THE POLICE EXCHANGES WITH U.S. officers are premised on Israel’s experiences with terrorism and its security forces’ handling of continued risks. But Israel’s record in carrying out its counterterror policies is checked with allegations of grave abuses. Founded amid a campaign of ethnic cleansing in 1948, Israel seized the West Bank and Gaza in 1967’s Six-Day War and has since maintained its occupation — including by building civilian Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory, itself a violation of international law. Now, the same security forces accused of mistreating citizens and stateless Palestinian subjugates are training American cops.
Last year, the ADL’s training included meetings with officials from Israel’s internal security service, known as Shin Bet. The security agency was allegedly behind the surveillance, as well as the torture and targeted assassinations, of Palestinians in both Israel and the occupied territories.
The U.S. law enforcement officials on tour with the ADL also met with Israeli police special patrol units known as “Yasam” — paramilitary riot police whose excessive force and abuse of Palestinians is well-documented — and traveled to checkpoints, prisons, and Hebron. In Hebron, a city in the West Bank, some 200,000 Palestinians are barred from entering the old city center, where fewer than 1,000 Jewish settlers are protected by the same number of Israeli soldiers.
The ADL, a group with a nominal mission to oppose bigotry that has instead expended much of its energies on advocating for Israel, failed to devote much attention to Palestinian law enforcement. In 2016, the group’s itinerary included a single meeting with a Palestinian police officer — from the Bethlehem Tourist Police.
A spokesperson for the ADL said in a statement to The Intercept that critics’ suggestions that its programs contribute to police brutality and racism is “false and defamatory.”
“On the contrary, ADL’s law enforcement missions have a goal of doing exactly the opposite, by strengthening law enforcement’s connection to the communities they serve,” the spokesperson said.
In the past, the group condemned those drawing parallels between police abuse in the U.S. and Israel’s occupation of Palestine. “There is a long history of using legitimate American social justice issues to undermine the Jewish state,” a top official from the group wrote in the aftermath of the Ferguson protests. There is “no rational connection between the challenge of racism in America and the situation facing the Palestinians,” the ADL official added.
Yet the criticism persists. The group Jewish Voice for Peace recently launched a campaign to bring greater public scrutiny to U.S.-Israel police exchange programs.
“These programs transform Israel’s 70 years of dispossession and 50 years of occupation into a marketing brochure for ‘successful’ policing.”
“These programs transform Israel’s 70 years of dispossession and 50 years of occupation into a marketing brochure for ‘successful’ policing,” Stefanie Fox, JVP’s deputy director, wrote in an email to The Intercept. “Under the banner of ‘counterterrorism’ training, high-ranking police and immigration officials visit checkpoints, prisons, settlements, police stations, and other key sites that are central to Israel’s policies of occupation and apartheid.”
Law enforcement exchanges are marketed as an opportunity for American police to learn about counterterrorism from the field’s self-appointed leader, but, for Israel’s advocates, they are also seen as a way to sell a particular audience on pro-Israel ideology.
“[They] come back and they are Zionists,” then-ADL regional director David Friedman said of the delegation’s impact in 2015. “They understand Israel and its security needs in ways a lot of audiences don’t.”
That may just be the intended outcome.
“They are trying to get the U.S. to see the world as divided into these camps of good and evil, and they want to tighten the U.S. commitment to Israel on the basis of it being on the front lines fighting terror,” said Vitale, referring to the groups behind the trips. “The whole project is a political project, which uses the police to answer a particular analysis of international affairs.”
To date, Israel has already been an inspiration to some controversial police initiatives, like the infamous NYPD Muslim surveillance program, which was modeled in part on the surveillance of Palestinians in the West Bank. Thomas Galati, the chief of the NYPD Intelligence Division at the time, had participated in one of the ADL trainings in Israel.
Israeli police and security forces may also be learning a thing or two from their American counterparts. In 2016, for instance, Israel passed a “stop and frisk law” modeled after its American equivalent, allowing police to “search anyone, regardless of behavior, in a location that is thought to be a target for hostile destructive actions.”
Palestinian residents of Jerusalem said the legislation is applied with “blatant racism.”
“We see Israeli police taking on U.S. stop-and-frisk policies, further adding to the state violence already facing Palestinians,” Fox said. “This deadly exchange goes both ways and encourages worst practices, such as racial profiling, mass surveillance, police brutality, and suppression of political dissent that already exist in both countries.”