MYTH: In “deadly exchanges” Israel trains U.S. police to mistreat minorities..


Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) and other detractors of Israel have mounted a campaign to discourage American law enforcement and first responders from engaging with their Israeli colleagues. In what they refer to as “deadly exchange,” JVP asserts that the U.S. and Israeli government “exchange methods of state violence and control, including mass surveillance, racial profiling, and suppression of protest and dissent” (About Deadly Exchange, Jewish Voice for Peace, accessed June 22, 2020).

According to Al Jazeera, Durham, North Carolina became the first city to ban police training with foreign militaries, including Israel, in 2018. That same year, Vermont state police were pressured to cancel training in Israel (Mersiha Gadzo, “How the US and Israel exchange tactics in violence and control,” Al Jazeera, June 12, 2020).

The killing of George Floyd has given new impetus to the campaign as JVP and other proponents try to create a non-existent link between training in Israel and the behavior of American police officers. The Palestinian BDS National Committee, for example, issued a statement that said, “The system of structural racism in the US is violently enforced by paramilitary police departments, many trained by Israel, including the Minnesota police. These police forces have been tasked with doing whatever it takes to protect this rotten system of white supremacy and Black, Latinx and Indigenous disenfranchisement” (“We can’t breathe until we’re free! Palestinians stand in solidarity with Black Americans,” BNC, May 30, 2020).

The month before George Floyd was killed, this photo appeared in the Palestinian press showing a Palestinian security officer on the neck of a suspect while a second watches (“The Police arrest a person who stabbed a citizen,” pn-news, April 13, 2020).

Even as JVP continues to advocate “deadly exchange,” the group essentially admitted it is antisemitic in a June 5, 2020, update:

Suggesting that Israel is the start or source of American police violence or racism shifts the blame from the United States to Israel. This obscures the fundamental responsibility and nature of the U.S., and harms Black people and Black-led struggle. It also furthers an antisemitic ideology. White supremacists look for any opportunity to glorify and advance American anti-Black racism, and any chance to frame Jews as secretly controlling and manipulating the world. Taking police exchanges out of context provides fodder for those racist and antisemitic tropes (“DX Campaign Update: The National Uprising Against Policing,” JVP, June 5, 2020.

It is true that white supremacists exploit the campaign, but so do leftists and other critics of Israel. JVP itself pursues the antisemitic BDS agenda while serving as what Lenin referred to as “useful idiots” by allowing extremists to claim they are not antisemitic because even Jews agree with them.

Whatever valuable ideas for law enforcement visitors may glean from their Israeli counterparts, the Americans determine their own standards and tactics, and are responsible for their actions. The officers involved in the alleged Floyd murder and other cases of police abuses were not trained in Israel. Had they been part of an exchange, no one in Israel would have instructed them to put their knee on the neck of suspects (Aaron Bandler, “Israeli Police Spokesman Says Israel Didn’t Teach U.S. Officers Knee-on-Neck Move,” Jewish Journal, June 9, 2020)) or to shoot someone trying to avoid arrest in the back.

The Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA) has taken more than 200 law enforcement officials to Israel since 2002 and introduced many more to Israeli experts during conferences in the United States. Steven Pomerantz, former Assistant Director of the FBI, and Director of JINSA’s Homeland Security Program, denied that Israeli police teach visitors abusive tactics. “Despite suggestions to the contrary,” he said, “there is no field training involved in either the conferences or trips, and no training on holds or arrest mechanics.” They do, however, “learn how Israeli law enforcement deters, disrupts, and responds to terrorist attacks….the ideology of suicide bombers and other attackers, ways to de-escalate an ongoing incident, and the intelligence-gathering and -sharing process” (Steven L. Pomerantz, “I am the architect of the U.S.-Israel police exchange. Don’t believe the lies,” Forward, June 19, 2020).

Nevertheless, this tactic of trying to tie Israel to American police killings is not new. For example, after Alton Sterling and Philando Castile died in police shootings in 2016, Students for Justice in Palestine at New York University declared, “We must remember that many of the same many US police departments train with the #IsraeliDefenseForces. The same forces behind the genocide of black people in America are behind the genocide of Palestinians” (NYU Students for Justice in Palestine, Facebook, July 7, 2016).

The Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange (GILEE) program was established in 1992 to engage in international cooperation and executive development to improve law enforcement services. Officers from Georgia, North Carolina, Alabama, and Tennessee have participated in recent GILEE programs in Israel.

Robbie Friedman, founding director of GILEE, said Israel “has a great deal to contribute to better policing” (Robbie Friedman, GILEE: Jews, Public Safety and the BDS Threat, Atlanta Jewish Times, September 13, 2017). He also noted that “being proactive through building partnerships also provides a moral compass that reinforces our well-being and sends a message to those who wish us harm that we are more than ready not to be taken for granted (Robbie Friedman, “Partnerships Teach Society Lessons,” Atlanta Jewish Times, September 11, 2015).

Following the killing of George Floyd, GILEE issued a statement that said, “GILEE is guided by the principles of community policing as defined in 1992. These principles emphasize a proactive approach to policing based on partnership-building and concern for civil rights and liberties. Those who receive GILEE training have embraced its emphasis on the rule of law, fairness, being service-focused and enhancing joint efforts to proactively lift up our communities.”

