Jewish Voice for Peace Tries to Walk Back Attacks on Israeli Police Training Amid Racial Protests
The focus on policing in America after the killing of George Floyd has finally shed light on the antisemitism behind a campaign developed in part by the anti-Israel group Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP).
JVP is behind “Deadly Exchange,” which blames Israel for policing problems in the US. In Durham, North Carolina, we have seen the damage this campaign does to the Jewish community when it comes to town.
The “Deadly Exchange” advisory team includes Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) leader Omar Barghouti, who has said his aim is to “turn Israel into a pariah.” He and his JVP allies do this by accusing Israel and Israeli police of a long list of what they call “worst practices,” including racial profiling and shoot-to-kill policies.
The campaign lures unsuspecting Americans in by claiming that when US police leaders and officers attend training workshops in Israel, they return to their communities and harm people of color.
Jewish Voice for Peace lobbied candidates for the Durham City Council, and supported those who were anti-Israel and anti-police. Durham’s mayor, Steve Schewel, is Jewish and has been a past supporter of JVP. According to The Herald-Sun, “Schewel donated to Jewish Voice for Peace five years ago, but ‘realized their politics and mine are not close enough [that] I wanted to continue to donate’ … ‘But I do deeply understand why they have the politics they do.’” He also ran on a platform of Durham Beyond Policing, and he — along with others on the council — wants to reduce funds to the police.
In 2017, a coalition of far-left groups, under the name “Demilitarize! Durham2Palestine,” circulated a petition in Durham, claiming that American police officers participate in racist police training in Israel. Many believe JVP was a driving force behind this, as the group was given credit after its eventual success.
The petition alleged that tactics learned in Israel “help the police terrorize Black and Brown communities here in the US.” They demanded a ban on any Durham police training with Israel, although no such training was planned. Police leaders of color who had attended Israeli training in the past made clear that the JVP claims were based on lies, but this did not stop the city council. In April 2018, they voted unanimously to make Durham the first city in the US to boycott training with Israeli police. We in the Jewish community were stunned, shocked, and frightened, as antisemitic people showed their hatred during the council hearing. The ruling was followed by antisemitic posters and stickers found in the city.
Now that American attention is focused on law enforcement, some have become aware of JVP’s anti-Israel campaign. They have noticed how JVP has been scapegoating Israel and mainstream Jewish organizations like the ADL and AJC for American racism.
This must be causing JVP some embarrassment, since they have issued an “Update,” which says that their previous claims require “context and depth.” It seems that without such context, JVP’s antisemitic claims “can end up harming our movements for justice.”
But their motive isn’t about justice: It’s about demonizing Israel. It’s about blaming Jews for what goes wrong. It’s antisemitism.
So far, no other major cities have followed in Durham’s footsteps, although JVP has had lesser successes in Rhode Island and Vermont. Now they are also trying to gain traction on US campuses. With more attention being paid to policing, JVP proponents may feel emboldened to push their messaging. Watch out for the slogan “Do It Like Durham” — because your city may be next.
Amy Rosenthal is the co-founder of the North Carolina Coalition for Israel.