US professors suspended, probed over Gaza war comments

FILE PHOTO: People walk on an empty USC campus, amid the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Los Angeles

By Andrew Hay

(Reuters) - In the past week, two University of Arizona educators were suspended and a University of Southern California professor was relegated to teaching remotely while the school investigated him, all after being recorded by students as they spoke about the war in Gaza.

They are examples of the way the Israel-Hamas war, which is set to become a campaign issue in the 2024 presidential race, is entangling faculty members at U.S. universities who voice their opinions on the conflict.

Israel has vowed to annihilate the Hamas militant group that controls Gaza since its fighters killed 1,200 people and dragged away 240 hostages on a deadly rampage on Oct. 7.

Since then, Israel has bombed much of Gaza to rubble, ordered the depopulation of the entire northern half of the enclave and made around two-thirds of Gazans homeless.

The University of Arizona said on Thursday it had temporarily replaced Assistant Professor Rebecca Lopez and Community Liaison Rebecca Zapien and were investigating them after a group called the Israel War Room posted on X what it said were audio recordings of classroom conversations involving the two.

The group called the recordings "biased, antisemitic, blatantly false, and terrorism-supporting."

Among comments in the recordings, a woman can be heard saying Hamas appeared to be an anti-Zionist group rather than an antisemitic one, while another woman is heard comparing Hamas to the African American revolutionary Black Panther Party in that it was a "resistance group."

Neither Lopez nor Zapien immediately responded to requests for comment.

"This suspension, which was enacted without due process, sends a chilling message to UA students, staff and faculty who believe in Palestinian freedom, dignity and human rights," said Maha Nassar, associate professor of modern Middle East history at the university.

The University of Southern California said on Friday economics professor John Strauss was teaching classes remotely until the end of the semester. According to a report by the university's student newspaper, Strauss was videoed by a student protester saying "every one should be killed and I hope they all are" as he walked past pro-Palestinian protesters on the Los Angeles campus.

Strauss told the newspaper he was referring to Hamas militants, not Palestinians in general. He did not immediately respond to a request for further comment.

"We cannot discuss the details of matters that are pending investigation," the university said in a statement on the incident.

(Reporting by Andrew Hay; editing by Donna Bryson and Rosalba O'Brien)