Here is a crazy story about pro-Israel groups using private and government security forces to suppress free speech in the United States. The incident took place at the Kansas City Public Library last May, but became news in the last week.
On May 9, Dennis Ross, the longtime US government official on the Middle East who has been called Israel’s lawyer (and who has said that American Jews “need to be advocates” for Israel and not for Palestinians), gave a speech at the Kansas City Public Library about Truman and Israel. The speech was sponsored by the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Kansas City, among others, and the JCF insisted on extra security for the event because of a hate-crime, the shooting at the Jewish Community Foundation two years before that left three dead.
But when Jeremy Rothe-Kushel, a documentarian, rose to ask Ross a critical question, then tried to follow up, he was rushed by a private security officer. The library’s programming director, Steve Woolfolk, interceded on Rothe-Kushel’s behalf. Ultimately both Woolfolk and Rothe-Kushel were handcuffed and arrested in the library lobby, by an off-duty Kansas City police officer– who was also hired for the event by the JCF. Rothe-Kushel characterizes the arrest as an “assault,” and notes that Woolfolk suffered an injury.
The story is breaking now, it seems, because the Kansas City Public Library wanted to keep the whole incident on the q.t., but the Kansas City police insisted on pressing ahead with the charges.
Rothe-Kushel told me today that the case exposes the “nexus between the United States and Israeli security state.” Both the private security guard who grabbed him and the Kansas City police detective who charged him that night have received training in counter-terrorism from Israeli officials in visits to Israel.
Rothe-Kushel says that the private security officer, Blair Hawkins, is a security officer for the Jewish Community Foundation. He speculates that Hawkins, who has extensive national security experience, got the job through a security arm of the Israel lobby called SCN, the Secure Community Network, which describes itself in this way:
“The national homeland security initiative of The Jewish Federations of North America & the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.”
Now let’s go back to the scene of the “crime.” Ross’s speech was connected to his pro-Israel book, Doomed to Succeed: The U.S.-Israel Relationship from Truman to Obama.
This American Libraries account quotes Woolfolk on the decision to allow private security:
Woolfolk told AL that the JCF came up with the idea of providing security for the talk. “The library, on occasion and usually at the speaker’s request,” Woolfolk said, “agrees to providing extra security.” But in this case, the JCF arranged for private security guards as well as off-duty police officers to be present, in part because of sensitivity in the region over the April 2014 shootings by a lone gunman at a Jewish community center in Overland Park, Kansas, that left three people dead.
At the end of Ross’s talk, Rothe-Kushel went to the audience microphone to ask Ross a question, in the process stating that the US and Israel have engaged in state-sponsored terrorism. Ross answered, but Rothe-Kushel “was clearly not happy with his response to that assertion,” Woolfolk said.
Jeremy Rothe-Kushel provided me with a transcript of his exchange with Ross. Here are excerpts:
Rothe-Kushel: I’m very interested in the issue of tribalism and terror… So you see this long history of not only the United States, but Israel utilizing terrorism that includes potentially the death of its own tribe to advance its own geopolitical cause all the way up into the 21st century, including September 11th and that whole mess that I would tell people to look at Alan Sabrosky, the Jewish, courageous Marine who’s exposed the Zionist role in that. So I would ask you, at what point does the Jewish diaspora – do we have to have the ethical courage – I’m a Jewish American – to point out that especially in America, both the countries that operate in our name have used terrorism way too long, including against its own citizens, to project power at home and abroad. When are we going to stand up and be ethical Jews and Americans?
Dennis Ross: Well, look, I don’t think that as a matter of policy, that the United States or Israel engage in acts of terror. Terror is you target deliberately civilians for an expressed political purpose. The idea that Israel had something to do with 9/11 is just outrageous – they had nothing to do with it.
Rothe-Kushel: Tell that to the Marine, Alan Sabrosky.
Ross: Well, I’m a big believer – as Patrick– Daniel Patrick Moynihan used to say, everybody’s entitled to their own opinions; they’re just not entitled to their own facts.
Rothe-Kushel sought to respond, but he was then grabbed by a security guard. He repeatedly called out, “Take your hands off me,” and offered to leave the hall on his own.
Keep in mind that just two years before, the Jewish community of Kansas City was targeted by a violent neo-Nazi, and three people were killed. Rothe-Kushel says he fully understands the apprehension of the community; but he had submitted to a search before the event began, so it was known he was only carrying recording equipment; and when security pulled him from the hall, they left the place, thereby ignoring any real potential threat.
The Kansas City Star emphasizes the peaceful nature of Rothe-Kushel’s questioning, and specifies the injury to Woolfolk:
The audience member, Jeremy Rothe-Kushel of Lawrence, was standing still and speaking into a microphone when a private guard and off-duty police officers removed him.
Steve Woolfolk, director of public programming for the library, protested the police action and tried to intervene before the entire group left the room and both men were arrested….
Woolfolk said he suffered a torn medial collateral ligament in his knee when a police officer kneed him in the leg. [Library director R. Crosby] Kemper said the library is paying workers’ compensation for the injury.
The Bill of Rights Defense Committee coverage focuses on Woolfolk’s actions: “Library Worker Heroically Defends Patron’s Free Speech, Is Brutally Arrested in Library Where He Works.”
In a video at the Kansas City Star site, Woolfolk says:
I’m a little bothered by the knowledge that the police can come into my workplace, any workplace, and place somebody under arrest for doing their job, and of all places at a public library.
While Kemper, director of the library, laments the fact that the police did not drop the case.
They’ve kind of doubled down on this and they’re moving ahead with the prosecution. At this stage, I’m actually a little outraged. This is a violation of the First Amendment of the United States.
The AP story on the matter explains the decision to prosecute: “Kansas City police spokeswoman Capt. Stacey Graves said off-duty officers hired by the event sponsor acted properly in helping private security stop an audience member from asking follow-up questions.”
Rothe-Kushel says that the Kansas City police detective who arrested him is named Brent Parsons and was also trained in Israel. He added, by email:
Both these guys [Parsons and Hawkins] have backgrounds in counter-terrorism and have in recent years been to Israel for security conferences/training.
Meanwhile, I’m a dedicated and on-the-record non-violent activist focused on Satyagraha and the promises of truth power to counter deep-state terrorism through speech, press and assembly. The search showed no weapons or contraband. Nor did I intend or show any indicators of “protest.”
It was a unique situation in terms of security, as it was the first time that the KC Library had given permission to a co-presenting group to supply their own security detail. It was allowed with the agreement that no patron would be ejected because of speech nor without the agreement of the 3 co-presenting groups, Truman Library, JCFKC and KC Library, and that force would only be used for reasons of physical security.
So, in short, we have a DHS/police agent and (former) State Dept. counter-terrorism officer, both as members of paid private security detail, using force and arrest to interrupt and ‘moderate’ time, place and manner-appropriate core political speech in a designated public forum, against the policies, practices and desires of the KC Library itself and the 1st and 14th amendment-protected rights of one of its patrons.