Two major police associations in Georgia issued statements last month in support of an exchange program that has come under criticism from anti-Israel campaigners.
The Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange (GILEE) — based at Georgia State University — trains senior US law enforcement officials to counter domestic terrorist threats by facilitating cooperation with security officials from Israel and other countries that frequently grapple with bombings and other terrorist activities. The program also brings international delegations to Georgia to study a variety of American policing practices.
Multiple GILEE graduates have said the training had a positive impact on their development as law enforcement professionals, with retired Atlanta police chief George Turner crediting it for the eventual opening of an updated CCTV monitoring system called the Video Integration Center and a Leadership Institute back home.
Yet the program has also faced sustained opposition by anti-Zionist activists, as part of a years-long campaign that was recently profiled on the blog Legal Insurrection by Miriam Elman, a professor of political science at Syracuse University in New York.
Among the earliest initiatives against the police exchange was a 2010 protest organized by GSU’s Progressive Student Alliance (PSA) and the Movement to End Israeli Apartheid-Georgia — an off-campus group that works to advance the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.
In a press release advertising the rally, organizers accused GILEE of teaching officers Israeli tactics like “extrajudicial killings, racial profiling of Arabs, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of detainees.”
More recently, BDS-supporting organizations have introduced similar efforts to end police exchanges between Israeli and American forces. These include the “Deadly Exchange” campaign launched by the anti-Zionist group Jewish Voice for Peace in 2017, which partially blames US-Israeli law enforcement cooperation for “discriminatory and repressive policing” against minorities in both countries, and condemns “Jewish organizations that facilitate such deadly exchanges.”
These charges have been strongly denounced by the Anti-Defamation League, a prominent Jewish civil rights group that sends senior US security officials to Israel for seminars that focus on strategies “to deter and disrupt terror attacks and strengthen community resilience.” The ADL noted last year that JVP’s “Deadly Exchange” campaign uses “language to describe American Jewish organizations that veers uncomfortably close to age-old antisemitic canards about Jews using their influence to undermine the societies of the countries in which they live.”
The effort has nonetheless gained some traction, with JVP activists and other BDS supporters convincing the Durham City Council in North Carolina to ban police exchanges with Israel in April. JVP also successfully lobbied the Vermont State Police and the Northampton, Massachusetts Police Department to withdraw from an ADL seminar in Israel late last year.
In apparent response to these pressures, the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police (GACP) and the Georgia Sheriffs’ Association (GSA) released similar statements in December panning claims that GILEE teaches officers to “oppress” minorities or engage in illicit and inhumane tactics.
In its own statement, the police chiefs’ association “emphatically” rejected that GILEE programs were “being used to train law enforcement in tactical or military operational techniques designed to oppress minorities or other members of their communities (characterized as ‘deadly exchange’).”
“Not only do such claims lack any foundation in the facts or histories of such exchanges, but the inflammatory causal attribution that such training leads to deadly encounters in the US is utterly fallacious and slanderous,” the GACP wrote. “In fact, participants receive a better understanding of how to network with their citizenry and enhance the service delivery to these underserved communities.”
Echoing this language, the GSA statement likewise rejected claims that this “important peer-to-peer executive law enforcement training” included instruction “designed to oppress minority populations or other specific groups.”
“Accusations that these valuable international training exchanges lead to deadly encounters in the United States are fallacious and slanderous,” it emphasized. “The initiative is meaningful to the safety of Georgians and it is our hope to continue our participation for many years to come.”
The claims promoted by the “Deadly Exchange” campaign were also denounced by Robbie Friedmann, a professor emeritus of criminal justice at GSU, who founded GILEE in 1992 with the aim of bolstering public safety in Atlanta before the city hosted the 1996 Summer Olympics.
In an extensive statement shared with Elman, Friedmann countered a report published in support of the campaign by JVP and the pro-BDS group Researching the American-Israeli Alliance, calling it “methodologically deficient and logically indefensible.”
He specifically criticized the report’s reliance on charged “rhetoric and propaganda” targeting Israel, its failure to differentiate between causation and correlation, and its research methods.
“Facts are distorted, the design does not lend itself for any scientific verification and the ‘evidence’ brought is selective, twisted, taken out of context, and its conjectures are baseless,” Friedmann said. “Their research ‘design’ is lacking any principles of social science research and the ‘findings’ could not be replicated, making them simply unacceptable.”
“To make the point clear: Deadly Exchange is a malicious concocted hoax that marshals propaganda disguised as research data and findings,” he added. “Its choice and interpretation of the scholarly work it relies on is likewise problematic and one-sided. But Deadly Exchange is a hoax not only because the research is faulty; one could argue that a better designed research could still corroborate their charges. It is a hoax simply because reality defies its claims.”
Friedmann noted that the US police organizations involved in exchanges with Israeli counterparts “have unanimously praised the knowledge and expertise that they have gained,” and pointed to the value they provide to their own communities.
“When officers violate departmental policies and the oath of office they need to be held accountable for their transgression, as is done in any country that is governed by the rule of law,” he said. “Slandering police and countries will do little to improve the lot of minorities.”