By Miriam Elman
Originally published in Legal Insurrection here with accompanying pictures and social media posts.
In Rhode Island, the small but active RI Coalition for Israel immediately responded to the Jewish Voice for Peace pressure campaign, and the Rhode Island State Police (as well as Boston Police) did not cancel their Israel trips.
Anti-Israel activists thrive in darkness. On campuses and municipalities, they spend months and sometimes years planning attacks on Israel that are often unveiled only at the last second, leaving Israel advocates scrambling.
That is unfolding with a vile antisemitic campaign called “Deadly Exchange,” which seeks to blame Israel and American Jewish groups for domestic U.S. problems in the policing of minority communities. Run by the misleadingly named Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), Deadly Exchange seeks to exploit pre-existing domestic racial tensions to stoke antisemitism in order to turn minority communities against Israel.
JVP achieved it’s first success for “Deadly Exchange” this past spring in Durham, NC and no one saw it coming until it was too late. Now the Vermont State Police and the Northampton, MA police department have pulled out of a scheduled ten-day police training seminar in Israel sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).
The ADL has been funding this exchange program for high-ranking U.S. state police and federal law enforcement officials for nearly two decades. The current program, ADL’s New England Leadership Seminar in Israel: Resiliency and Counter-Terrorism, began on December 2nd and will conclude this week on December 11th.
It’s reportedly the first time in the history of the program that political pressure led police officials to withdraw after they had initially signed up to attend.
According to multiple media reports (see, for example, here and here) public officials in Vermont and Northampton decided to nix their participation at the last minute after being lobbied heavily by local progressive coalitions which were mobilized quickly and led by the JVP.
In press releases, media interviews, and social media posts, JVP leaders and activists themselves have also been highlighting how they were instrumental in convincing public officials in these two Northeast locations to back out of the police exchange program.
Basically, the Vermont State Police, responsible for law enforcement in about half of the state, and the police department in the town of Northampton, Massachusetts have now linked themselves to JVP’s undeniably antisemitic “Deadly Exchange” campaign, which we’ve discussed in a number of prior posts.
But it’s important to note that while the same level of intense campaigning from JVP activists and their allies was also applied in Boston and Rhode Island, law enforcement officials in those parts of the northeast didn’t end up backing out of this week’s New England Leadership Seminar.
Absent any statement from public officials there, we can only speculate as to why they were able to withstand the pressure. Below I offer some tentative conclusions that can be drawn by comparing the two cases where JVP-led coalitions succeeded (Vermont and Northampton, MA) to those where they failed (Rhode Island and Boston, MA).
Background: the JVP-Initiated “Deadly Exchange” Campaign
As we highlighted in a number of prior posts, for the past several years the virulently anti-Jewish and anti-peace extremist organization Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) has been running a national campaign which falsely blames Israel and American Jewish organizations like the ADL—America’s leading civil rights organization fighting antisemitism, prejudice, and hate crimes—for institutionalized racism in America, discriminatory racial profiling, policing problems and U.S. police militarization, and even the killings of blacks by cops on the beat in American cities.
In these earlier posts we discussed how this “Deadly Exchange” campaign is based solely onspurious accusations and is akin to a modern-day antisemitic blood libel in which “Jews are falsely blamed for outrageous crimes”:
- With “Deadly Exchange” Campaign, Jewish Voice for Peace moves from enabling to promoting antisemitism
- Jewish Voice for Peace doubles-down on antisemitic “Deadly Exchange” campaign
- Anti-Semitic campaign to blame Jews and Israel for U.S. police practices towards minorities shifts into overdrive
JVP has been widely condemned for trafficking in anti-Jewish tropes and canards via its “Deadly Exchange” campaign. Even staunch critics of Israel have said the initiative makes them sick to their stomachs. Nonetheless, the campaign garnered its “first win” last spring when Durham, North Carolina imposed a total ban on police exchanges “with only one country in the world: the Jewish state of Israel”:
- Demonization: Durham NC City Council bans police exchanges with Israel
- Update: Durham NC Pro-Israel groups organize against City Council ban on police exchanges with Israel
Since then, JVP has been trying to capitalize on its success in Durham by spearheading coalitions of far-left groups in other cities, like Washington DC and Pittsburgh, which are now also calling on their own police departments to end their visits and counter-terrorism training programs in Israel,More Demonization: Jewish Voice for Peace leading effort to ban DC police training in Israel.
So JVP’s intense lobbying campaign across New England for the past few weeks isn’t anything new. It’s part of a multi-year national effort to defame Israel and its police force as “oppressive and repressive” and to convince American citizens and their elected officials that “no good” can come from the “toxic connection between the US government and the Israeli government” or from any kind of exchanges with the Jewish state.
