Atlanta activists are reigniting their fight against the Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange (GILEE), a program where police officers and law enforcement officials receive training from human violators such as Israel.
On September 17, a town hall forum was held at Atlanta University to Center educate citizens on GILEE’s relationship with the city. It was attended by over 120 people and sponsored by a number of local activist including Project South. Project South Legal & Advocacy Director Azadeh Shahshahani told Mondoweiss the event was inspired by a non-response from Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. In March, dozens of organizations, activists, faith leaders, and scholars signed a letter calling on Bottoms to end the program. It reminds Bottoms she agreed to pause GILEE if elected and meet with community members to discuss their specific concerns. “We sent this letter a number of months ago and there’s been no response,” said Shahshahani, “So we have moved to engage in public education and relaunch this campaign.”
— Azadeh Shahshahani (@ashahshahani) September 18, 2019
GILEE was founded in 1992 by Dr. Robert Friedmann in response to security concerns surrounding the 1996 Olympics. Friedmann (a Criminal Justice professor with connections to the Israeli Embassy) has repeatedly made Islamophobic statements in relation to the program, falsely claiming Muslim leaders had failed to condemn the 9/11 attacks and openly complaining about the fact that the First Amendment prevents the authorities from targeting mosques. A 2016 Mondoweiss piece by Atlanta-based journalist Anna Simonton showed the privately-funded program receives financial support from a number of pro-Israel donors.
GILEE links police officers and law enforcement officials from a number of U.S. cities with foreign governments for training sessions and seminars. These governments include some of the most notorious human rights violators, including Israel, Egypt, Colombia, and Kazakhstan. GILEE’s website boasts it has run 450 such events for over 33,000 law enforcement members throughout the United States. Public record requests for further information on the program have traditionally been stonewalled, but the kinds of repressive tactics these countries use are well-known. The aforementioned letter quotes an Amnesty International report on events that occurred in the region during 2017: “Israeli forces, including undercover units, used excessive and sometimes lethal force when they used rubber-coated metal bullets and live ammunition against Palestinian protesters in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, killing at least 20, and injuring thousands. Many protesters threw rocks or other projectiles but were posing no threat to the lives of well-protected Israeli soldiers when they were shot.”
In April, two Student Government Association Senators at Georgia State University introduced a resolution calling on the school to stop sending its officers to the group’s training programs, but it failed to pass.
Shahshahani points out that Mayor Bottoms severed Atlanta’s relationship with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in 2018, proving there’s an existing precedent for ending contracts over human rights concerns. “Police killings in this state doubled from 2017 to 2018,” she told Mondoweiss, “It doesn’t make any sense to send our police to get trained in more repressive policies.”
In 2018, activists in New England successfully forced the Vermont State Police Department and the Northampton, Massachusetts Police Department to pull out of scheduled security seminars in Israel that were carried out by the Anti-Defamation League.