On July 18, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed publicly told a group affiliated with the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement that his city would continue to allow the Atlanta Police Department (APD) to be trained by the Israel Police in spite of the group’s demands to cease the training relationship due to their treatment of the Palestinians.
The decision by Reed comes amid nationwide protests and counter protests over police treatment of minority groups. Despite this heated environment, criminal justice experts and organizers behind U.S. police exchange programs with Israel believe that these claims by BLM groups are unsubstantiated, and that it is vital to maintain cooperation with countries like Israel at a time when police officers face dealing with an increasing number of terrorism incidents.
“I happen to believe that the Israeli police department has some of the best counter-terrorism techniques in the world and it benefits our police department from that long-standing relationship,” Reed said after the ALTisReady group demanded a “termination to APD’s involvement in the Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange (GILEE) program that trains our officers in Apartheid Israel.”
ALTisReady is only one example of a BLM activist group criticizing U.S. police departments for getting training by Israeli police officers over the unsubstantiated claim that U.S. police departments would learn how to kill black youth in the same way Israeli police officers kill Palestinians.
“I would not make that comparison at all, the histories are significantly different,” said Dr. Robert W. Taylor, a professor of Criminology and Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Dallas and the director of the school’s Justice Administration and Leadership Program.
Dr. Robert Friedmann, director of the Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange (GILEE) and professor emeritus of Criminal Justice at the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies of Georgia State University, said that some BLM-affiliated groups claim “Israel is an apartheid state” in which law enforcement officers are taught how to control the Palestinian people. As such, these groups allege that this Israeli training teaches American police officers to control other marginalized groups such as African Americans, Hispanics and others. Thus since Israel is an apartheid state, the groups argue, the training from Israeli police is “ultimately racist”.
But Friedmann said that not one member of any of these activist groups has actually tried speaking to him about the GILEE program to verify whether such arguments had any credibility.
GILEE is a joint public safety partnership project of GSU and local, state, federal and international law enforcement agencies, whose “mission is to enhance law enforcement executive development and international cooperation for the provision of better law enforcement services and public safety through the protection of civil rights,” the project’s website states.
For 24 years, GILEE has trained over 1,300 law enforcement officials in more than 300 intensive programs, and more than 25,000 public safety and corporate security officials have participated in its special briefings and seminars. The program has received numerous awards, including the Georgia Governor’s Public Safety Award in 2008.
“If somebody would’ve come to me and asked me to talk about the program, I would’ve done with them, what I do exactly with you. I don’t mind talking about the program. … They have never interviewed me, never interviewed Steve, my associate director, and they never interviewed any one of the participants (in the program),” he said.
Friedmann added that two years before the Black Lives Matters movement officially began in 2012, there were already student groups demanding that the president of GSU shut down the GILEE program because of its collaboration with Israeli police officers. These were groups supporting the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, such as the group Students for Justice in Palestine, which has been trying to get Black Americans to support the Palestinian cause.
“They believe that if programs like mine are going to be closed, Israel is going to collapse,” he said.
Friedmann also said that community policing is about providing public safety while protecting human and civil rights.
“The most important thing to me is to treat human beings as human beings. In my book police officers are human beings as well because if they’re mistreated, they’ll mistreat others and if they are not well trained they will not provide good service,” he said.
Every year GILEE sends top U.S. law enforcement officials to Israel, and works with more than 20 countries such as Argentina, China, Egypt, Hungary, the Netherlands, Indonesia, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom. The officers learn “valuable security tactics” from “peers who frequently handle bombings and other terrorist activities” in training that focuses on various subjects including technology, communication, logistics, community policing and more.
Taylor — who has experience working with international programs, including in Cambodia and Turkey, related to police training — said that activists from BLM who oppose Israel police training “are ill-informed.”
“I can guarantee you that the leaders of BLM have no knowledge of what kind of training is going on,” said Taylor.
Even though Taylor has not worked with GILEE himself, he believes that the APD and other U.S. police forces benefit greatly and can “gain significant amounts of experience, knowledge and intelligence” from working with other countries, especially Israel “who works extensively [with] terrorism and anti-terrorism, particularly Islamic terrorists.”
The APD said in a statement that it receives training in Israel in several areas including security preparedness for the Olympics, fighting terrorism, personnel training, handling crime scenes, community policing and leadership development training. Officers have also traveled for training in Timor-Leste, San Salvador, Nigeria and Thailand through the State Department’s INL Bureau training program.
The APD said it believes “the training received in Israel is beneficial in several areas of modern policing,” but that “homeland security concerns prevent us from going into details on this program.”
Taylor also believes the BLM movement has gained traction through validation via comments by the U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and President Barack Obama, and many activists associated with the movement have been “trying to insert themselves into the decision-making/policy-making area of policing and it’s just not an appropriate place for them to be at all.”
“You want to have a dialogue about improving police services? You will not find a better partner than myself. You want to demise and do away with a program or a country? You will find somebody who will resist them. I will not negotiate my existence,” Friedmann said.
“I can tell you that I’m a second-generation Holocaust survivor, 40 members of my family were murdered in the Holocaust. I don’t want somebody who has a sense of being abused telling me what being abused is all about. I do not go around to kill humans because I feel aggrieved. I don’t go around and I do not kill British people because my father was for six months in Cyprus because he was caught making what was known at the time as illegal immigration, and this was after he survived Auschwitz,” he said.
Friedmann added that no democracy is perfect, including Israel, and he would be the “first to dispel that myth; but between being imperfect and between advocating the demise of a society, I say that there is an unbridgeable gap. To me that is what is unacceptable.”
“It is demonizing those who want to provide better public safety service to the citizens that are being served by police. I am hard-pressed to understand what’s wrong with that,” he said.