Photo: Israel Police/Wikimedia Commons
In November, the Pittsburgh branch of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) publicized a petition to end all training exchanges between the Pittsburgh police and Israel.
While the petition is framed as an anti-racist fight for justice, its true focus is to (incorrectly) blame Israel for police brutality in America. The petition is filled with false assertions and demonstrates that JVP is interested not in real dialogue about Israel or Zionism, but in promulgating incendiary campaigns that employ antisemitic tropes. As CAMERA’s Ricki Hollander has argued, “Such allegations of Jewish racism, power and money perverting non-Jews evoke the age-old blood libels against Jews, and are reminiscent particularly of the notorious forgery, Protocols of the Learned Elders of Ziyon, that accused Jews of using their wealth and influence to manipulate and control non-Jews to their detriment.”
The aforementioned petition states that “police in our communities are being trained to be an occupying military force” and that “these trainings are immoral and deadly.” Specifically, JVP points to three trainings that occurred within the past three years, two of which were anti-terrorism seminars hosted by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).
These trainings were attended by the Pittsburgh chief of police and the assistant chief of police in 2018 and 2017, respectively. The third, which took place in 2019, was a larger training in Israel that several officers attended.
In the petition, JVP completely obfuscates the content of these trainings. Even the hyperlink that JVP provides to inform readers about the 2019 training undermines its own baseless allegations of Israeli evil. The link leads to a Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle report on the trip that notes, among other things, that Pittsburgh police and Israeli police discussed stress management techniques and community engagement. Additionally, they addressed the plight of Diaspora Jews and how Israel has helped Jews resettle after they escaped persecution. Are these the “immoral and deadly” lessons to which JVP refers?
“The petition is filled with false assertions and demonstrates that JVP is interested not in real dialogue about Israel or Zionism, but in promulgating incendiary campaigns that employ antisemitic tropes.”
During the trip, the American police officers said that “We want our synagogues, our churches, our schools, to be public buildings, open to the community and free for people to come in and worship and learn.” The police officers visited Yad Vashem – Israel’s Holocaust remembrance center – and saw the devastating consequences of dehumanization and persecution of entire populations.
Officers heaped resounding praise upon the trip’s workshops. One officer said that the Israelis’ “mental health police stress presentation…was probably the best ‘how to deal with stress on the job’ presentation [he had] ever heard in three decades.”
Clearly, the Israelis have invaluable experience and ample knowledge to impart – a tremendous opportunity for Pittsburgh police especially, considering the October 27, 2018 antisemitic attack on the city’s Tree of Life synagogue.
The other two trainings that JVP chastises were hosted by the ADL. The ADL has responded to JVP’s allegations before, clarifying in a July 20, 2020 article that “our program provides no tactical or military training whatsoever.”
The article also notes that America has to combat terrorism much more than it did in the past, and that the ADL “saw an opportunity to help American law enforcement learn how to prevent and respond to terror attacks from those who had firsthand experience combating terrorism in a democracy.”
In these trainings, high-ranking police officers learn about the resiliency of a country that has dealt with terrorist attacks for decades, and how Israeli police cooperate with Palestinians to gain the trust of the community.
Tammy Gillies, who has led many of these trainings and who wrote the ADL’s July 20, 2020 article, wishes that JVP “could see the Palestinian police commander share with us his challenges working with the Israeli National Police and his pride in showing us the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem…” and “the robust conversation between two friends, the mayor of an Arab village and its Jewish police chief, who continues to work hard to gain the trust of the community.”
JVP doesn’t acknowledge any of this evidence or any of these testimonies. Why? Because their goal is simply to tarnish the reputation of Israel, and those who support it, within progressive circles (and beyond).
Frankly, blaming Israel for police brutality against minorities or police militarization in America makes no sense. America, and countries around the world, have seen allegations (and real instances) of police misconduct for decades, long before any police collaboration with Israel ever occurred.
Even the national JVP organization itself has acknowledged the danger of connecting American police brutality or militarization to Israel and attempted, in June, to backtrack on its own libels. The group warned that “taking police exchanges out of context provides fodder for those racist and antisemitic tropes.” Pittsburgh JVP should heed its own national organization’s warnings.
It is also important to keep in mind that Israeli-Palestinian affairs are entirely different than American intra-communal relations. Israeli policing and military operations are meant to protect citizens from terrorist attacks constantly emanating from Gaza and the West Bank – there is no racial component to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in disputed territories, as JVP claims. Checkpoints, along with other safety measures, exist to protect Israel from terrorist attacks.
Clearly, JVP is not interested in facts. They don’t care about the safety of Jews around the world – they only want to demonize Israel and its supporters by any means necessary.
A different version of this article was originally published in The Pitt News.
Contributed by 2020-2021 University of Pittsburgh CAMERA Fellow Joshua Beylinson.