by Abha Shankar
Investigative Project on Terrorism News
American officers learn “brutal policing tactics” and “racialized” views on counter terrorism and drug interdiction when they interact with their Israeli counterparts on exchange programs, a speaker claimed earlier this month during an Atlanta panel on the connections between black and Palestinian struggles.
Atlanta is home to the Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange, which has run such programs for years and is a constant target for anti-Israel activists.
The speaker at the March 11 program was identified only as Noura from the Palestinian Youth Movement, a radical transnational Palestinian movement with an active U.S. presence.
PYM joined hands with domestic black activist groups Black Alliance for Peace and Community Movement Builders to cosponsor the discussion that seems to be yet another intersectional effort by Israel bashers to discredit GILEE and similar police exchange programs.
The exchange programs take American police leaders to Israel to interact with counterparts there and involve no tactical training. Critics continue to smear the exchange programs as a “Deadly Exchange” but have yet to produce any participant who validates their claims.
Panelist Noura repeated the smear.
“The Deadly Exchange is what the JVP – Jewish Voices [sic] for Peace – coined their campaigns to end these kind of programs,” she said.
While Jewish Voice for Peace is one of the leading groups pushing the false “Deadly Exchange” narrative, it backed off from its strongest accusation. For nearly three years, JVP’s “Deadly Exchange” website said the police trainings in Israel led to “extrajudicial executions, shoot-to-kill policies, police murders…”
It removed that language in June 2020, issuing an “update” which cautioned that “Suggesting that Israel is the start or source of American police violence or racism shifts the blame from the United States to Israel… It also furthers an antisemitic ideology.”
JVP’s update indirectly recognizes the campaign to be an antisemitic smear. But speakers at the Atlanta event continued to push it.
For PYM, which opposes a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the priority is to secure allies rather than present evidence to support the claim.
PYM openly glorifies Palestinian terrorists and is ideologically opposed to a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It advocates for the antisemitic Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and shares close ties with groups accused of serving as fronts for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a U.S.- and EU-designated terrorist group.
Rhetoric falsely linking Israeli police training to American police killing black people continues to be repeated by JVP and other Israel haters such as the Council on American Islamic Relations and the American Muslims for Palestine.
No Supportive Data
A 2020 IPT investigation revealed the allegations connecting the exchange programs to American police violence were unsubstantiated. Despite their overblown rhetoric, critics have produced no evidence that anyone has been harmed or killed as a result of American law enforcement’s interactions with Israelis.
IPT interviews with five police chiefs who attended different exchange trips said the criticism bore no resemblance to their experiences. Additionally, no whistleblower has emerged to support claims that the programs teach hatred or encourage excessive police responses targeting minority communities. In fact, now-retired LaGrange, Ga. Police Chief Lou Dekmar, who was interviewed by the IPT for its two-part expose, actually started teaching officers to shoot to incapacitate, rather than shoot to kill, a lesson he says he brought back with him after an exchange visit to Israel.
Critics still have not offered any new allegation or provided any data to back their claims, GILEE founding director Robert Friedmann told the IPT.
“Nothing new and no supportive data,” Friedmann responded. “Occasionally they will vary the tactic. For example, after learning of counterattacks that they attack GILEE because it is working with Israel, they ‘dug up’ other countries we work with and selectively focuses on non-democracies to prove the point that we are ‘oppressive’.”
But exchanges in Israel dominate the campaign.
GILEE is a magnet for these activists, Friedmann said, “because we deal with Israel… also the ‘intersectionality’ adds police to the fray so we get it on both ends.”
During the Atlanta program, speakers spoke about the longstanding ties between black and Palestinian struggles.
Black Alliance for Peace speaker identified only as Tunde spoke about the “long history” and “strong legacy” of Palestinian and black struggles. He mentioned Malcom X’s 1964 visit to the Gaza Strip where “he toured refugee camps, hospitals, and really bore witness to the plight of the Palestinian people who had been displaced by Israel.” Tunde referred to a letter the black leader wrote to the Egyptian Gazette in which “he declared his staunch support for the Palestinian struggle and equated Zionism with colonialism.”
Others spoke against a proposal to build an Atlanta public safety training center to offer specialized training for law enforcement and fire department service workers. Critics who refer to the training center as a “Cop City” claim it is “militarizing police and endangering communities.”
A speaker from Community Movement Builders identified as Kwame described “policing as a [sic] occupational force within our communities” adding, “they [police] aren’t here to protect or to serve the interests of our communities” and “they’re there to hurt us, to abuse us, and to keep us in line for the benefit of the settler colonial class… specifically the capitalist class.”
Speakers also took shots at other Jewish interests.
PYM’s Noura accused the Anti-Defamation League, which has its own police exchange program, of “a history of collaborating with the police across the United States” and helping the “Biden [administration] kind of establish a counterterrorism strategy” that she described as the “Patriot Act 2.0.”
“The ADL in the past… also implemented COINTELPRO tactics on black movements, Palestinian movements, even surveilling Jewish Americans who are anti-Zionist,” she alleged. “This war on terror… it’s a war on political organizers and the ADL has definitely helped criminalize us… trying to confront Zionism in our local contexts is really important to all of us, not just as Palestinians, but also for black organizers and everyone… committing themselves to struggle in this country.”
Just like GILEE, anti-Israel activists accuse the ADL’s weeklong police exchange of fueling American police brutality. Participants have denied receiving tactical training or any discussion of forceful or coercive techniques in the program.
Noura also spoke about legislation pending in a Georgia Senate committee to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism. The resolution will “push for the criminalization of criticism of Israel and organizing against Zionist occupation,” she said.
In fact, the definition specifically says “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic.”
The measure passed the House 136-22 with bipartisan support on March 6. But it failed in the state Senate March 20 after the Judiciary Committee “adopted an amendment that watered down the IHRA definition in the legislation.”
PYM opposes the IHRA definition.
“From its inception, the IHRA definition was promoted and drafted by pro-Israel advocacy groups in order to undermine any avenues by which Palestinians could express their moral opposition to the Israeli occupation and Zionist settler-colonialism,” the group wrote.
“By making it suspect to criticize Israel or organize against the occupation, the IHRA definition seeks to criminalize the movement for a free Palestine and make it impossible for Palestinian organizers and their allies, both Jewish and non-Jewish, to continue to organize for Palestinian liberation and freedom from the occupation,” the post added.
The allegation that adopting the IHRA definition will “criminalize” free speech against Israel is a scare tactic. While the definition “is an important tool for education and guidance on antisemitism,” according to the ADL, it is “not a ‘charging authority.”
The definition, adopted by the U.S. State Department in 2016, has been embraced and promoted by 44 national governments and international bodies, including Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Germany, Greek Ministry of Education, Hungary, France, Israel, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and the UK.
The Atlanta panel discussion offered a lot of heated rhetoric, but nothing to substantiate the incendiary allegations about Israel and American policing. If it existed, they would have presented it.
Abha Shankar is the IPT research director.