A delegation of police officers from all over the US visited Israel last month to learn how to fight terrorism.
One of its stars was Orlando Police Chief John Mina. In June Mina made headlines following the terrorist attack in Orlando in which 49 people were killed and dozens were injured when Omar Mateen opened fire on a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender nightclub. While he was walking down the alleyways in Jerusalem’s Old City, Mina looked like a typical tourist. Maybe that’s why he was so shocked when I asked him: “Have you heard the claim espoused by the American black community that US police officers are using knowledge they gained in Israel to kill black people?” He burst out laughing. “If you weren’t a journalist, I’d for sure think someone was trying to pull one over on me.
“We’re not here to learn how to kill black people. We’re learning how to fight against terrorism. How to evacuate people at the scene of an attack. It only takes Israelis a couple of hours to clear an attack scene, whereas we need a few days. We’re studying investigation methods, because we have such a different way of working. Our officers carry their weapons in a very different way from the Israeli police. In the US, police are much more discreet. While Israeli police officers ride their motorcycles with their weapons at the ready, this is not acceptable procedure in the US. We are certainly not learning how to kill black people,” he said.
Mina was asked this question since the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has leaked into the struggle between the American black community and the US police force. A few groups that are coordinating activity have strong ties with Palestinian organizations.
In parallel, the US police force is strengthening its cooperation with the Israel Police.
John Mina, Orlando police chief, speaks at a press conference about the Pulse night club shootings in Orlando, Florida, on June 20 (photo credit: REUTERS)
THE ORGANIZATION Black Lives Matter (BLM) was founded three years ago by female black activists following the acquittal of George Zimmerman, a volunteer civil guard, of the killing of the 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Black Lives Matter holds protests each time a black person is killed by policemen so as to keep the issue active in the American public consciousness. Opponents argue that the organization prevents the police from doing their work and as a result has actually led to an increase of crime and therefore endangers its own citizens.
At first, Jewish organizations expressed support for BLM, but recently their enthusiasm has diminished since BLM has forged closer relations with pro-Palestinian groups. A BLM delegation even visited the Palestinian village of Bil’in recently, and has made public accusations that Israel is an occupying power and an apartheid state.
Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) is an organization based in New York that campaigns on American college campuses for BDS against corporations that deal with Israel. On its Facebook page, SJP wrote that many local American police squads train in Israel. “The same forces that are behind the genocide of blacks in America stand behind the genocide of Palestinians.” Two days later, a clarification was posted: “Israel did not kill blacks. It is aiding the NYPD and other US police departments in the oppression and killing of black people.”
BLM claims that the joint work between the two police forces negatively affects the African-American community.
The organization claims that American police officers are learning from the Israelis how to kill black Americans.
BLM calls on the public to sign a petition calling for Israel to stop training American police officers. “When our forces are trained by brutal people, they then act brutally when really they’re dealing with law-abiding citizens,” the petition reads.
The drafters of the petition came up with fewer than 100,000 signatures, but Israeli-US police cooperation has become an issue on the US government’s agenda. Marc Lamont Hill, a CNN political commentator, has compared the US police policies with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. BLM demanded that Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed terminate the city’s relationship with Israel Police.
In a public news conference, Reed announced that the cooperation would continue. “The Israel Police has one of the best counterterrorism departments in the world,” Reed said. “And it is contributing greatly to our police department.”
Border policemen and firefighters stand near a bus that was bombed in a terrorist attack in Jerusalem in April (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
ROBERT FRIEDMANN, director of the Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange and Professor Emeritus of Criminal Justice at Georgia State University, has been promoting exchange programs for over 20 years. “This relationship is so close that the Atlanta Police Leadership Institute built its school according to what it saw in Israel,” Friedmann says. In a recent conversation, Friedmann was asked whether the American black community’s fear of the connection with Israel justified.
“It’s a modern day blood libel,” he replied. “In my mind, there’s no difference between claiming this and that Jews used the blood of Christian children to bake matza on Passover.
This may seem milder, but it comes from the same place. Our exchange program began in 1990, and it was the Israelis who initiated our first meeting in order to develop a better approach to civil rights.”