After 9/11, American law enforcement officials became especially interested in tapping into Israelis’ knowledge and experience in counterterrorism. In 2002, for example, Los Angeles Police Department detective Ralph Morten visited Israel to receive training and advice on preparing security arrangements for large public gatherings. From lessons learned on his trip, Det. Morten prepared a new Homicide Bomber Prevention Protocol and was better able to secure the Academy Awards presentation.

In January 2003, 33 senior U.S. law enforcement officials – from Washington, Chicago, Kansas City, Boston, and Philadelphia – traveled to Israel to attend a meeting on “Law Enforcement in the Era of Global Terror.” The workshops helped build skills in identifying terrorist cells, enlisting public support for the fight against terrorism and coping with the aftermath of a terrorist attack.

“I think it’s invaluable,” said Washington, DC Police Chief Charles Ramsey about the instruction he received in Israel. “They have so much more experience in dealing with this than we do in the United States.”

In 2003, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security established a special Office of International Affairs to institutionalize the relationship between Israeli and American security officials. “I think we can learn a lot from other countries, particularly Israel, which unfortunately has a long history of preparing for and responding to terrorist attacks,” said Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) about the special office (Hearing Before the Committee on Governmental Affairs on the Nomination of Hon. Gordon R. England to be Deputy Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, United States Senate, January 24, 2003, p. 15).

A 2007 publication by the Police Executive Research Forum said, “We must embrace, in particular, our Israeli and British counterparts, to whom we can turn for lessons learned” (Lisa L. Spahr with Joshua Ederheime and David Bilson, “Patrol-Level Response to a Suicide Bomb Threat: Guidelines for Consideration,” Police Executive Research Forum, 2007).

In November 2011, a delegation of senior American law enforcement officials, including police commanders, security experts and FBI agents, went to Israel for a joint training seminar with Israeli counter-terrorism officials to learn about border security, media response during crises, and strategies for treating mass casualties, performing rescue operations and establishing command and control at the scene of a terror attack.

Col. Robert Quinn, commander of the New Hampshire State Police, was part of the delegation. “It’s really been an eye-opener,” said Col. Quinn. “We attend various training in the states on terrorism and counter terrorism issues but never have I ever learned as much as I have just by looking and observing as I have been in [Israel]” (Arieh O’Sullivan, “US law enforcement chiefs learn counter-terrorism Israel,” Jerusalem Post, October 31, 2011).

In 2012, the New York Police Department opened a branch in Israel because the Israel Police is one of the key units with which it must maintain close and continuous working relationships on a daily basis (“NYPD opens branch in Kfar Saba,” Times of Israel, September 7, 2012).

In 2013, a special Southwest Border bomb squad from Arizona went to Israel to learn from their counterparts. Sgt. Chris Rogers said they were interested in learning from Israelis’ “firsthand training and experiences…dealing with cross border Improvised Explosive Devices.”

In 2015, officials from the U.S. Marshalls Service, U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and the Chicago, Las Vegas, Austin, Seattle, Oakland, and Miami-Dade police departments met with their Israeli colleagues to learn lessons related to “tactics and strategies and the evolution of terrorism.”

In 2016, activists demanded that Atlanta stop allowing its police department to train in Israel. “I’m not going to do that,” said Mayor Kasim Reed. “I happen to believe that the Israeli Police Department has some of the best counter-terrorism techniques in the world and it benefits our police department from that long-standing relationship” (Lea Speyer, “Atlanta Mayor Flatly Rejects Demand From Local ‘Black Lives Matter’ Group to Cut Ties With ‘Apartheid Israel,’” Algemeiner, July 19, 2016).

In 2017, Jason Armstrong, the Police Chief in Ferguson, MO, was part of a GILEE delegation. He wrote that he learned about counterterrorism, Emergency Management, and various public safety and Homeland Security strategies. “I was most impressed with about the program, he said, “was learning how the Israeli police force was trying new ways to bring diversity to their police force in their police leadership….We got to visit and meet with police academy recruits were taking advantage of a program to assist people from the Arab communities in Israel with passing the entrance test into the police Academy. We learned about leadership training program specifically for female officers so they could flourish as leaders in the organization.” He added, “Any law enforcement leader looking to expand their knowledge base and experience once in a lifetime memorable moments, this program is top notch.”

In 2018, 21 senior law-enforcement officials from Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee participated in GILEE’s annual peer-to-peer training program. “The delegation studied Israel’s best practices and advances in community policing; recruitment and deployment; counterterrorism; emergency management; advanced technologies; homeland security policies; mounted police; use of K-9 services for drugs, explosives and missing persons; and crisis negotiations.” They were also briefed by Maj. Gen. Jamal Hakroosh – the first Muslim major general in the Israel Police and met with Arab cadets in the police academy (Eliana Rudee, “Senior police and public-safety officials boost their many skills in Israel,” JNS, July 5, 2018).

Friedmann said the sessions emphasized “a policy and a strategy aimed at achieving more effective and efficient crime control, reduced fear of crime, improved quality of life, improved police services and police legitimacy, through a proactive reliance on community resources that seek to change crime-causing conditions.” Friedmann noted the program “assumes a need for greater accountability of police, greater public share in decision-making, and greater concern for civil rights and liberties.”

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