Ending Deadly Collusion Between U.S. and Israeli Police

A new campaign aims to denormalize human rights abuses as Netanyahu and Trump intensify their alliance.

Alex Kane

Israeli border guards advance behind shields on Palestiniansin the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Ras al-Amud on September 23, 2011. (Photo credit should read AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images)

In ear­ly Sep­tem­ber, a del­e­ga­tion of U.S. law enforce­ment offi­cers flew to Israel for a week-long series of train­ings with Israeli secu­ri­ty forces.

“We want to denormalize the valorization of what we think is a horrifying human rights abuse.”

These del­e­ga­tions have become rou­tine in the after­math of Sep­tem­ber 11, 2001, and they often take place with lit­tle scrutiny.

But this time was dif­fer­ent. A week before the del­e­ga­tion, mem­bers of the Jew­ish Voice for Peace (JVP) chap­ter in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. obtained a doc­u­ment pro­vid­ing details about the train­ing. Those details had turned up in the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Police Department’s response to JVP’s pub­lic records request, because a Wash­ing­ton, D.C. cop was join­ing the delegation.

So JVP mem­bers swung into action to call atten­tion to the trip, which they saw as trou­bling, because U.S. police — already under scruti­ny for racial pro­fil­ing and exces­sive force — would be train­ing with secu­ri­ty forces accused of human rights abus­es. They con­tact­ed local offi­cials to inform them of the del­e­ga­tion, and they also spoke to news out­lets about the doc­u­ment they obtained.

Their efforts made waves. A news report pub­lished by The Inter­cept cast a harsh light on the del­e­ga­tion. And on Sep­tem­ber 7, David Grosso, a Wash­ing­ton, D.C. Coun­cil­man, sent a let­ter to the city’s police chief, writ­ing that he was trou­bled” a police offi­cer would be train­ing with Israeli secu­ri­ty forces that have engaged in human rights violations.”

The elect­ed official’s crit­i­cism was a win for JVP’s Dead­ly Exchange cam­paign, an ini­tia­tive launched in April that seeks to halt U.S. law enforce­ment trips to Israel.

Even peo­ple who are cog­nizant of all the prob­lems [with the del­e­ga­tions] don’t want to bring it up, because they’re aware of the polit­i­cal sen­si­tiv­i­ty [of crit­i­ciz­ing Israel],” said Ben­jamin Dou­glas, the chair of JVP-Wash­ing­ton, D.C.’s leg­isla­tive com­mit­tee, in an inter­view. The fact that Grosso fired that open­ing shot is important.”

Denor­mal­iz­ing Human Rights Abuses

JVP is now seek­ing to build on its suc­cess in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. by uti­liz­ing a vari­ety of tac­tics — direct actions, leg­isla­tive cam­paigns and teach-ins — to bring atten­tion to, and ulti­mate­ly try to end, police del­e­ga­tions to Israel. JVP is also hop­ing to put a stop to Israeli secu­ri­ty del­e­ga­tions to the Unit­ed States, espe­cial­ly at a time when Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and Israeli leader Ben­jamin Netanyahu are inten­si­fy­ing the U.S.-Israel alliance from the far right.

But the cam­paign faces a dif­fi­cult task. Israel has suc­cess­ful­ly mar­ket­ed itself as a glob­al leader in counter-ter­ror­ism and secu­ri­ty, and pro-Israel groups in the Unit­ed States have cap­i­tal­ized on that rep­u­ta­tion by bring­ing hun­dreds of police offi­cers on trips to train with Israeli police and mil­i­tary commanders.

The goal of JVP’s Dead­ly Exchange cam­paign is to reverse Israel’s rep­u­ta­tion as a secu­ri­ty leader, stig­ma­tize these del­e­ga­tions and — ulti­mate­ly — stop them. JVP is also hop­ing to expose the racial­ly biased U.S. police prac­tices that these exchanges rein­force. For JVP, del­e­ga­tions to Israel reveal U.S. law enforcement’s trou­bling will­ing­ness to receive train­ing from Israeli com­man­ders who pre­side over a bru­tal sys­tem of occu­pa­tion and repres­sion, com­plete with mass sur­veil­lance, extra­ju­di­cial killings and racial pro­fil­ing of Palestinians.

