Atlanta mayor rejects demand to end Israel police training

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.

One such manufactured provocation in Issawiyeh, in January, led to a confrontation in which Israeli forces shot 12-year-old Ahmad Abu Hummus in the head, causing severe brain damage.

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.

Mimicking Israel

The Atlanta Police Department has been sending personnel to Israel since 1992, as part of the Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange.

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.

Personnel from Georgia police agencies participate in a GILEE training mission to Israel in June 2015. (via Facebook)

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.

The Intercept’s Lee Fang later revealed that Reed’s column was actually written by a corporate lobbyist with guidance from Correct the Record, a pro-Clinton super PAC.

Reed is similarly supportive of Israel.

At an Atlanta rally in 2014, Reed joined Israeli government officials to cheer Israel’s massive military assault on the besieged Gaza Strip that summer, which killed at least 551 children.

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

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Comments

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Is it effective to seize Ferguson or gun control, or even "Black Lives Matter" to channel support towards BDS? This has the potential the backfire and I see it a lot in this type of article. There is some respectable analysis published here, but the attempts to channel African American discontent and other unrelated issues against Israel discredits this publication.

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In regard to the matters raised in this article, far from being "unrelated issues", they share a close kinship. The author clearly sets out the technical, institutional and ideological links between Israeli repression of Palestinians and US police forces' adoption of those attitudes and methods in the context of black communities. The connections are not simply theoretical. If you can't even admit what American cops are freely proclaiming, that Israel provides the current model for their policing of communities of color- evidence of which is open, public and voluminous- there isn't much chance of a productive discussion on the issue.

But thanks, Rania, for another outstanding report. The facts you've cited demonstrate once again that the Occupation of Palestine has become a laboratory for repression in the United States. The police now look at a sizeable portion of the American people as a hostile foreign element against whom the basest forms of violence are mandated.

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This is insanity! The mayor should be recalled, ousted, or at the very least condemned, strongly condemned, by the "Atlanta Journal" and by the people who are so mis-served. Israel's brutality toward the Palestinians is well known and thoroughly documented. Literate people the world over know that Israel is a pariah state. Atlanta's mayor has to be one of the most ignorant, foolish, corrupt officials ever. This man should be condemned daily -- DAILY -- by the "Atlanta Journal." Silence on the part of this newspaper is unacceptable. No wonder that newspapers are losing readers: they don't tell the truth.
I am literally outraged by the information in this article. Are there no anti-terrorist experts in the U.S. armed forces? Shame on the mayor and double shame on Atlanta's leaders, Atlanta's people in power, and Atlanta's pathetic newspaper.

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They are the ones teaching our police to use the same racist tactics they use against Palestinians (including their children) against the black community in the USA. That is the best and biggest reason for the black community to join BDS. Fighting oppression overseas is never wrong, especially when it will save our own lives here in the USA.

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The article linked doesn't say that. It says the program exist since 1992 and the someone was in Israel at some point in the past.

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Ah, so this is another of those right wing freaks who believes in outsourcing American jobs to foreign countries. :) America can't meet this police chief's training needs for his force? Maybe Atlanta needs a new police chief.

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The higher up you go in the chain of command the more incompetence that you will find. This does not surprise me one bit.

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Here is how Rotterdam police arrests a black suspect of a prior shooting incident (presumed to be armed and dangerous). Short summary in case subtitles don't work: small team surrounds his house and calls for SWAT backup; suspect prepares to leave on motorbike, so they go ahead before arrival of SWAT; come at suspect from all sides with guns drawn (and everytime a Dutch officer takes his gun out of its holster, he must explain this in a report - the Police keep yearly tallies); clear loud order to turn off motor and show his hands, then silence from everyone except for the one officer who goes up to the suspect to cuff him, secure his weapon (which later turns out to have been loaded and cocked); suspect is informed of his arrest and his rights, and asked if he has a lawyer (says he does); second officer comes up and says to suspect: "now you listen to me" (clearly explaining to suspect that he has been "handed over"); officer explains that he is going to apply "gun hands" (secure suspected evidence of prior shooting with bags); officer secures gun evidence; suspect is driven away; gets 24 months in jail (6 suspended) for prior shooting and possession of firearm.
I wonderered at first why Rotterdam Police choose to showcase the arrest of a black man. Maybe that is the point: same procedure for everyone.

https://youtu.be/o2cmi8YWegg

What really stands out in the current news from the US is indeed the lack of * proper * police training (including the poor state of physical fitness of many US police, which is bound to make them overrely on their weapons), of proper procedures (not even counting the people they shoot until the Guardian and the Washington Post started doing it - let alone how often officers draw their guns etc), of proper tone (emotional as opposed to neutral).
About who to choose for your training, surely the best indicator is the police force with the SMALLEST number of police shootings, which would put Israel nowhere near the top of the list.

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Excellent link. Thanks for showing us how a properly trained police force effectuates an arrest in a safe and lawful manner. No casualties resulted. Society was protected, as were the rights of the accused. A dangerous situation was defused by the use of measured, intelligent methods. Compare this with the disgusting murders carried out by Israeli and American police against unarmed or lightly armed victims. Atlanta's mayor should pay a call on the Rotterdam chief of police and take a few lessons on real law and real order.

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Israel knows how to market its use of force against the helpless.
They have proof that it "works" !!

And they say they are looking for "peace".

(In this state the use of assault riffles has just been banned,
effective immediately. Weapons makers cry "foul." But since
I have no assault rifle----or any other gun----I could go to a
neighboring state to "defend law and order". Is that what they
are calling it??)

---Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

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Make it illegal to send American police to Israel for training.
Israel is a country engaged in illegal Settlements in violation of the 4th Geneva convention article 49 that America and Israel signed. Having our police trained by an illegal brutal occupation force that has a history of crimes against humanity is a contributing factor in police reacting to law abiding people as if they are an enemy combatant.

https://petitions.whitehouse.g...

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Rania Khalek

Rania Khalek's picture

Rania Khalek is an independent journalist reporting on the underclass and marginalized.