The Truth About the ‘Controversial’ American-Israeli Police Exchange Program
by Rachel O'Donoghue
Recent events in the United States have led to renewed calls for greater scrutiny of how police apprehend suspects. Some, however, have smeared Israelis — a group of people nearly 6,000 miles away and clearly entirely unconnected to these events.
Supporters of the antisemitic Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign (BDS) have taken to social media to claim that Israel’s police force is somehow responsible for the death of a suspect in American police custody due to the mere existence of a well-respected police exchange program between the two countries.
The US-Israel Strategic Cooperation: Joint Police & Law Enforcement Training program was developed by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) following the September 11, 2001, terror attacks, and involves taking American police officers and first responders to Israel, where they take part in workshops with their counterparts that are designed to improve skills such as:
- Identifying terror cells;
- Dealing with the aftermath of a terrorist incident;
- Treating mass casualties; and
- Establishing command and control during a terror attack.
Senior US law enforcement personnel:
- Attend briefings and presentations and take educational trips to Jewish, Muslim, and Christian holy sites;
- Meet with Palestinian law enforcement leaders to hear their views on issues related to strengthening security and combating extremism; and
- Focus on community outreach, with a specific emphasis on improving police respect for civil rights and liberties.
Steven L. Pomerantz, the former Assistant Director of the FBI and the Director of the Homeland Security Program at the Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA), who describes himself as the “architect” of the exchange program, highlighted the fact there is no “field training” involved in trips to Israel, but rather counter-terrorism techniques:
Participants learn how Israeli law enforcement deters, disrupts, and responds to terrorist attacks. They explore the ideology of suicide bombers and other attackers, ways to de-escalate an ongoing incident, and the intelligence-gathering and -sharing process.
Pomerantz pointed out that anti-Israel campaigners had a “deep misunderstanding of the nature and objectives of police exchanges” and are most likely “motivated by virulent bias.”
Officers participating in the exchange have spoken about the value of learning how to engage with the local community to ensure they understand their specific concerns.
Following a 2017 visit, Major Michael Lindstrom of the Sandy Springs Police Department said: “I think one of the most important lessons I learned from our time in Israel was how important it was to connect with the community that the officers were working in.”
Similarly, Celeste Murphy, the Chattanooga Police Chief, commented: “We learned a lot about community policing, how they are able to bridge the gap between multiple cultures and religions, in a very careful way. It shows they have compassion for the people they serve, and that’s a lesson that we could of course refresh on.”
Yet, anti-Israeli campaigners used the program to unfairly smear the Jewish state, arguing that Israel bears some culpability whenever there is an incident of police violence in the US, because American cops have been “militarized” through the exchange.
The libel went mainstream during the George Floyd protests in 2020, when groups such as Amnesty International criticized Israel, and the lies are once again being spread on social media platforms as America grapples with the death of a young man in police custody in Memphis, Tennessee.
Numerous tweets posted in the last few days have accused Israeli police of being indirectly involved in the incident because the Memphis Police Department’s former director Larry Godwin, who retired from his job more than 10 years ago, reportedly visited Israel as a delegate of the Homeland Security International Conference in 2010.
In addition, the current Memphis Police Chief Cerelyn “CJ” Davis was a participant in a leadership exchange session with Israeli police, as well as other international exchange programs.
Apart from this, there is scant evidence to say the Memphis Police Department was involved in the exchange program.
Furthermore, even if they had been, the actions of the officers involved in the recent incident were far removed from any known Israeli approach to policing. Indeed, Amnesty was forced to backtrack on its criticism of the program after admitting that allegations that the US police had been taught tactics of “neck kneeling” by Israeli secret services were not documented.
Of course, the libel that Israel is training law enforcement in the US to brutalize Black men is a blatant example of antisemitism and clearly falls foul of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism, specifically by accusing Jews of being responsible for wrongdoing committed by others.
While this vicious smear is currently being spread mainly on Twitter and primarily among the most extreme anti-Israel campaigners, in the coming days, we can expect to see the lie travel far and wide.
More importantly, we must be ready to counter it with the truth: that it is nothing more than antisemitic propaganda designed to whip up animosity toward the world’s only Jewish state.