The City of Northampton, MA and the State of Vermont pull out of a planned ADL-training junket in Israel after being pressured by JVP-led campaigners
According to JVP press releases, an op-ed, and media interviews, the JVP chapter in Western Massachusetts found out about the New England leadership seminar now underway a few weeks ago after filing dozens of public records requests.
They reportedly discovered that the Hampden Country Sheriff’s Department had declined an upcoming ADL-sponsored trip. The University of Massachusetts at Amherst’s police department was also invited to the same trip but declined.
So, JVP’s Western Mass chapter members learned from its FOIA requests when the next northeast area ADL policing seminar was scheduled and who some of the pre-registered participants were. Its goal then became to convince these law enforcement officials to withdraw from the delegation.
As we noted in prior posts, ADL policing exchange programs in Israel have long provided senior American law enforcement leaders with the opportunity to enhance their effectiveness in preventing and responding to terrorism, active shooter, and mass casualty situations.
During the seminars, U.S. participating police officers meet with their Israeli and Palestinian counterparts to learn about the “importance of community-police ties” for dealing with these threats. They also learn how to foster community resiliency which is essential in the aftermath of tragedies and terror.
But despite the proven track record of these seminars, following a barrage of emails, letters, phone calls, and public meetings with “concerned constituents”, JVP—a fringe, radical group that doesn’t actually represent American Jewry in any way—managed to get public officials in these two American municipalities to unwittingly buy into its anti-Israel propaganda.
According to a media report, a local JVP activist and a member of Vermonters for Justice in Palestine (Kathy Shapiro) was able to mobilize dozens of individuals and organizations across Vermont to send letters and emails calling on the State Police to cancel its participation in the ADL trip.
The intersectional coalition that Shapiro was reportedly quickly able to organize included local chapters of Migrant Justice, Black Lives Matter, and Justice for All. One local activist noted that “Our campaign was fast, focused and precise, and they pulled out.”
It’s important to understand that the Vermont State Police didn’t back out of the trip because they thought the training was unhelpful.
State Police spokesperson Adam Silverman said in a statement that Col. Matthew Birmingham had originally accepted the invitation to join the ADL program because it
offered an opportunity to interact with Israeli and Palestinian law-enforcement agencies, observe the security strategies and systems Israel uses to prevent terror attacks, and discuss the challenges the parties face in the region.”
It would have been Birmingham’s first time taking part in the seminar but a previous state police leader, Col. Thomas L’Esperance, had attended in the past.
The statement specifically noted that “fellow Vermonters” had expressed “concerns” about the trip and that after “weighing options” with the Commissioner of Public Safety it was decided that it would be “in the best interests of Vermont State Police” for Birmingham not to go.
That is, it was because of the “criticisms raised over the issue by local activists” that Col. Birmingham decided to withdraw his participation.
In Northampton, a local JVP activist (attorney Rachel Weber) affiliated with the group’s Western Massachusetts chapter took the lead.
At the one-hour meeting, the group reportedly told the Mayor that they had been “preparing a public campaign” and would launch it “if the mayor stalled.” The plan was to put an ad in the local paper and organize a large protest outside the Mayor’s offices.
After the meeting, JVP also initiated a targeted letter writing campaign. Dozens of emails were reportedly sent to the Mayor’s office urging him to cancel the police chief’s trip. Some of these emails reportedly came from “quite prominent” individuals from the area.
It was at that point that the Mayor withdrew Police Chief Jody Kasper from the ADL leadership training program. (Kasper reportedly heard about the trip because she serves on the Governor’s task force for hate crimes along with Robert Trestan, the executive director of the ADL’s Boston office).
It’s important to understand that this was a “well-orchestrated” community group that was pulled together in a matter of days.
Members of the Northampton coalition included Bernadine Mellis, a professor at Mount Holyoke College who slammed the ADL for failing to provide any content about the trainings even though taxpayers are still paying the salaries of the police chiefs while they’re abroad participating in them:
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 disconcerting.”
Also joining the Northampton coalition was Trinity College’s Vijay Prashad, a “Marxist intellectual” who directs Tricontinental: Institute for Social Research (a center I’ve never heard of). Both Weber and Prashad were interviewed on a local radio show (WHMP) after the mayor’s decision to nix the ADL trip.
It’s worth listening to this 20-minute interview (at the start of this podcast). It offers a good sense of what those pushing the “Deadly Exchange” campaign think about Israel and why they succeeded in Northampton, MA.
As Weber puts it at the start of the interview, in the U.S. “people of color feel unsafe and targeted” so “government officials shouldn’t be training with Israel’s security forces.” Towards the end, Prashad insists that “there’s no point going” to Israel because of its “brutal infrastructure of repression” and all the “ruthlessness that’s on display”. Weber has the last word, castigating the ADL trainings for convincing U.S. police officials who go on their trips that Zionism is legitimate. For Weber and her allies, that’s a “clear agenda” that needs to be opposed.
