The video is just over two minutes, but it sure is disturbing. Blindfolded Palestinian detainees appear next to an image of American police in riot gear.
In the video posted to its Facebook page Wednesday, American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) claimed that programs that take American police leaders to Israel "only exacerbate U.S. law enforcement officials' disproportionate use of force, especially against people of color."
"Participants' pre-existing notions of militarized security were reinforced by the Israeli officials who teach the methods of mass surveillance, racial profiling, violent repression of protests, infiltration of communities and the militarization of border security," a narrator says.
It's an extension of an ongoing campaign to connect the training programs to American police violence, in hopes of persuading local governments to prohibit their law enforcement agencies from participating. The AMP video ends by directing viewers to a website called "Deadly Exchange," run by the anti-Israel group Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP).
JVP did not start the campaign to end police exchanges in Israel, but it became one of the effort's leaders in 2017 when it launched a concerted campaign under the banner "Deadly Exchange."
The campaign, its reliance on unsubstantiated allegations and anti-Semitic roots, were the subject of a two-part investigation published last week by the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT).
The investigation led to two major findings:
- Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) spent nearly three years promoting "Deadly Exchange," saying the police trainings in Israel led to "extrajudicial executions, shoot-to-kill policies, police murders ..." The organization quietly scrubbed that language from the Deadly Exchange website in June, issuing an "update" which cautioned that "Suggesting that Israel is the start or source of American police violence or racism shifts the blame from the United States to Israel ... It also furthers an antisemitic ideology."
- Critics, like JVP, AMP and others, offer no evidence to support their allegations. Rather, they make emotional appeals, juxtaposing images of Israeli police in tactical gear with similarly outfitted American cops. The IPT interviewed four police chiefs – two active and two retired – who said they saw none of the horrors described by JVP or AMP.
JVP's update is an indirect acknowledgement that the campaign was rooted in a hyperbolic, anti-Semitic smear. And the investigation showed how rhetoric falsely linking Israeli police training to American police killing black people has been repeated by Israel bashers like Linda Sarsour, Marc Lamont Hill and Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.
Despite its new disclaimer, JVP has not acknowledged its own role pushing the kind of anti-Semitic rhetoric it now warns against. Despite engaging in rhetoric it now says "provides fodder for those racist and antisemitic tropes," it wants people to believe the rest of the campaign is grounded in truth. That's simply not the case.
The IPT spoke with exchange organizers and participants. Each said the programs contained no hands-on training of any kind. And rather than pushing a message of oppression, the chiefs said the programs emphasized the importance of good community relations, of making sure disparate community voices are heard.
"So I knew my experience was nothing even close to what [critics] were trying to portray or what they've said was the purpose of the training, the executive level leadership training," Fayetteville, N.C. Police Chief Gina V. Hawkins said. "Definitely, none of the information in regards to any type of policing that's against any type of demographics, because that, one, would go totally against my beliefs, and totally against the beliefs of law enforcement, the professional law enforcement that we know."
LaGrange, Ga. Chief Louis Dekmar, a past president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, has traveled to Israel repeatedly to meet with counterparts there and knows many other police exchange alumni. None has returned saying, "Man, you're not going to believe what we learned about crowd control or you're not going to believe what we learned about new interrogation techniques."
Rather, Dekmar said, "It's how the Israeli police, under extremely difficult circumstances, has a respect for human rights and civil rights, the accountability system that includes the courts and how they do a very good job under difficult circumstances."
When the AMP claims that the programs "exacerbate U.S. law enforcement officials' disproportionate use of force, especially against people of color," the video shows a New York Police Department car rolling into a crowd of protesters.
But real-life experiences from two retired police chiefs who participated in Israeli police exchanges debunk the AMP claim.
George Turner's tenure as Atlanta police chief included protests tied to the Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter movements. A CNN report from 2011 showed that Turner's officers did not use tear gas or any excessive force in finding a middle ground between people's rights to protest and maintaining order.
In Olympia, Wash., Police Chief Ronnie Roberts advocated on behalf of environmental protesters opposed to fracking sand being shipped through Olympia's port.
In all the years of casting interaction with Israelis as a cause for American police excesses, neither JVP nor AMP or anyone else has produced a whistleblower to contradict the chiefs' accounts. And while JVP still calls the program "Deadly Exchange," there is not one example of anyone being harmed as a result of the police programs.
Hawkins pointed to a general tendency to "repeat what others say without any evidence or their own experience from what they've seen or what they've heard. Without any personal experience, they empathize with someone else's story. Which is good. It's okay to empathize. But when you repeat it without understanding, or without true facts, we see a lot on social media right now in which people are just retweeting false information, or sharing information without the full story."
It is important to consider the overall objective held by the police exchange program critics.
JVP members "unequivocally oppose Zionism." The organization includes Omar Barghouti, the father of the anti-Semitic Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) movement, on a "Deadly Exchange" advisory board. Barghouti openly admits that he opposes "oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine. No Palestinian - rational Palestinian, not a sell-out Palestinian - will ever accept a Jewish state in Palestine."
AMP "unequivocally supports the right of return" for Palestinians, something which would end Israel's existence as a Jewish homeland by flooding it with Palestinian "refugees" who are generations removed from any relative who actually lived in Israel or the Palestinian territories.
We get it. They hate Israel and can't tolerate anything that acknowledges its existence or contributions to the world. Just come out and say it. It would at least be honest and not a perpetuation of this fact-free narrative.
Research Analyst Teri Blumenfeld contributed to this report.
Steven Emerson is Executive Director of The Investigative Project on Terrorism (www.investigativeproject.org) He is the author or co-author of 8 books on the Middle East, terrorism, and national security, as well as the producer of two award winning documentaries and the author of thousands of investigative exposes on Islamist groups in the US, the Muslim Brotherhood, terrorist plots, and the corruption of government agencies in appeasing radical Islamist organizations.
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