These pro­grams treat Israel’s sev­en­ty years of dis­pos­ses­sion and 50 years of occu­pa­tion as best prac­tices for polic­ing in the U.S.,” Ste­fanie Fox, a deputy direc­tor at JVP, told In These Times. We want to denor­mal­ize the val­oriza­tion of what we think is a hor­ri­fy­ing human rights abuse.”

A trou­bling mod­el for policing

For many pro-Israel activists in the Unit­ed States, Israel’s expe­ri­ence in deal­ing with Pales­tin­ian mil­i­tant attacks, and in main­tain­ing its occu­pa­tion of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, made the coun­try a mod­el for how U.S. law enforce­ment could com­bat ter­ror­ism. And after Sep­tem­ber 11, 2001, orga­ni­za­tions like the Anti-Defama­tion League (ADL) and the Jew­ish Insti­tute for Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Affairs (JIN­SA) cre­at­ed pro­grams to bring U.S. police offi­cers to Israel for train­ing. There, Israeli com­man­ders brief U.S. cops, who vis­it key sites where Israel exer­cis­es its con­trol over Pales­tini­ans: jails, check­points and settlements.

What hap­pened after 911 is that Amer­i­ca need­ed some­one to val­i­date what they’re about to do with the war on ter­ror. And Israel was there, with the nar­ra­tive of what it can do,” said Eran Efrati, the exec­u­tive direc­tor of the group Research­ing the Amer­i­can-Israeli Alliance, which is pro­vid­ing research help for JVP’s cam­paign. The U.S. is buy­ing into a mod­el of con­trol that Israel is sell­ing … In this mod­el, we’re talk­ing about an occu­py­ing army using vio­lent, non-demo­c­ra­t­ic means of con­trol over mil­lions of humans under the idea of counter-ter­ror­ism. But when [law enforce­ment] is com­ing back home, they’re using those meth­ods of con­trol [on civilians].”

For some U.S. par­tic­i­pants in these trips, the Israeli mod­el for com­bat­ing threats is exact­ly what the Unit­ed States needs to adopt. Let’s be hon­est … This whole idea of best prac­tices is just a euphemism for: We’re here to steal some of your great ideas. And a lot of great ideas and tech­nol­o­gy, indeed, you do have here in Israel,” the Los Ange­les Police Department’s com­man­der of infor­ma­tion tech­nol­o­gy said at a 2016 con­fer­ence in Israel that LAPD offi­cers attend­ed. We are much more alike than dis-alike. As civ­i­lized nations, we are all con­front­ed with, in many cas­es, the same ene­my: The ever-grow­ing threat of ter­ror­ism and oth­er major crim­i­nal elements.”

The dead­ly exchange” goes both ways. In 2013, Israel’s police com­man­der flew to New York to learn about how the New York Police Depart­ment polices qual­i­ty of life” vio­la­tions — a term that refers to how the NYPD cracks down on pet­ty offens­es like pub­lic drink­ing. Its bro­ken win­dows” polic­ing phi­los­o­phy — that going after pet­ty crimes can pre­vent more seri­ous ones — has been harsh­ly crit­i­cized for dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly tar­get­ing peo­ple of color.

This exchange of tac­tics, though, has also pre­sent­ed some­thing of an oppor­tu­ni­ty for JVP: a chance to deep­en the organization’s already-exist­ing rela­tion­ship with com­mu­ni­ties of col­or who are orga­niz­ing against racist police vio­lence in the Unit­ed States.

The Chica­go Reli­gious Lead­er­ship Net­work on Latin Amer­i­ca (CRLN) does not focus on issues relat­ed to Pales­tine. But the orga­ni­za­tion has endorsed the Dead­ly Exchange campaign.

