Nearly 100 activists with the New York City chapter of grassroots organization Jewish Voice for Peace attempted Wednesday night to deliver a petition to the New York headquarters of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), calling for an end to ADL sponsorship of annual tactical, policy and technology exchanges between law enforcement in the U.S. and Israel.
Jewish Voice for Peace (incidentally the subject of a 2014 ADL report entitled “Imagine a World Without Hate”) members convened at ADL offices in 15 different U.S. cities, in a coordinated effort to spotlight these “Deadly Exchanges.” The demonstrations mark the inaugural day of action to pressure the ADL — a self-described premier U.S. civil rights organization — to end its support for the state-sanctioned discrimination and repression of communities of color in both the U.S. and Israel.
ADL offices in each city referred activists to the organization’s headquarters in New York where, they said, the more than 20,000 petition signatures would be accepted.
But ADL executives in New York rejected the petition, refused to meet with activists and the night ended with seven arrests.
The one hundred or so activists crammed into the ADL lobby at end of business Wednesday with chants like “20,000 people say/end police exchanges today!”
Once inside, JVP members read testimonies of Palestinians, Ethiopian Jews and other Israelis of color affected daily by discriminatory police practices and overrepresented in the criminal justice system. Many of these very same policies have been steadily outsourced to law enforcement agencies in the U.S.
The United States incarcerates more of its citizens than any other country in the world, disproportionately affecting people of color. One out of every 15 men of color see the inside of a jail cell during their lifetime in the U.S.; the same is true for 1 in 5 Palestinians living in Israel and the West Bank, a region with a smaller population.
“Hearing the testimonies of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike inspired so much hope, strength, resilience and resistance,” MJ Edery, member of JVP-NYC told Mondoweiss. As did the extreme surveillance and harassment detailed in another testimony about a 13 year old Palestinian girl’s daily experience at checkpoints.
The petition calls for an end to the ADL’s sponsorship of these “Deadly Exchanges,” which pair U.S. law enforcement leaders with those of the Israel National Police and Israel Defense Forces.
High-ranking U.S. law enforcement officials representing nearly 100 different federal, state and local agencies — including the tyrannical and emboldened Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, which has acted under an increasingly autonomous mandate since the election of President Trump — have taken part in these annual exchanges for more than a decade.
The program boasts that it “enables American law enforcement commanders to benefit from Israel’s counter-terrorism experience.”
“The ADL didn’t take our petition,” Rebecca Vilkomerson, JVP executive director, wrote in an email the following day, “but after a day of beautiful, inspiring, powerful actions, I know they got the message.”
The ideological incongruence inherent in an organization that claims to protect civil rights but in doing so, contributes to one of the gravest ongoing civil rights abuses happening today in Israel and the West Bank is simply “antithetical to the purpose of civil rights,” Asaf Calderon, JVP member and Israeli expatriate told Mondoweiss. Furthermore, “as a Jewish organization, we feel it is important to hold other community members accountable.”
JVP fully recognizes racism as endemic to policing. Therefore, the “Deadly Exchange” campaign and actions are not an accusation of racism in law enforcement; but rather recognition that these exchanges are “sharpening the skills” of discriminatory policing in both the U.S. and Israel, added Calderon.
From NYPD departments that routinely surveil mosques and Muslim cultural centers in the tristate area to border patrol agents enforcing a massive deportation policy, JVP has traced these “Deadly Exchanges” to numerous corners of U.S. law enforcement agencies. Not only is Israel’s booming weapons technology and infrastructure economy outsourced around the world, but U.S. police regularly go on ADL- and other Jewish Group-sponsored trips to train with Israeli officers.
The result so far has been a rather symbiotic relationship — if not utterly disastrous for civil rights.
For example, after the “stop-and-frisk” practice was outlawed in New York as unconstitutional because of its reliance on racial profiling, Israel’s Knesset passed its own “stop-and-frisk” law. Israeli authorities also emulate the now-defunct but still de facto “broken windows” policy begun by the NYPD in the 1990s.
And as “counter-terrorism” has twisted into a much broader definition in recent years, Israeli paramilitary policies have begun regularly appearing in American cities. Famously, during the 2014 Ferguson Uprising after the shooting death of unarmed African-American teenager Mike Brown, long simmering tensions between communities of color and a police force widely viewed as racist boiled over into days of protest.
The tactics employed by area-police on unarmed protesters — teargas, armored vehicles and rubber bullets especially — drew instant comparisons to Israel’s occupation forces in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Indeed, according to research conducted by the “Deadly Exchange” program, multiple St. Louis area police chiefs and executives had participated in ADL-sponsored National Counter-Terrorism Seminars in Israel.
When activists were told to leave the lobby, all but seven ranging in ages from 24- to 72- years old obliged. By this point, some 30 NYPD officers had arrived, according to one account, to arrest the seven remaining.
“As we were being arrested — as the NYPD showed up — we were proclaiming our vision of safety and liberation,” MJ Edery told Mondoweiss after being released from custody more than twenty hours later. Edery did not speak to whether or not charges were filed.
JVP activists were clear about their intentions to not only be anti-police exchanges, but to put forth an essentially abolitionist alternative vision, based strictly on community building and solidarity.
“[The Justice] System is designed to repress communities of color,” Edery added. This is why it is important that activists “envision restorative instead of punitive justice.”
The ADL has not returned requests for comment.