This fall, as students and faculty returned to their campuses across the U.S., some American professors were packing their bags for the upcoming Israeli counter-terrorism conference in Herzliya, Israel, hosted by the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT), a right-wing research institution and think tank at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC Herzliya).
Workshops and plenary panels include such topics as “The Nexus between Prison, Radicalization, and Terrorism,” (in cooperation with the Israeli Prison Services),” “New Battlefields/Old Laws: When Disaster Hits: Threats, Preparedness, and Legal Gap,” and the final, closed plenary session is entitled, “The Gaza Border Dilemma: Can Non-lethal Tools Prevent a Breach of the Border Fence?”
While the public face of the conference might seem to indicate that the event is a high-profile update to global security issues, titles like the ones above betray the intent to have worldwide experts validate a set of Israeli policies that simply await confirmation. For instance, when one reads that “new laws” may need to be set up to deal with “new battles,” the expectation might well be that human rights and international law should be set aside to “deal” with “new battlefields.” Or, considering Israel’s routine incarceration of Palestinian civilians for writing a poem, defending their homes from invading soldiers, or, in thousands of cases of “administrative detention,” no reason whatsoever, one must stop and wonder what the Israeli Prison Services have to contribute to a definition of terrorism, let alone a discussion of a nexus between prison and terrorism. Similarly, the title of the closing, private session, registers to the informed observer as simply a rhetorical question. The most cursory glance at Israel’s cyclical assaults on the Gaza Strip, which it euphemistically refers to as “mowing the lawn,” reveals that Israel has no interest in deploying non-lethal methods. Rather, the densely populated, besieged Strip, where every civilian standing up for their humanity is considered a “legitimate target,” offers Israel the perfect opportunity for field testing newly developed weapons that it exports to countries around the world. The conference therefore will simply serve to give Israel cover for activities that in this case are nothing other than war crimes and crimes against humanity.
And U.S. academics are lending their presence and their voices to this charade.
The U.S. presenters include professors from UCLA, Columbia, Wake Forest University, Georgetown, West Point, and SUNY, as well as the Georgia State University chief of police. (Full list of speakers here). Syracuse University’s Institute for National Security and Counter-terrorism is listed as a partner, and Matthew Levitt of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a “terrorism expert” who has testified for the U.S. government in cases criminalizing aid to Palestine, is listed as partner/sponsor. The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a right-wing think tank, was founded by the former director of research for the powerful Zionist lobby, AIPAC. These American “security experts” will be presenting alongside representatives from the Israeli Ministry of Defense, Israeli Prison Services, Israeli National Police, and former deputies, chiefs, and directors of the IDF and Mossad.
The conference highlights the complicity of Israeli universities in the oppression of Palestinians, as well as Israel’s propagation of racism and law enforcement violence globally.
PACBI, the Palestinian campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, and its American counterpart, USACBI, have long denounced the role of Israeli universities in researching, developing, and maintaining the infrastructure of Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people, a matrix of domination and control that it exports to the world under the guise of “security,” even though all Israel is securing is its violation of international law and the human rights of the indigenous people of the land it occupies.
The criminalization of entire communities, viewed as threats to the state, is something people of color have long experienced in the U.S., as evidenced by the history of state sanctioned violence against Black, Brown, and Indigenous peoples here. INCITE! Women and Trans People of Color Against Violence had documented this state sanctioned violence in their 2006 anthology The Color of Violence, followed in 2008 by and an activist and organizers’ toolkit with practical suggestions to deal with the lethal impact of a hypermilitarized police force trained in racism. Black Lives Matter and the Movement for Black Lives have brought this issue to national prominence over the past few years, even as the police forces in various cities continue to kill innocent people of color, people with disabilities, and gender non-conforming people with no accountability. More recently, Jewish Voice for Peace has launched its Deadly Exchange campaign to end U.S.-Israel police partnerships, sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League. These “exchanges,” the training of U.S. forces by Israeli security experts, have aggravated the hypermilitarization of U.S. police forces, resulting in an escalation in extra-judicial killings of innocent civilians by “law enforcement” officers.
Israeli “security experts” also run training camps for individuals not associated with the police, who fancy themselves lone vigilantes “standing their ground,” or protecting their neighborhood. Thus “Instinctive Shooting International” for example, which as its name suggests, trains one for shooting first, on the presumption that the victim is guilty, not innocent. ISI is predominantly staffed by veterans of the Israeli military, and has trained both police forces, the FBI, Border control, and civilians in the U.S. More recently, “Cherev Gidon Israeli Tactical Training Academy,” an Israeli-founded training camp in the U.S., announced it would be offering “heavily discounted” lessons to white South Africans, because “All those who care about human rights must do our part to help White South Africans against a genocide perpetrated by the Communist government and these hordes of savages.” Last month, Cherev Gidon had posted the alarmist warning: “Iran now targeting U.S. Jewish communities! This is why each and every one of us needs to be armed, trained and alert at all times,” adding that “Cherev Gidon offers live-fire Israeli combat training courses, tailor-suited to fit the needs of American Jewish communities.” Israel’s entire “security” apparatus hinges on racism.
The Herzliya conference is held yearly, and last year hosted Sebastian Gorka, former Deputy Assistant to Donald Trump, as a keynote speaker. Gorka is a noted Islamophobe with ties to Hungarian far-right groups. As one journalist who attended last year’s conference reports, Gorka’s fascism was a perfect complement to the conference’s underlying themes: “the constant specter of internal threats, Islamophobia, and a wide-eyed enthusiasm for military technology.” This year’s keynote speaker is Knesset Member “Minister of Public Security” Gilad Erdan, who also holds the portfolio of Minister of Strategic Affairs, and directs anti-BDS work internationally.
The academy has never been a neutral, apolitical space. But as it clamps down ever more harshly on progressive student activism and faculty speech, it is important to expose the permeability of universities to the pervasive racism of “security experts” with little regard to international law, “instinctive shooters” who operate on the basic assumption that one is innocent until proven guilty—a proof that can only come too late, if you shoot first. Professors who attend conferences such as the annual Herzliya Counter Terrorism conference bring back to their campuses the lethal approach of Israel’s “Defense” forces, where a poem is viewed as a threat to national security, and students are kidnapped by undercover agents and jailed for joining a campus group.