Concerning BLM’s claims that their rights are being violated as a result of this collaboration, Friedmann said that “[For] six years, we heard demands from students and local professors affiliated with BDS to close the program, but there was also a group of 41 Nobel laureates who opposed them.
“It’s absolutely ridiculous,” he continued.
“Their accusations are baseless. In fact, I was the one who wrote the first scholarly definition on community policing 20 years ago. No one was even talking about this back then. A local magazine ranked all the police chiefs in the state and all the top names were graduates of my program. Our goal is for as few people as possible to be harmed by violence and terrorism. If a person acts in an unlawful manner, he needs to be brought to justice, but that has nothing to do with us.”
When asked if he could understand the logic of the opposition, Friedmann replied: “US police officers shot almost a thousand people in 2015. The friction with the black community is very high and therefore the chances of black individuals getting hurt are relatively high. I don’t accept this argument. For 25 years I’ve been bringing US police officers to Israel and they’ve never once been taught how to kill. They get to hear lectures about deploying forces, self-defense, law and constitutional rights. We never ever talk about assassinations.
Just a few weeks ago, BLM began investigating which cities have training programs in Israel and checking this against statistics of black fatalities. A local police chief recently told me something very smart: If we wanted to learn about racism, we certainly wouldn’t have needed to travel all the way to Israel.”
Following the barrage of accusations, Friedmann turned to Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav and asked if he would send a letter of appreciation to the Atlanta mayor for standing strong in support of the program. Yahav did indeed reach out, but Friedmann has expressed intense criticism and is angry about the way the Israelis in general have ignored Reed’s sensitive situation.
“It’s a shame they haven’t stood by him,” Friedmann says. “What you don’t understand is that BLM are collaborating with BDS and have managed to make incredible inroads on American college campuses. In a few years, these students will be the decision makers in the US and then no mayor will be able to withstand such pressure. It’s time to wake up.”
Mayor Reed refused to be interviewed for this article. He referred us to the local police department, which also refused to answer any of our questions.
Even BLM remained silent. But in recent months, BLM activists stated that, “Police brutality in the streets of Palestine is similar to that found in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri,” which is where Michael Brown was killed by a white policeman two years ago. Brown and his city have become a symbol of police violence against blacks.
The deaths of Alton Sterling, 37, and Philando Castile, 32, recently were called targeted killings by the African American community. Once again, the topic of Israeli-US police cooperation has received attention in the media.
Sterling was shot in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, following a report that he was threatening passersby at gunpoint. Castile was killed a day later in Minnesota after being stopped while driving in his car. Castile mentioned that he had a permit to carry a weapon and asked for permission to show the officer his permit, but was shot before he was able to.
A Washington Post investigation from June 2015 shows the numbers behind this phenomenon: the percentage of blacks killed from gunfire is three times as high as that of whites or other minorities.
According to The Guardian, this rate is really five to one. Fifteen percent of the people killed are black men between the ages of 15 and 34 even though this group makes up only 2% of the population.
According to the site Mapping Police Violence, in 2015, US police officers killed 102 unarmed people. Thirty- seven percent of them were black even though they only make up 13% of the population. A more recent study, however, published in Injury Prevention found that one in every 291 arrests or holding of a suspect by police ends in injury or death, and that rates are identical among all races. African- American organizations claim that the results of the study do not imply everyone is given fair treatment, since many blacks are arrested for minor offenses, whereas whites are not, which means that blacks are liable to lose their life even when they only committed a simple theft.
The website Global Research claimed that the tight relationship between Israel and the US has led to acts of police brutality that didn’t end in death. One example given was Texas police officer David Eric Casebolt, who was filmed using Krav Maga moves against an unarmed African-American girl at a pool party.
Incidentally, Mina uploaded a video clip a couple of months ago that was taken during his most recent trip to Israel in which two Israeli policemen demonstrate self defense with some Krav Maga moves.
MK MICKEY LEVY, who in the past served as the Israel Police representative in the US, explains that there is absolutely no connection between the lessons Israel offers in combating terrorism and dealing with regular city crime and disturbances.
