms. Harris said in a statement to the Los Angeles Times. “But he is still under investigation and facing potential discipline for his speech, which is both a violation of USC’s own promises of free speech and an outrageous, viewpoint-discriminatory double standard in terms of how USC enforces its policies.”