Junket taking local police to train with Israeli military embroiled in local controversies across New England
Police departments in Vermont and Massachusetts withdraw after local residents’ letter-writing campaigns and public meetings
Northampton, MA (November 29, 2018): For the first time in 20 years, the all expense-paid trips to Israel where American law enforcement are trained by the Israeli military and police have run into a snag – New Englanders don’t like the idea one bit. And from Montpelier to New Haven, Northampton to Providence, local residents have been declaring their opposition to their local elected officials. In Vermont, dozens of individuals and organizations across the state sent letters calling on the State Police to cancel their participation. In Northampton, a meeting with the Mayor was followed by a targeted letter writing campaign by a local coalition of residents.
Earlier this week, Vermont State Police Director Colonel Birmingham told local organizers from across Vermont that he had cancelled the Vermont State Police’s participation in the upcoming New England Leadership, Resilience and Counter-Terrorism Seminar in Israel, scheduled Dec. 2-11. The next day, after a meeting with concerned Pioneer Valley residents, Northampton Mayor Narkewicz withdrew Police Chief Kasper from the same trip.
With the growing concern about US law enforcement’s treatment of asylum seekers at the US-Mexico border, New England residents are asking if they want their local police receiving training from the Israeli military. “Our police chiefs’ salaries are tax-payer funded. While they’re abroad on these trainings, we’re still paying their salaries,” pointed out Bernadine Mellis, a professor at Mount Holyoke College and a member of the Northampton coalition. “We don’t know anything about the actual content of these trainings – what the police chiefs are being told, what they’re learning, what political ideologies they’re being encouraged to adopt. That lack of transparency is extremely concerning.” Moreover, according to the VT National Lawyers Guild chair Henry Harris, “To support shared training and tactics with the Israeli occupation is to lose all credibility and morality in public view of the people of Vermont.”
The New England Leadership, Resilience and Counter-Terrorism Seminar, (previously called the New England Counter-Terrorism Seminars), have run annually since 2002 – with similar programs across the country that bring local law enforcement to Israel for training with the Israeli military, police and secret service. Organized and funded by the Anti-Defamation League, the trips’ previous participants included the former Deputy Director of ICE in 2015 and other high-ranking law enforcement. This is the first time that any invitees have withdrawn, the result of the growing national campaign End the Deadly Exchange, a project of Jewish Voice for Peace, and intensive research involving over one hundred records requests and FOIAs.
Stefanie Fox, Deputy Director at Jewish Voice for Peace and a lead organizer of End the Deadly Exchange campaign, pointed out that, “The coalitions that quickly mobilized to demand cancelation – and the principled response to do so from local decision-makers – demonstrates the growing consensus that the Israeli military does not offer a good model, not for for the people of Israel/Palestine and not for our communities here at home.”
Interviews are available with local residents active in the Vermont and Northampton campaigns, as well as with staff and members of Jewish Voice for Peace.
“As a Jew, it is essential in these times in which nationalism, racism, and antisemitism are on the rise and being institutionalized to be explicitly clear that, when we learn about partnerships between our local police or ICE and the Israeli government, we will respond with urgency and collective fire to interrupt this deadly exchange. Whether we are moved to work for justice out of moral outrage, our grounding in our spiritual obligation, or our ancestral legacies of liberation work, we as Jews will continue to show up in solidarity and fight to win.”
– Dori Midnight, member JVP-Western Mass
“U.S. and Israeli authorities have militarized borders, shot and tear gassed civilians, and detained children in the name of ‘national security.’ For these reasons, we stand in solidarity with all people fighting to end state violence, from Ferguson to Gaza, from San Diego to Tegucigalpa. I thank our Jewish comrades for stopping the police chief from attending a seminar that teaches authorities to treat civilians and activists as national security threats. Their efforts have made our city safer.”
– Diana Sierra, Pioneer Valley Workers Center
“I have always felt that our Northampton police force is on the forefront of trying to be a community police force, seeing community members as partners in safety… The ADL and the Israeli government do not speak for me as a Jew, and their model of ‘security’ is about targeting Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims – which doesn’t actually protect me, or do anything to stem the rising tide of right-wing, white nationalist antisemitism that I see as a real threat.”
– Randall Furash-Stewart, Northampton resident
“It deeply worries me that the Northampton police chief would study the tactics used by the Israeli security forces. I want Northampton to be a safe and welcoming place for all people and I believe the best way to do that is to build our community here at home and reject the harmful tactics that are taught in seminars like these.”
– Shaina Rogstad, local graduate student and member, JVP-Western Mass
“Vermonters need to push our legislature and law enforcement in the other way, breaking the glass ceiling on the Fair and Impartial Policing Policy and releasing nonviolent incarcerated people, especially people of color, imprisoned by this State.”
– Henry Harris, Chair, VT National Lawyers Guild
“Our state police need to root out institutional racism in their operations, to cease perceiving people of color as threats, to uphold the dignity of all persons, and to learn how to de-escalate conflict. These are skills and attitudes they can learn here in the States. Let the decision to not learn from Israeli militarization be a catalyst for incorporating a new paradigm of non-violence and mitigation of institutional racism in Vermont according to our own laws.”
– Sylvia Knight, member of Jubilee Justice Committee, Cathedral Church of St.Paul, Burlington VT
“The tactics taught are inhumane and are used in the continued killing and oppression of communities of color across the nation and the globe. Law enforcement and elected officials should understand that we as a community are watching and will hold them accountable for their actions (and inactions).”
– Mark Hughes, Justice for All
Jewish Voice for Peace is a national, grassroots organization inspired by Jewish tradition to work for a just and lasting peace according to principles of human rights, equality, and international law for all the people of Israel and Palestine. JVP has over 200,000 online supporters, over 70 chapters, a youth wing, a Rabbinic Council, an Artist Council, an Academic Advisory Council, and an Advisory Board made up of leading U.S. intellectuals and artists.