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Rights groups take aim at police trainings in Israel

Anna Lamb
Rights groups take aim at police trainings in Israel
Activists march on Tremont Street to demonstrate against a program which sends U.S. police officers to Israel for training. PHOTO: ANNA LAMB

Protestors in downtown Boston came together last week to speak out against an Anti-Defamation League program that holds law enforcement seminars in Israel, alleging that the group is promoting militarization and racist training for police departments.

The ADL, a Jewish organization founded in 1913 to combat antisemitism, has taken on a mission of stopping “defamation of the Jewish people” and counteracting international terrorism. As part of that mission, they have sponsored delegations of U.S. law enforcement to travel to Israel for formal presentations and briefings with military and counterterrorism operatives.

Critics, including those gathered on City Hall Plaza Thursday afternoon, call the practice a “deadly exchange” that promotes Islamophobia and anti-Muslim racism, targeting and surveilling progressive movements, and other racial profiling.

“We’re here to raise our voices against the Anti-Defamation League of New England for coordinating trips to Israel where Massachusetts police leadership learn about counterterrorism from Israeli military and security forces,” said William Ruhn, an organizer with the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement in Boston. BDS is a Palestinian-led movement promoting boycotts, divestments, and economic sanctions against Israel.

“The ADL uses these trips to encourage U.S. police to identify with Israel, to view Palestinians as terrorists and to view anyone who sympathizes with Palestinians as terrorist sympathizers,” Ruhn continued.

Protestors, who ranged in age from college students to long-entrenched advocates for Palestine, represented groups including Tufts Students for Justice in Palestine, Northeastern University Students for Justice in Palestine, Boston University Students for Justice in Palestine, Palestinian Youth Movement Boston, Jewish Voice for Peace Boston, Muslim Justice League and BDS Boston. Nearly 60 people stood to listen to speakers and later march through the streets.

Fatema Ahmed, executive director of the Muslim Justice League, called on Boston leaders to stop doing business with the ADL, especially those who are involved in civil rights advocacy in the city.

“We’re not here asking the ADL to stop what they’re doing. No, we’re asking our people to understand who the ADL is. And to actually drop them from our spaces, drop them from our progressive movements. We need our cities and institutions to ban police from going on these trips,” she said Thursday.

#DropTheADL has been a national movement over the last two years — sparked by racial justice protests after the death of George Floyd. It has been widely supported by anti-police-brutality groups and Democratic Socialists of America.

However, the ADL has continued to position the criticism as misguided and, at worst, antisemitic.

“There has been systematic racism in the U.S. for centuries, and it exists within our law enforcement and criminal justice systems. These problems were not imported to the U.S.,” a statement on ADL’s website says. “Blaming Israel for these grave and serious issues only serves as a distraction from legitimate problems that we as a nation need to confront.”

There have been divisions within the ADL itself about the controversial program. In 2020, the group’s senior vice president, George Selim, authored an internal memo advising that the organization drop the program because of the criticism it was facing from anti-police-violence movements.

Jewish activists showed up in large numbers Thursday to show their support for the abolition of the “deadly exchange,” with members of the Boston chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace speaking out against the ADL.

“I want to say really, really clearly, anti-racism is not antisemitic. Criticizing the ADL is not antisemitic,” one JVP member, MJ, said. “Enough, ADL, you’re not an ally.”

After some initial speeches, the group took to the streets, marching from Government Center to just in front of the Park Street MBTA station, where some Palestinian organizers from the Palestine Youth Movement shared final thoughts.

“The daily indignities of pat-downs, brisk aggressive questioning, walking through checkpoints — these are only the mildest of what our people endure at the hands of the Israeli occupation forces,” said Lea Kayali, drawing connections to U.S. police brutality.

“It is a strategic imperative for us to stop our oppressors from sharpening each other’s weapons,” Kayali said. “For 70 years, Zionism and militarism have tried to keep us from a collective struggle, but today we are standing here to tell them that we will stop them from working together to oppress us.”

ADL, deadly exchange, Israel, Jewish Voice for Peace, Palestinian Youth Movement