One critical factor that the interview also highlights is how JVP continuously repeats the falsehood that U.S. law enforcement officials train with Israel’s military when participating in the ADL-sponsored seminars. Weber says it so often on the radio talk show that even the host begins to repeat the lie. The reality is that the New England delegation isn’t meeting with any members of the IDF.
Why the City of Boston and the State of Rhode Island Refused to “Skip the Trip” to Israel
Once JVP learned of the cancellations in Vermont and Massachusetts, it went into overdrive to convince other police departments which had registered for the ADL’s New England junket to back out of the program.
Last Friday—just two days before the delegation was due to fly to Israel—JVP and its allies sent a letter to the mayor of Boston, Marty Walsh, urging him to “cancel Boston’s participation.”
JVP also organized a letter-writing campaign similar to ones fielded in Vermont and Northampton. A JVP Action Alert contained the phone numbers of Rhode Island’s Governor Raimondo and Colonel Assumpico and the phone number of Boston’s Mayor Walsh. It also provided talking points.
In addition, an “open letter” from the Pittsburgh Coalition to End the Deadly Exchange was sent to Mayor Walsh and Governor Raimondo. (It’s worth noting that, in addition to Pitt Students for Justice in Palestine and the Pittsburgh Democratic Socialists of America, the Pittsburgh JVP-led coalition also includes the Pittsburgh chapter of If Not Now and Friends of Sabeel North America—FOSNA).
But in Boston and Rhode Island these efforts didn’t convince public officials to “skip the trip”.
In Boston, perhaps that’s because Commissioner William Gross has previously attended the training (a BPD spokesperson noted that two top-ranking officers were scheduled to go on the training, and Gross is likely one of them). It’s also possible that Mayor Walsh and officials in Boston’s PD are more aware than are public officials in Vermont or Northampton of JVP’s fringe and radical agenda, and that they don’t represent the Jewish community.
In the past, JVP’s Boston chapter has organized large anti-Israel protests. Members of the JVP partner group If Not Now more recently got themselves arrested in Boston for unlawful protests of Israel’s counter-terror efforts at the Gaza border. So, this may be at least partly be why theprotestations of a Boston JVP organizer (Elsa Auerbach) that the ADL-sponsored police training in Israel doesn’t “serve the interests of a safe Boston” didn’t have much of an impact.
In Rhode Island, a small group of pro-Israel activists—the Rhode Island Coalition for Israel (RICI)—got wind of JVP’s efforts to “deprive our law enforcement of useful training just to promote their radical agenda.” Then, RICI quickly put out a mass emailing, urging all members to immediately contact Raimondo and Assumpico and also providing their email addresses.
Here is the email RICI sent to public officials:
December 3, 2018
Dear Governor Raimondo and Colonel Assumpico,
On behalf of the majority of Rhode Islanders who support Israel, the Jewish people, and traditional Judeo-Christian values, we would like to thank you most sincerely for resisting the devious, politically-motivated pressure campaign that was waged upon both of you last week by the malevolent radical leftist group Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP).
This group’s activities, and that of the so-called BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanctions movement) are well known to our organization. In these difficult times, they traffic in false propaganda regarding Israel as a “racist” and “apartheid” state. The boldness and the viciousness of their lies, which attempt to equate Zionism with racism, is a throwback to the Nazi propaganda machine of 70 years ago.
Last week JVP mounted an email and telephone pressure campaign to attempt to force you to cancel Lt. Colonel Joseph Philbin’s scheduled participation in the elite National Counter-Terrorism Seminar (NCTS) training program, conducted by the Anti-Defamation League. Branding this program as the “Deadly Exchange”, JVP works to deprive American law enforcement of valuable and unique training from Israeli law enforcement on dealing with domestic terrorism and relations with multi-varied ethnic communities. In truth it is a cynical component of the radical left’s agenda to delegitimize law enforcement everywhere in the US while at the same time bashing Israel.
RI Coalition for Israel has been expecting this attack on RI law enforcement ever since JVP’s bitterly divisive Deadly Exchange campaign was launched in Durham, NC, earlier this year. The fact that at this time, two other New England law enforcement agencies (Northampton, MA and the State of Vermont) succumbed to JVP pressure while that campaign failed in Rhode Island is a testament to the good judgement of leaders such as yourselves.
Be assured that RICI stands with you in standing firm against the erosion of traditional values, such as religious tolerance, which are the bedrock of Rhode Island.