CRLN endors­es this cam­paign, because it is aligned with our efforts to expand the def­i­n­i­tion of sanc­tu­ary to mean pro­tec­tion for all peo­ple tar­get­ed by state vio­lence and racist polic­ing,” Cinthya Rodriguez, an immi­gra­tion orga­niz­er with the net­work, told In These Times. As we con­tin­ue to call for the account­abil­i­ty of the U.S. deten­tion and depor­ta­tions machine, for exam­ple, by urg­ing Con­gress to cut immi­gra­tion enforce­ment fund­ing, we also reject the shar­ing of dis­crim­i­na­to­ry and repres­sive polic­ing strategies.”

In Wash­ing­ton, D.C., the JVP chap­ter is work­ing along­side groups like Pan-African Com­mu­ni­ty Action to high­light the need for local account­abil­i­ty and con­trol over civil­ian police forces. And in Atlanta, JVP’s chap­ter has part­nered with oth­er groups, includ­ing Black Lives Mat­ter-Atlanta, to press offi­cials like city May­or Kasim Reed to com­mit to halt police par­tic­i­pa­tion in the Geor­gia Inter­na­tion­al Law Enforce­ment Exchange pro­gram, which sends offi­cers to Israel. (Reed has reject­ed that demand.) Con­nie Sos­noff, a mem­ber of JVP Atlanta, told In These Times the group’s next step is to get can­di­dates run­ning in the upcom­ing may­oral elec­tion to take a posi­tion on the exchange pro­gram with Israel.

It’s absolute­ly essen­tial to us to run this cam­paign from an inter­sec­tion­al lens, and to cen­ter those peo­ple who are most impact­ed by these ter­ri­ble tac­tics and tech­nolo­gies,” JVP’s Fox told In These Times. Joint strug­gle and mutu­al sol­i­dar­i­ty between com­mu­ni­ties of col­or in the U.S. and in Pales­tine is hap­pen­ing in a mil­lion dif­fer­ent ways, but this cam­paign is tar­get­ing the vio­lent exchanges.”

Polic­ing that goes against all civ­il rights norms”

But in addi­tion to the var­i­ous local cam­paigns that have tak­en hold across the Unit­ed States, JVP has also cho­sen a nation­al tar­get: the Anti-Defama­tion League.

Known nation­al­ly for its civ­il rights work and fight against hate crimes, the ADL is also a fierce defend­er of Israel. And in 2003, the orga­ni­za­tion launched the Nation­al Counter-Ter­ror­ism Sem­i­nar pro­gram, which has brought over 200 police offi­cers to Israel to learn from Israeli secu­ri­ty offi­cials. On one such trip in 2016, the ADL brought U.S. cops to the occu­pied West Bank city of Hebron, a city where the army and police pro­tect 800 right-wing set­tlers liv­ing in a Pales­tin­ian area, to meet with an Israeli police com­man­der. On the same trip, the U.S. offi­cers also vis­it­ed an Israeli prison where Pales­tini­ans are held, and met with a police patrol unit known as Yasam.”

JVP is cur­rent­ly col­lect­ing sig­na­tures on a peti­tion to the ADL call­ing on the group to end the police exchange pro­grams. The ADL has fired back at JVP, say­ing that JVP asserts that joint train­ing and exchange pro­grams are respon­si­ble for ris­ing lev­els of police bru­tal­i­ty and racism against minori­ties in the US.”

Ste­fanie Fox, the JVP deputy direc­tor, reject­ed that crit­i­cism, telling In These Times that the Dead­ly Exchange cam­paign high­lights how police exchange pro­grams ampli­fy already-exist­ing law enforce­ment tac­tics that are prob­lem­at­ic — and that the group does not believe Israel is teach­ing Amer­i­can law enforce­ment how to be racist. (The ADL did not respond to requests for comment.)

It’s absurd that the ADL’s con­cern for civ­il rights is prac­ticed selec­tive­ly,” said Fox. And as an orga­ni­za­tion that claims to fight hate and stand up for civ­il rights, they’re putting their resources, ener­gy and time in an approach to polic­ing that goes against all civ­il rights norms, and puts com­mu­ni­ties at risk of exces­sive force, racial pro­fil­ing and brutality.” 

Alex Kane is a New York-based free­lance jour­nal­ist who writes on U.S. for­eign pol­i­cy in the Mid­dle East.
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