by Nada Elia
Wednesday before last, more than 60 Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) members and other local activists gathered in downtown Seattle to call on the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to end their police exchange programs between U.S. and Israeli law enforcement officials.
The protest was one of 15 such rallies nationwide calling for the ADL to end these deadly exchanges, which perpetuate discriminatory, repressive and violent policies in both places. Here in Seattle, demonstrators held a banner that read “Safety through Solidarity: End the Deadly Exchange,” as they attempted to deliver a growing petition garnering more than 20,000 signatures. The idea of building safety for all through solidarity was explored during a speak-out featuring local activists who drew connections between intersectional struggles for justice.
Local leaders spoke to the connections between incarceration and detention of Palestinian youth in Israel/Palestine, and the building of a new youth jail here in King County. Community leaders, including activists with ILPS (International League of Peoples’ Struggle), QuAIA (Queers Against Israeli Apartheid), and NWDC (Northwest Detention Center) Resistance, spoke directly to their experiences and the need to build safety for all peoples, rather than further entrench militarism and racist police tactics through these deadly exchanges.
The connections between local and global manifestations of law enforcement violence become even clearer upon close examination of the US-Israeli “security” exchange programs. These include federal law enforcement agencies such as border patrol, ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation from the U.S., meeting with police, border agents, and soldiers from Israel.
Facilitated by Zionist organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League, and justified by a concern with “anti-terrorism,” the training of the police forces of U.S. cities and federal law enforcement by Israeli experts has accelerated since 2001, and threatens to grow even more deadly, as it now brings together the worst practices of the Netanyahu and Trump regimes, with their open support of the most racist factions in their countries.
As a result, our police forces have become overall more militarized, and civilian encounters between police officers and people of color, from Ferguson to Standing Rock, look increasingly like encounters between an occupying army and a people resisting their subjugation.
The city of Seattle, whose police department has participated in these trainings for many years, has certainly not escaped its share of heavily-armed police officers forcefully blocking civilian activists, and most recently protecting violent neo-Nazis from anti-hate protesters. Just last August, SPD officers pepper-sprayed Seattleites who turned out to denounce a white supremacist demonstration downtown.
This is in keeping with the Seattle Police Department’s history of racism, including the totally unwarranted shooting of people of color, most notably Indigenous wood carver John T Williams and, more recently, African-American mother Charleena Lyles. In fact, the Seattle Police Department has been under consent decree since 2012, when the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division and the United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Washington found a pattern or practice of excessive force that violates the US constitution and federal law. The investigation also raised serious concerns that some police practices–particularly those related to pedestrian encounters with police–could result in discriminatory or biased policing.
So what could a police department with well-documented practices of racist policing and excessive force seek to learn from Israeli forces?
The exchange programs are supposedly part of the global war on terror. But Zionism, which views all Palestinians as actual or potential terrorists, is fueling police brutality, racism, Islamophobia, and a desire for total absence of accountability here in the US.
Thus one itinerary of the 2016 tour, obtained by Jewish Voice for Peace, shows US officers training with Israelis who believe human rights should not be universal. One Israeli “counter-terrorism expert,” Amichai Magen, complained about, “the seepage of international human rights laws into rules that govern war,” proposing that “[w]hen the Geneva Conventions were drafted, no one imagined that non-state actors [such as Palestinians] would be able to use them.”
“Now let’s be honest,” a US delegation member to Israel said. “This whole idea of best practices is just a euphemism for: We’re here to steal some of your great ideas. And a lot of great ideas and technology, indeed, you do have here in Israel. I would hope that you do not view this as a negative, because in this day and age of globalization, our needs are truly similar. In fact, we are much more alike than dis-alike.”
Ironically, despite their celebrated similarities, and collaborations, the two forces are not viewed similarly. Thus while the image of US police forces has been significantly tarnished by the multiple racist murders American cops engage in, somehow the same racial profiling, violence and regular massacres of civilians by Israeli soldiers do not cause outrage. And the fully-documented fact that the Israeli military has always engaged in egregious violations of international law and the human rights of the Palestinians, as it enforces an illegal occupation and apartheid, engages in war crimes, and maintains a genocidal siege on two million people, doesn’t seem to trouble its many fans, who mindlessly repeat that it is “the most moral army.”
Ultimately, just as the Israeli military is invested in maintaining an illegal occupation, and securing Jewish supremacy, so these exchanges between US police forces and the Israeli military are not about counter-terrorism. They are about subjugating groups deemed “undesirable,” with overwhelming violence. Successful training in Israeli-style “counter-terrorism” means every encounter with a soldier, a police officer, or a security officer, could be a lethal encounter for the civilian, and that law enforcement faces no accountability.
In a moment when a national conversation about the racism and militarization of US police is growing, including here in Seattle, it is important to expose and oppose these law enforcement exchanges, which can only further hurt the already-shameful record of our local police.
Nada Elia is Jewish organizer with Jewish Voices of Peace
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the South Seattle Emerald.
Featured image by Alex Garland