RICI released this press release on its efforts:
BDS attack aimed at RI State Police countered by RI Coalition for Israel
An attempt by the BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanctions) movement late last week to disrupt an exchange training program on anti-terrorism for the RI State Police failed, according to a letter released today from the RI Coalition for Israel (RICI) to Governor Gina Raimondo and Colonel Ann Assumpico.
According to RICI President Mary Greene, email communications from Jewish Voice for Peace, a radical leftist fringe group, urging recipients to bombard the Governor and Colonel Assumpico with demands to cancel the program, were intercepted by RICI and met with a counter campaign supporting the program.
The program in question is the National Counter Terrorism Seminar (NCTS), organized by the Anti-Defamation League, which brings American law enforcement officials to Israel for training in areas in which Israeli law enforcement has unique experience: domestic counter-terrorism, and working constructively with multi-varied ethnic communities. American law enforcement has participated in the program since at least 2016.
“Unfortunately Jewish Voice for Peace has been successful in at least three other communities in cancelling this training for their local law enforcement – Durham NC, Northampton MA, and the State of Vermont”, said Greene. “If we had not interceded, that number might have been four. RICI is a watchdog against BDS activity in Rhode Island because the BDS movement is anti-Semitic.”
The RICI letter states in part, “In these difficult times, they [JVP] traffic in false propaganda regarding Israel as a “racist” and “apartheid” state. The boldness and the viciousness of their lies, which attempt to equate Zionism with racism, is a throwback to the Nazi propaganda machine of 70 years ago.”
“We are grateful to the Governor and the Colonel for standing firm in the face of radicalism, especially during this time of Hanukkah”, concluded Greene.
When contacted, Laura Kirk of the RI State Police PublicI Information office declined comment.
ADL’s New England chapter did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Legal Insurrection also has been unable to ascertain whether any of the more major pro-Israel and Jewish groups in Rhode Island also contacted public officials.
But maybe RICI’s intervention was just enough pushback to convince these Rhode Island officials not to nix a valuable police training on account of some cockamamie argument that the program would “further the militarization” of Rhode Island’s law enforcement.
But its important to understand that JVP only won because Jewish leaders and major organizations failed to respond quickly and visibly to JVP’s calculated campaign of disinformation. As far as I can tell, Jewish Federation leaders didn’t mobilize their Boards to counter the sophisticated grassroots campaigns launched by JVP and its virulently anti-Israel partners. Nor did the AJC, the JCRCs or any other major Jewish organization organize any significant pushback, based on the many media reports I covered for this post.
Can there be any doubt that plenty of Jewish business leaders, academicians and legal scholars in Northampton and Vermont would have welcomed the chance to give Mayor Narkewicz and Col. Birmingham a piece of their mind about JVP’s radical anti-Zionist agenda—had they known about it? Surely many would have also phoned in and sent emails, and even taken the time to meet with their public officials.
Here, perhaps much of the fault ultimately rests with the ADL.
Eager to insulate prospective participants from JVP’s propaganda, it doesn’t publicly share much information about its police exchange programs. It’s probably likely that few if any Jewish Federation Presidents in the New England area even knew about this week’s seminar or which senior-level police officials were scheduled to take part.
It’s understandable that the ADL has to keep some information about their seminar content from public view. But all the secrecy just enables JVP and its coalition partners to criticize the ADL’s lack of transparency. It makes it easy for JVP to insinuate that something nefarious must be going on at these Israel trainings because the ADL has to hide and obscure records and insists that participants keep the records confidential. This is especially going to annoy progressives who insist on “democratic control” over government agencies.
What’s more, not disclosing information about the trips also prevents mainstream Jewish organizations—like Federations and JCRCs—from mobilizing an effective counter-campaign to JVP’s disgusting lies. Essentially, what the ADL is doing is enabling JVP to falsely present itself to public officials as a legitimate Jewish voice and to provide Jewish “cover” for its non-Jewish allies.
Bottom line: The ADL needs to do a better job of publicly showcasing the value of its life-saving law enforcement trainings in Israel. At the very least, it needs to start informing Jewish community leaders about when their programs are taking place and who’s scheduled to go. Then, those leaders and major organizations need to do their jobs by speaking out against “Deadly Exchange” and by working to mobilize the American-Jewish communities that they serve to stand against this hateful campaign.
Miriam F. Elman is an Associate Professor of Political Science and the Inaugural Robert D. McClure Professor of Teaching Excellence at the Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Affairs, Syracuse University. She is the editor of five books and the author of over 65 journal articles, book chapters, and government reports on topics related to international and national security, religion and politics, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She also frequently speaks and writes on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) anti-Israel movement. Recently, Elman was included on the Algemeiner newspaper’s 2018 list of the top 100 people worldwide who are “positively influencing Jewish life.” Follow her on Facebook and Twitter @MiriamElman