There is now an update to this story.
UPDATED SATURDAY 9/25, 1:12 a.m.
LOS ANGELES - USC’s Department of Public Safety Thursday opened an investigation into the behavior of officers toward two attendees of a student organization’s event held in a Taper Hall this past weekend.
A political event held by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) was stopped about 15 minutes in, according to witnesses, when an organizer recognized two high-profile Israel supporters in the audience of about 20 people.
Yael Korin, leader of the Los Angeles Women in Black group that advocates a political boycott of Israel, said she recognized pro-Israel advocates Roz Rothstein and Gary Ratner. Witnesses report she then stopped the presentation and told them they needed to leave. Korin said Students for Justice in Palestine promptly called DPS to have them removed.
Korin told ATVN Friday afternoon that she and another organizer “escorted them politely out of the room,” but that Rothstein and Ratner “pushed their way back into the room.”
Minutes later, several DPS officers arrived and asked Rothstein and Ratner to exit the room to explain the situation, according to a USC student who witnessed the exchange.
“They made it very clear that they would not let us return to the room,” said Rothstein.
The student, who reported feeling afraid for participants’ personal safety when organizers began shouting from across the room, said one officer reached out and tried to grab Rothstein’s forearm to physically escort her outside. The student reported the incident to the Provost Elizabeth Garrett, who forwarded the complaint to Michael L. Jackson, vice president for student affairs.
Student Affairs told ATVN Thursday that it could not find any record of the report, but that Jackson was out of town until Monday.
DPS Capt. David Carlisle said that although he had not heard of any complaints as of early Thursday afternoon, when notified by ATVN he promptly opened an internal investigation.
“Because it is an ongoing investigation, I cannot comment further,” said Carlisle. “But on the initial evaluation, our officers did nothing wrong.”
One of those removed, however, said the behavior by two DPS officers, whose names have not been released by ATVN, violated USC’s policies, which state that “lawful and peaceful demonstration ... will be permitted and protected.”
University policy states that anything short of “coercive disruption” is permitted on campus. Coercive disruption is defined in the official university policy as any activity that denies rights of other students, disrupts education, reacts to peaceful dissent, obstructs free movement of individuals, threatens safety, damages property or attempts to disrupt or silence free speech of others.
Korin said her actions in asking Rothstein and Ratner to leave were not discriminatory, but rather attempts to keep the meeting on track “without being exposed to people that are clearly opposing it.”
She said Rothstein and Ratner’s presence would “endanger our plans and reveal unnecessary working details to those that wish us complete failure.”
“Our intention was to conduct the training meeting in an efficient way, not at the presence of people that clearly oppose our campaign and our efforts to obtain justice for the Palestinian people,” Korin told ATVN Friday in an email statement.
Korin, however, said she never asked the USC student to leave, though the student had never been involved with SJP or any associated groups.
“I did not think I had any reason to doubt that she was there for the purpose of our clearly declared training event,” said Korin in the email statement.
That student, who later filed the complaint with the provost, said Korin had blatantly discriminated against peaceful dissent, and said it was obvious that the policy was not being upheld by the event organizers or by DPS, and that the attendees were “harassed and treated extremely rudely” at a public event.
“That is flat out discrimination,” the student said. “They were not protesting. They were not violent. They were not passing out literature.”
SJP Co-President Marwa Katbi, who was also in attendance, did not respond to interview requests sent Thursday afternoon and Friday afternoon. Andy Griggs, an activist involved in the Israel Divestment Campaign, said Friday night that Katbi did in fact receive the interview requests but opted not to respond.
Within a few hours, Katbi responded in a short email saying, “Given that [Rothstein and Ratner] were not well received, were causing extreme discomfort and heightened tensions within the room, I made a decision to call DPS and have officers handle the situation from that point onwards. That’s the extent of my involvement in the incident.”
The event, titled “Students for Justice in Palestine: Israel Divestment Circulator Training,” took place Sunday, Sept. 19 at 1 p.m. in Taper Hall.
Witnesses said the audience was mostly non-students involved in other groups associated with SJP.
The meeting featured a short movie praising politicians who wanted to boycott Israel followed by a PowerPoint presentation and information on how to recruit students to sign the “Israel Divestment Apartheid,” according to those in attendance.
Carlisle said he expects the internal investigation to be completed within a few days.