The Electronic Infitada
Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed rejected a demand from groups affiliated with the movement for Black lives to halt Israel’s training relationship with local police departments.
Following a resurgence of street protests over the gruesome police slayings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, two Black men killed on film in Louisiana and Minnesota, Reed held a meeting with a collective of protesters calling themselves #ATLisREADY to discuss their list of demands.
The first demand calls for “a complete overhaul of Atlanta Police Department’s (APD) training institutions,” including “a termination to APD’s involvement in the Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange (GILEE) program, that trains our officers in Apartheid Israel.”
“The best counterterrorism techniques in the world”
“There was a demand that I stop allowing the Atlanta Police Department to train with the Israeli police department,” Mayor Reed acknowledged at a press conference (video above). “I’m not going to do that,” he told reporters.
“I happen to believe that the Israeli police department has some of the best counterterrorism techniques in the world,” Reed insisted. “And it benefits our police department from that longstanding relationship.”
It was an interesting choice of words considering that Israeli, Palestinian and international human rights organizations, as well as the UN, have repeatedly condemned Israeli forces, including the police, for a range of human rights violations, particularly for their frequent extrajudicial executions of Palestinians.
It was also recently revealed that Israeli police are authorized to use lethal force as a first resort against Palestinians they suspect might throw rocks, including minors.
An internal police report exposed by the Tel Aviv newspaper Haaretz this month revealed that Israeli Border Police in Jerusalem “deliberately provoke Palestinians” in order to get a violent response.
Reed’s office did not respond to The Electronic Intifada’s inquiries about how Atlanta police benefit from training with forces who are effectively authorized to summarily execute children.
GILEE, a project of Georgia State University’s Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, sends high-ranking public safety officials to Israel for “counterterrorism” training every year.
It also brings Israeli police to Georgia to receive training from local police departments in drug war tactics that largely target and devastate poor Black and brown communities.
Atlanta’s deputy police chief Joseph Spillane participated in a two-week training mission to Israel in June 2015. The costs were paid by GILEE, according to records released under a freedom of information request.
After his return, Spillane told WABE public radio that the Atlanta Police Leadership Institute is “modeled on the Israeli model.”
He also revealed that Atlanta’s system for 24-hour camera surveillance of neighborhoods and public spaces “mimicked” an operations center Israel has installed in Jerusalem. Spillane acknowledged that many Israeli cameras are set up to “secure the fence lines” – in other words an integral part of Israel’s occupation and system of forced segregation in the city.
The deputy chief implicitly compared Israel’s context of military occupation to policing Atlanta. “They have a very diverse population of Christians, Arabs and Jews living in the same space, and so they have similar problems with diversity as we have here,” Spillane said.
Notwithstanding the mountain of evidence to the contrary from human rights groups, Spillane praised his Israeli peers for being “self-restrained as far as how far they go in regards to human rights, and the rights of the people they may be investigating.”
GILEE was founded by Robert Friedmann, an Israeli-American academic and anti-Palestinian activist who uses his influence with US law enforcement to promote Israel’s discriminatory policing strategies.
Speaking at a recent American Jewish Committee event, he justified Islamophobia. According to Mondoweiss, he told the audience, “There is no Islamophobia. There is knife-o-phobia.”
Friedmann also equates the nonviolent Palestinian-led boycott of Israeli institutions complicit in human rights violations against Palestinians with terrorism.
Cheering Gaza attack
None of this seems to matter to Mayor Reed, a politician who has demonstrated more interest in advancing his own career than in promoting social justice.
As a staunch Hillary Clinton supporter, Reed published a column at CNN celebrating Clinton and hammering her rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Bernie Sanders, on the issue of gun control.
Reed is similarly supportive of Israel.
Reed led a cyber technology delegation to Israel in April 2015, where he championed closer business ties between Georgia and Israel’s technology sector.
Law and order
Of course Georgia’s police are hardly alone in training with Israel.
Under the cover of counterterrorism training, hundreds of US police departments have sent high-ranking officials to Israel for lessons in domination and population control.
These training programs have at least two objectives.
First, they seek to reframe Israel’s violent occupation and colonization of Palestinian land as a campaign of law and order that US law enforcement should emulate.
Such a narrative positions Palestinians not as an occupied, dispossessed and stateless people whose rights must be restored, but as a pathologically dangerous population that must be controlled and pacified with brute force. US police then take home “lessons” to apply in US cities.
No less important, the junkets serve as a marketing exercise for Israel’s multi-billion dollar “homeland security” industry.
Though police militarization has been a topic of widespread debate since the Ferguson uprising in the summer of 2014, Israel’s influence on US law enforcement remains virtually ignored by US media outlets while some, like Politifact, even deny that a significant training relationship exists.
Former Israeli prison guard and writer for The Atlantic Jeffrey Goldberg suggested that those highlighting the issue are really just anti-Semites trying to pin the blame for US police violence on Jews.
It is of course important not to claim that US police violence and institutional racism would not exist without Israel. Rather, the issue is that Israel sees opportunities to market and repackage its own repressive, racist and violent techniques tested and developed against Palestinians under occupation as “smart” and legitimate technologies for US authorities to use from inner cities to the US-Mexico border.
And this Israeli pitch has been embraced by US leaders, from mayors like Reed to the administration of President Barack Obama.
Bringing the repression home
And various movements against police brutality are taking notice of the relationship. After all, there are plenty of concrete examples of US police applying Israeli tactics to their own jurisdictions.
In Washington, DC, for instance, police adopted the Israeli tactic of keeping the red and blue lights on their cruisers flashing at all times so that their presence is always felt, particularly in poor Black neighborhoods.
The NYPD’s Demographic Unit that used to systematically spy on Muslims, was modeled in part on how Israeli authorities operate in the occupied West Bank.
Three months after the Ferguson uprising, the St. Louis Police Department, which has participated in training sessions in Israel, started stockpiling skunk water, a foul-smelling liquid developed by Israel to break up anti-occupation protests and harass Palestinian communities.
The substance emits a foul stench that has been described as a mix of rotting animal corpse, raw sewage and feces. The odor sticks to walls, clothing, hair and skin for days and is impossible to wash away – Israeli forces frequently spray it indiscriminately into Palestinian homes.
Skunk water hasn’t been used on US soil yet. But police departments around the country have expressed interest in acquiring it to quell demonstrations against police violence. Perhaps this is one of the counterterrorism tactics Reed had in mind when praising Israeli police.
Additional research by Ali Abunimah