“The Americans are much better at dealing with crime than we are – and they’ve also been doing it for a much longer time,” says Levy. “In this field, we have a lot to learn from them, not them from us. When US police officers come to Israel, we teach them how to deal with terrorist attacks, which has nothing to do with killing American civilians. Fighting against terrorism is completely different than dealing with regular crime. I have personal experience with this since I was a commander of an anti-terrorist unit. BLM claims are completely baseless. When I was the Israel Police representative in the US, I organized a number of delegations of police officers who came to Israel to learn how to fight against terrorism.”
BLM claims that Israelis behave aggressively towards Palestinians and that the American police officers learn this method from the Israelis.
“A person is either aggressive because that’s his personality or that’s how he was brought up. People don’t become more aggressive from learning how to deal with terrorism. We have no connection with what’s going on in the US,” Levy says.
Yitzhak Dadon, director of the Israel Prison Rehabilitation Authority (PRA), who in the past was also an Israel Police representative in the US, also has a hard time finding any truth in BLM’s claims.
“This is ridiculous, literally madness,” he says. “Not only do our countries follow different rule structures – the US follows a constitution and we have basic laws – but our mode of operation is extremely different too. Israeli policemen never shoot citizens. In the US, on the other hand, there is a history of civilians shooting at officers, and so the police had to institute methods of protection. But this has nothing to do with us. The Israel-US cooperation is focused entirely on terrorism. We haven’t taught them any new methods of action, but they’ve introduced us to Taser guns. I have yet to understand exactly how we are helping them kill black people.”
The cooperation between the Israeli and American police forces became even tighter 15 years ago following the attack on the World Trade Center in September 2001. Two years later, the US government created the Department of Homeland Security, which made the collaboration official. In 2003, individual states in the US began signing agreements with Israel in the field of internal security. In February 2007, the US signed a security cooperation agreement, and soon after Congress passed the PACTS Act (Promoting Anti-terrorism Cooperation through Technology & Science) which strengthened the relationship between the US and friendly countries, including Israel.
Mina’s recent visit to Israel was organized by the Anti-Defamation League.
Carol Nuriel, acting director of the ADL’s Israel Office, joined the group while they toured Jerusalem’s Old City.
“Thanks to models created in Israel, the US has enacted new laws against hate crimes,” Nuriel says proudly. “We do not foment hatred, but rather try to defuse it. In the 1950s, we joined the black community in its fight for civil rights.
The ADL delegation of senior US law-enforcement officials poses with Israeli National Police officers in Jerusalem (photo credit: ISRAEL POLICE)
The ADL fights against racism towards any group, and we will stand by any community that wants to protest, so long as they don’t break the law.”
Nuriel was asked how, if these police tours indirectly lead to antisemitism, it was effective for the ADL whose mission it is to fight antisemitism.
“Our goal is to help fight against terrorism. Israel has a long history of fighting against terrorism, so it’s only natural that we would collaborate,” she said.
The ADL organizes three trips for American law-enforcement officers every year, two regional and one national. The St. Louis Police Department was the first to join the program, and dozens more have followed their lead.
In addition to participating in workshops and briefings, participants are taken to the Dolphinarium and Mike’s Place, two spots in Tel Aviv where terrorist attacks took place. These are usually very emotional moments. Nevertheless, the American police officers usually return home energized after their trip. “I’ve never learned so much from watching and listening before,” concluded Chris Rogers from Arizona.
DELEGATIONS OF Israeli police officers who’ve visited in the US share their counterparts’ enthusiasm. Twelve conferences have been held in the US in the last decade, in which over 10,000 local police officers have participated.
Former MK David Tsur, a former Chief of the Tel Aviv Police District, took part in one of them. “If we stop sending delegations of police officers to the US and hosting American police in Israel, we will just be playing into the hands of BDS,” Tsur says. “There’s a group of people who’s been campaigning to destroy our cooperation for years, but linking American police brutality with training by Israel Police is ridiculous. It has no basis in reality.”
Asked why he thought it was not logical to think that American police officers who’ve participated in Israeli workshops would use this knowledge to harm American citizens, he said that “the US police force has been around for much longer than ours.
“When it comes to traditional policing issues, we are the ones who learn from them. We both benefit from technological developments, and teach each other ideas. The people who are calling for our police cooperation to be severed will also soon be asking for our military cooperation to cease, too. There is no end to it.”
Translated by Hannah Hochner.