An economics professor at the University of Southern California has been placed on remote work after a video circulated by anti-Israel activists, which has since been revealed as doctored, showed him calling for the death of all Palestinians. The video led to a firestorm of controversy for John Strauss and, subsequently, his removal from campus.
The video in question captured an on-campus interaction between Strauss and pro-Palestinian demonstrators during a protest organized by groups such as USC Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation, USC Graduates for Palestine and Trojans for Palestine.
Shorter edits of the video, which conveniently left out the part where he specified Hamas, began to spread online, giving many viewers the impression that Strauss advocated for the killing of Palestinians. In the doctored video, he appeared to say, “… should be killed, and I hope they are.”
One user shared the edited footage on X, where it garnered over two million views.
here is @USC professor John Strauss saying “every one of them should be killed, and I hope they all are” while passing by students who organised a memorial for 10,000+ Palestinian martyrs killed in the past month pic.twitter.com/Iuox2laMKL
— tara (@taraxrh) November 10, 2023
However, the original version of the video shows Strauss walking past the student protesters and calling them “ignorant, really ignorant.” When the students engaged him further, he added, “Hamas are murderers. That’s all they are. Every one should be killed, and I hope they all are.”
Despite the truth eventually coming out, Strauss faced heavy backlash as a result of the edited video. Captions and comments online did not help, as one Instagram post falsely claimed that the professor told the students, “[I] hope you get killed….”
Within a day, an associate dean reportedly informed Strauss that he was on paid administrative leave, barred from campus, and would no longer teach his undergraduates for the semester. The controversy escalated when a petition demanding that USC fire Strauss for what was tagged “racist, xenophobic behavior” and comments that “promote and incite violence” collected more than 6,500 signatures within a week.
Strauss defended himself in an interview with Annenberg Media, pointing out that people had deliberately removed crucial context from his statements.
“Every one of them, of course, referred to Hamas. Then that later was changed to, in the video that was released publicly that was heavily doctored, to Palestinians should be murdered. And that’s not what I said at all,” he explained.
Speaking to NBC News, the professor also said that he has received threatening emails since the controversy, with some reading “Death to Professor Strauss” and “Professor Strauss should be fired.”
Despite USC’s insistence that the decision to keep Strauss out of school and assign him remote work was not disciplinary, it has drawn criticism from the Academic Freedom Alliance. This organization, dedicated to protecting free speech on campuses, wrote a letter to USC Provost Andrew Guzman, condemning the university’s actions as an “egregious violation of the principles of freedom of expression and due process.”
The Academic Freedom Alliance also maintained that Strauss’ words to the pro-Palestinian demonstrators fall within the boundaries of protected First Amendment speech.