PolitiFact denies Israeli ties to Baltimore police despite evidence

PolitiFact, the Tampa Bay Times’ political and media accountability project, has refused to issue a correction to an article that wrongly denies, against all evidence, Israel’s role in training Baltimore police.

Under the cover of counterterrorism training, senior commanders of nearly every major American law enforcement agency, including the Baltimore Police Department, have traveled to Israel for lessons in occupation enforcement, a fact that US corporate media outlets studiously avoid examining or even acknowledging.

Last week, PunditFact, which is overseen by PolitiFact, broke with that tradition, but rejected that any such relationship exists between Israel’s security apparatus and Baltimore police. 

During the recent Baltimore uprising spurred by the police murder of Freddie Gray, PunditFact went after a tweet authored by the Nation of Islam Research Group, which claimed the Baltimore police received training from the Mossad (Israel’s lethal international spy agency) and Shin Bet, its internal secret police.

The Nation of Islam tweet links to a page on the Baltimore County Police Department’s website about a Krav Maga training program the agency offers to recruits. Krav Maga is the hand to hand fighting style developed by the Israeli army. 

PunditFact correctly infers that “The link includes no information or evidence that county police were trained by Mossad and Shin Bet.” However it fallaciously adds, “There’s no evidence of any training ties to Israel. This claim is utterly unproven. We rate the claim Pants on Fire.”

Reality is quite the opposite. Israeli security forces have indeed provided training to Baltimore police, and there is ample evidence to corroborate it. 

As I noted in my recent article on the Baltimore crackdown, Baltimore city police participated in a 2002 training junket in Israel organized by the neoconservative Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA). Among the ten high-ranking US police officials to take part in the JINSA trip was John Skinner, then commander of the Baltimore Police Department’s criminal intelligence division. 

“Participants resolved to begin the process of sharing ‘lessons learned’ in Israel with their law enforcement colleagues in the United States,” stated JINSA in a press release. The officers studied Israeli-style intelligence gathering, border security, crowd control and media coordination. They also met with officials from nearly every branch of Israel’s security apparatus, including a senior commander in the Israel Security Agency, otherwise known as the Shin Bet, who gave them a special briefing.

Though there is no reference to Mossad participation, it is not uncommon for US police to receive briefings from Mossad officials on these trips. 

Baltimore city police returned to Israel in 2009 on a trip hosted by American Jewish Committee’s Project Interchange. “Participants toured the country and met with their Israeli counterparts to exchange information relating to best practices and recent advancements in security and counterterrorism,” according to Project Interchange.

In 2007, a captain in the Baltimore County Police Department attended a training session in Israel hosted by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), where he reportedly “received valued lessons from Israeli officials … about gathering human and electronic intelligence” that can “apply to investigations into organized crime and gangs.” 

Denying facts

In an email to the author of the PunditFact article, Jon Greenberg, and its editor, Aaron Sharockman, I presented proof of ties between Baltimore police and the Israeli security apparatus and requested that they issue a correction. While people may debate how significant these ties are, there is no denying that they exist. But they refused to make any change on the grounds that training sessions to Israel attended by senior officials in the Baltimore city and county police departments are irrelevant.

“The onus is on [the Nation of Islam] to do the research before they make the claim,” Greenberg replied.

Sharockman elaborated that “One officer attending training that includ[es] Israeli officials does little to warrant a correction.” The Baltimore police officer who attended the 2002 JINSA trip has since retired, the Baltimore County police captain who attended the 2007 ADL trip left the force in 2012, and the 2009 press release about the Project Interchange trip is too vague on details, argued Sharockman. “So three people attended some type of seminar. Two of them don’t work for Baltimore police agencies and we know nothing about the third person. Baltimore city has close to 4,000 sworn and civilian police officials,” he contended. 

I pointed out that the Baltimore police officials who participated were senior officers in charge of entire divisions and they did so as representatives of their respective police departments. Even if the officers involved have retired, the whole point of these trips is for participants to apply what they learn to their own police departments. The lessons learned from Israel are meant to outlast the career of any single officer.

Even the ADL admits as much, bragging that US police who attend its annual week-long Israeli training camp “study first hand Israel’s tactics and strategies” directly from “senior commanders in the Israel National Police, experts from Israel’s intelligence and security services, and the Israel Defense Forces” and are “taking the lessons they learned in Israel back to the United States.”

In spite of all this, Sharockman maintained, “The statement we fact-checked is inaccurate and wrong. There is nothing we need to correct based on the Tweet sent out and its all-too-clear implication.”

This of course raises questions about why, of all the social media posts to choose from, PunditFact selected a tweet with a dubious link that was authored by the research arm of an organization with little reach (it has only been retweeted 44 times as of this writing), and whose leader is regularly accused of anti-Semitism

PunditFact casts itself as “a project of the Tampa Bay Times and the Poynter Institute, dedicated to checking the accuracy of claims by pundits, columnists, bloggers, political analysts, the hosts and guests of talk shows, and other members of the media.” 

There were plenty of members of the media with far more reach whose claims about Israel training the Baltimore police were passed over by PunditFact: 

Author Max Blumenthal referenced Israel’s ties to the Baltimore police department in a widely shared article published at AlterNet, which should have appeared in an Internet search looking for connections between Baltimore and Israeli security forces. 

Why didn’t PunditFact look into the credible media figures voicing the very claims it sought to fact-check? Unless of course PunditFact was attempting to discredit and diminish growing awareness about Israel’s role in facilitating police militarization by linking it to Nation of Islam.

After several back-and-forth messages over email, Sharockman’s final logic-bending denialism left me stunned:

I’m a senior level editor at the PunditFact and PolitiFact – which is a part of the of Tampa Bay Times. In 2012, I spent one month as part of a fellowship working at a Russian newspaper with Russian journalists.

Do you think it’d be fair to say the Tampa Bay Times is trained by Russian journalists?

It’s an exact parallel, yet I’m guessing, I’m hoping, that you wouldn’t make such a sweeping conclusion.

Let’s extend the parallel further: If hundreds of US editors and journalists were regularly traveling to Russia on Russian-government backed junkets, meeting with Russian government information officials, praising Russian information control methods and promising to bring them back to their US newsrooms, would Sharockman so easily dismiss his own participation as isolated, irrelevant and insignificant?

In the words of PunditFact, we rate the claim that there is no correction to be made Pants on Fire.




What a shabby performance from PolitiFact. That a service performing in this way is owned by the Tampa Bay Times, a mainstream commercial publication with no known sympathies toward the Palestinian struggle, is hardly surprising. But that editor Aaron Sharockman is seemingly oblivious to the cascade of documentation linking the Baltimore PD to Israeli counterparts indicates a state of denial worthy of the New York Times. The prime figures and the institutions they represent have been most accommodating in their provision of details- dates, programs, techniques, technologies of repression, and imparted social attitudes. Israeli influence in the Baltimore Police Department is a matter of record, not least because the relevant officials won't shut up about it.

Rania Khalek

Rania Khalek's picture

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