Campus Free Speech

USC Censors Jewish Professor for Saying Hamas 'Should Be Killed'

The university is violating John Strauss's free speech rights.


John Strauss is a professor of economics at the University of Southern California (USC). Earlier this month, he confronted pro-Palestinian students who had staged a protest calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. After hearing some of the students call for the destruction of Israel, Strauss—who is Jewish—became angry.

"Hamas are murderers," he shouted in response, according to The Los Angeles Times. "That's all they are. Everyone should be killed, and I hope they are killed."

Student-protesters captured his statements on video and shared them on social media. In response, several activist groups—including the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the campus's Muslim Student Union—called on the university administration take action against Strauss. A petition demanding his termination garnered 7,000 signatures.

These students swiftly got their way. Following "multiple complaints to USC's equity, diversity and Title IX office," the university placed Strauss on leave pending an investigation and barred him from campus. Administrators subsequently relented in part, allowing him to continue teaching his classes—remotely.

That's all according to the Los Angeles Times, which interviewed Strauss about the incident. The professor claims that he was misquoted: he clearly expressed a desire for all members of Hamas to be killed, not at all Palestinians.

"The allegation was that I said, 'Kill all Palestinians,'" said Strauss. "I never said that and I never would say that. I said, 'Kill all Hamas.' That's quite different."

Free speech groups have criticized USC for caving to the mob. Both PEN America and the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) called on the university to end its investigation on Strauss.

"The fact that some protesters characterized Strauss's comments as 'hate speech,' or even threatening to students, does not deprive them of protection under USC's policies," wrote FIRE's Jessie Appleby. "The standards for punishing speech as a true threat or harassment are high, and Strauss's remarks to a group of protesters fall far short."

The university did not respond to a request for comment.

The weaponization of Title IX bureaucracy against free speech is nothing new, but it is lamentable, nevertheless. Students and faculty members have the right to express provocative opinions that are pro-Israel, pro-Palestinian, and everything in between. They do not lose their free speech rights simply because someone on the other side of the issue is sufficiently perturbed to file a complaint.

Just as it is wrong for pro-Israel political figures to censor pro-Palestinian activists—even when the activism in question is genuinely loathsome—so too is it wrong to punish a Jewish professor for desiring Hamas' destruction, something that isn't even particularly controversial.