George Floyd’s killing by Minneapolis police on May 25 has prompted some to liken American policing methods to Israeli occupation policing, and to point out that many US police officers have gotten training from Israeli officials under the sponsorship of Israel lobby organizations.
For instance, the Morning Star published an article saying that the Minneapolis police force once received training from Israelis. The training was eight years ago and there is no evidence that the officers who killed Floyd got the training.
At least 100 Minnesota police officers attended a 2012 conference hosted by the Israeli consulate in Chicago, the second time such an event had been held.
There they learned the violent techniques used by Israeli forces as they terrorise the occupied Palestinian territories under the guise of security operations.
The so-called counterterrorism training conference in Minneapolis was jointly hosted by the FBI.
The issue has long been a focus in the Palestinian solidarity community. Thirty Georgia human rights and racial justice organizations last December came out in opposition of a program sponsored by fervent Israel supporters in which state law enforcement agencies send officers to Israel for training. Durham, NC, banned such exchanges two years ago.
Jewish Voice for Peace has for several years conducted a “Deadly Exchange” campaign that decries the trainings. As JVP’s Pittsburgh chapter wrote after learning that the police chief there went to Israel for training in 2018:
Exchanges between US police and the Israeli army promote a brutal military occupation as a positive model for community policing. Under the banner of “counter-terrorism” training, Israel is presenting lessons learned from 50 years of illegal military occupation over a Palestinian population deprived of human and civil rights…
Racial profiling, violent suppression of protest, massive surveillance, militarization of school security and the ongoing displacement of people from their homes are not lessons US law enforcement or US mayors should be bringing home.
Thousands of American law enforcement officers have gotten Israeli training, the Intercept reported in 2017. Alice Speri wrote that several pro-Israel organizations have sponsored the programs.
Thousands of American law enforcement officers frequently travel for training to one of the few countries where policing and militarism are even more deeply intertwined than they are here: Israel.
In the aftermath of 9/11, Israel seized on its decades-long experience as an occupying force to brand itself as a world leader in counterterrorism. U.S. law enforcement agencies took the Jewish state up on its expertise by participating in exchange programs sponsored by an array of pro-Israel groups, like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, and the Anti-Defamation League. Over the past decade and a half, scores of top federal, state, and local police officers from dozens of departments from across the U.S. have gone to Israel to learn about its terrorism-focused policing.
Much of the criticism focuses on a yearly counter-terrorism seminar in Israel that looks to be a police junket paid for by the Anti-Defamation League, which has trained hundreds of US law enforcement officers.
Lincoln Anthony Blades wrote about the ADL training in Teen Vogue in 2018, in the wake of the Mike Brown killing in Ferguson in 2014 and the clampdown on protesters.
Three years before the Ferguson protests, Tim Fitch — the chief of the very same St. Louis County Police Department responsible for firing teargas at activists and concerned citizens — had flown to Israel to receive training from Israeli police, intelligence, and military in a weeklong course on terrorism-focused policing.
That training was organized by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which has conducted its National Counter-Terrorism Seminar in Israel since 2004. The seminar, which is focused on riot suppression, counterinsurgency, and counterterrorism, attracts a variety of attendees, including local police, immigration-enforcement agencies, and even campus police.
The Anti-Defamation League’s role is of special interest because it has lately described George Floyd’s killing as a “murder,” and called for Americans to address a “racist” system here. “[S]ystemic injustice and inequality calls for systemic change,” its director, Jonathan Greenblatt, writes. “Now.”
But the ADL has had little to say about Israeli human rights abuses, including the May 27 police killing of an unarmed man in Jerusalem outside his school.
Tufts University was criticized for allowing its police chief to attend the Israel training in 2017. Also in 2017, a Washington, D.C., city councilmember said he was “troubled” by the city sending a Police Commander to Israel on the ADL training. David Grosso said the Metropolitan Police Department was encouraging the “militarization” of police rather than community policing. He told the Intercept that the officer would be “learning from people who are better at the violent approach to conflict resolution.”
In 2018, both the Vermont State Police and the Northampton, MA, police department pulled out of the ADL’s counter-terrorism training in Israel after local activists publicized the exchange. “This is the first case of withdrawal from the program in its 20-year history,” Joseph Levine of JVP wrote then.
JVP’s Seattle chapter obtained an ADL booklet from the 2015 program that quoted several police chiefs and a federal ICE official on why they were looking forward to going to Israel:
“To learn how the world’s most threatened nation keeps itself safe and secure for its
citizens…” (J.D. Patterson Jr., then director of Miami Dade Police Department, since retired)
“Given the threats we are presently facing, learning from leaders who have been
addressing similar issues for an extended period of time….” (Vince Talucci, director, International Association of Chiefs of Police)
“I’m looking forward to seeing how the Israeli people deal with the constant threat
of terrorism.” (Eddie Johnson, then deputy chief, Chicago Police Department, now former superintendent)
“I am interested in learning more about how the law enforcement community manages perpetual and elevated threat levels, both internally and from neighboring countries, how/whether they are effective, and how those techniques can be applied more broadly.” (Peter Edge, a former ICE security investigations official)
Now that critics are linking Israeli practices to the George Floyd killing, Jewish organizations are pushing back against the link. One Israeli official says that it is antisemitic to make the connection.
The ADL appears to be defensive about its program. Its own website has only six-year-old information about the seminars in Israel, though it says it conducts them “every year.” The ADL was able to get Teen Vogue to append its response to Blades’s article in 2018, saying that the program teaches US law enforcement in “fighting extremism,” and that the counter-terrorism seminar promotes “accountability” of police officers.
Our program is designed to build relationships with American law enforcement leaders and help these officials prevent and respond to extremist and terrorist threats and violence in the United States. Unfortunately, the Israelis have considerable experience on how to deter and disrupt terrorist incidents and strengthen community resiliency following terrorist acts.
The real purpose of the program is evidently to build connections between American security professionals and Israeli officials, so that the U.S. continues to back Israel.
Blades wrote in Teen Vogue that the training goes both ways: Israel adopted stop-and-frisk policy in 2016 in evident emulation of the discredited New York City policy.
The JVP campaign also says that the oppression goes both ways:
One of the most dangerous places where the regimes of Trump and Netanyahu converge are in exchange programs that bring together police, ICE, border patrol, and FBI from the US with soldiers, police, border agents, etc from Israel. In these programs, “worst practices” are shared to promote and extend discriminatory and repressive policing practices that already exist in both countries, including extrajudicial executions, shoot-to-kill policies, police murders, racial profiling, massive spying and surveillance, deportation and detention, and attacks on human rights defenders.
Thanks to Abdeen Jabara and Adam Horowitz and a couple of friends who will remain anonymous.