“The assertion that American Jewish institutions are responsible for rising levels of police brutality and racism against people of color in the US because of this program is patently false, and neither helpful in dealing with the racial challenges facing this country nor in solving the complex Israeli-Palestinian conflict”
WATERBURY, Vermont (JTA) – Two New England police departments withdrew from a seminar in Israel last week following a public backlash from pro-Palestinian activists.
The activists are claiming the withdrawals in two liberal redoubts as a significant victory in their efforts to foil police security seminars in Israel conducted by the Anti-Defamation League and others, which they say promote punitive police practices and racial profiling.
The Vermont State Police, headquartered in Waterbury, as well as the Northampton, Massachusetts Police Department, pulled out of the ADL’s New England’s leadership seminar in Israel, titled “Resiliency and Counterterrorism.” The moves followed pressure from residents and the pro-Palestinian groups Vermonters for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace.
JVP runs a national campaign, “End the Deadly Exchange,” claiming the seminar promotes “discriminatory and repressive policing in both countries.”
When contacted, Vermont State Police spokesman Adam Silverman pointed to a statement put out by the department.
It said that the Sate Police’s director, Col. Matthew Birmingham, had accepted ADL’s invitation to join the seminar 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 continued.
Later, however, Birmingham said he “heard concerns from fellow Vermonters about attending the seminar,” the statement noted.
“The Colonel and Commissioner of Public Safety Thomas D. Anderson weighed the pros and cons of the trip and after discussing the options agreed that it would be in the best interests of the Vermont State Police for Col. Birmingham to withdraw his participation.”
Northampton Police Chief Jody D. Kasper told the press, “The mayor and I discussed the matter and thought it was in the best interest of the city if I not attend.”
Kathy Shapiro, an organizer for Vermonters for Justice in Palestine, explained her group’s opposition to the trip in an email.
“I would like to make one thing very clear – this action had nothing to do with the BDS movement,” she asserted. Both groups openly support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement targeting Israel.
“I know from many sources – often participants themselves – that these seminars, especially the ones that take participants to Israel, utilize Israel’s vast experience in surveillance, illegal search and indefinite detention, punitive home demolition and targeted assassination against the Palestinian population,” she wrote.
“In Vermont, where there is already a very high level of racial profiling and conviction and imprisonment of people of color and other minorities – despite the fact that we’re a very homogeneous state that’s 95 percent Caucasian – we do not need this kind of training,” she continued.
Shapiro added neither she nor any of her colleagues spoke directly with Vermont State Police leadership.
In a statement, New England ADL director Robert Trestan, who is in Israel for the seminar, challenged such claims by JVP and others.
“The assertion that American Jewish institutions are responsible for rising levels of police brutality and racism against people of color in the US because of this program is patently false, and neither helpful in dealing with the racial challenges facing this country nor in solving the complex Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Trestan said.