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Jewish USC professor, sanctioned for Hamas comments, returns to campus

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USC professor John Strauss, who was placed on administrative leave last month, is allowed to return to campus as the university continues its investigation into his comments about Hamas during a student protest, according to his lawyer.

Students filmed his remarks on November 9 and the episode went viral on the Internet. More than 7,000 people signed an online petition calling on USC to fire Strauss, while nearly 21,000 signed an opposition petition seeking to reinstate the Jewish professor.

The incident and subsequent viral outcry became a flashpoint for the clash between supporters of Israel and the Palestinians in American academia. The reaction underscores the challenge facing universities across the country as they attempt to mediate altercations related to the war between Israel and Hamas on campus, raising questions about limitations on free speech.

Strauss, an economics professor, encountered students organizing a walkout and demonstration calling for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip. Students held a memorial for Palestinians killed in the war between Israel and Hamas. He said he heard slogans such as “destroy Israel,” which the students then challenged.

In an exchange with the protesters, Strauss said they were ignorant, before going further.

“Hamas is a murderer,” the 72-year-old professor told the students. “That’s all they are.” Everyone should be killed, and I hope they all are.

The video, versions of which were manipulated online to remove the reference to Hamas and instead suggested that he hoped all Palestinians would be killed, prompted a swift response from the university.

Strauss has been placed on paid administrative leave, barred from campus and is no longer authorized to teach his undergraduate courses this semester. He was allowed to continue teaching graduate students via Zoom classes. A few days later, the university lifted some restrictions and he was also allowed to resume undergraduate classes online.

His attorney, Samantha Harris, said USC told Strauss this week that he would be allowed to return to campus Saturday.

“This is a step in the right direction,” Harris said in a statement. “But he is still under investigation and faces potential sanctions for his speech, which constitutes both a violation of USC’s own free speech promises and an outrageous and discriminatory double standard regarding how USC implements its policies.”

USC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Staff writer Matt Hamilton contributed to this report.

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