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Protest targets Israel’s police training program

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO
Protest targets Israel’s police training program
Demonstrators march across the Boston Common, demonstrating against a program that trains local police in Israel. BANNER PHOTO

Several dozen activists last week marched from the Boston Common to the headquarters of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to protest the Jewish civil rights group’s funding of exchange programs in which local police departments receive training from the Israeli Defense Force on crowd control, counterterrorism and other military tactics.

The Dec. 23 demonstration was led by the Boston chapter of the group Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), whose members are opposed to what they say are apartheid policies in Israel that relegate Muslims, Christians and others who are not of Jewish ancestry to second-class status.

“It’s noteworthy that while Israel is oppressing Palestinians through more than 60 discriminatory laws, they’re also militarizing U.S. police departments,” JVP member Willie Burnley Jr. told the Banner. “As a black person, I’m very concerned about police violence. To hear that Israel is pushing military tactics on local police is of concern to me.”

Led by the activist street band Honk, the demonstrators made stops along the way at which speakers denounced the exchange program critics have labeled the “deadly exchange.” The exchange programs, funded by the ADL and other groups, came under fire in recent years as anti-police violence activists have become increasingly concerned about the militarization of local police departments.

Officers and top brass from departments around the country, including officers from the Boston Police Department and Suffolk County Sheriff Steve Tompkins, have attended the ADL-funded trainings. The trainings are conducted by Israeli police, military and members of Shin Bet, the country’s intelligence service.

Melissa Nussbaum Freeman, a Boston organizer with JVP, said she is concerned that the heavy-handed tactics employed by the Israeli military against Palestinians — including the use of facial recognition software — could be deployed by U.S. police departments.

“They teach racial profiling,” she said. “As our president says, the Israelis are really great at racial profiling. They’re the best.”

One common Israeli crowd control tactic — the liberal use of tear gas — was deployed during the Ferguson protests in 2014. The move led many U.S. activists to look more closely at Israel as Palestinians communicated with Ferguson activists on social media, sharing information about how to treat people afflicted by tear gas.

In recent months, some police departments have withdrawn from the exchange program under pressure from activists. The Vermont State Police and the police department in Northampton, Massachusetts withdrew from programs in Israel this year.

In addition to local police departments, activists called also on the ADL to cease working with U.S. immigration officials.

Gabriel Camacho, the Immigration Programs Coordinator at the American Friends Service Committee, said the ADL-sponsored program sent agents with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to Israel for trainings. That training, he says, is at odds with the ADL’s reputation as a civil rights organization.

“There’s no rhyme or reason that ICE agents should be trained in Israel,” he said. “How can an organization call itself pro-civil rights, pro-immigrant, but do the exact opposite — aid and abet and collude with the very same agencies that are destroying our families?”