Black Lives Matter, JVP’s Deadly Exchange, and Israel

When legitimate grievances are co-opted and hijacked by opportunists seeking support for their own causes — under the guise of intersectionality — problems will inevitably arise. The callous murder of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, by a Minneapolis policeman, Dennis Chauvin, sparked grassroots outrage and widespread protests against police brutality and racial injustice in the U.S. — under the general banner #BlackLivesMatter. But the justifiable anger and protests were quickly exploited by Israel-hating opportunists as a vehicle with which to demonize the Jewish state thousands of miles away.

Within days of the killing, a cartoon posted on Fatah’s Facebook page depicted a white American police officer (Chauvin) kneeling on the neck of an African-American victim (Floyd) side by side with an Israeli soldier similarly kneeling on the neck of a kaffiyeh-draped Palestinian, the aggressors embracing one another. The caption was #BlackLivesMatter. The same cartoon subsequently ran in the official PA newspaper, Al Hayat Al-Jadida.

The message was clear: Brutal treatment of African Americans by American police officers is inseparable from the treatment of Palestinians by Israeli defense forces.

Elsewhere, too, this message was spread. The BDS movement put out a statement implicating Israel for promoting structural racism in the U.S., and training the police responsible for Floyd’s murder:

“The system of structural racism in the US is violently enforced by paramilitary police departments, many trained by Israel, including the Minnesota police. These police forces have been tasked with doing whatever it takes to protect this rotten system of white supremacy and Black, Latinx and Indigenous disenfranchisement.”

The BDS American wing, US Campaign for Palestinian Rights (USCPR), was even  more explicit:

Cleveland-based BDS leader Abbas Hamideh similarly wasted no time in exploiting Floyd’s murder as a weapon to attack on Israel, holding Israeli defense forces, whom he compared to Nazis, responsible for Floyd’s brutal killing :

A series of tweets claiming that “the racist and brutal tactics used by Israeli military and US cops are purposefully one and the same”, that “the violence in Minneapolis is straight out of the IDF playbook”, that “surveillance tech is made in Israel & brought to the US to invade the privacy of Black, brown, Muslim, poor, and otherwise marginalized people” were posted by the BDS working group of the Democratic Socialists of America.

The British-based communist media outlet, Morning Star, ran an article claiming that Minnesota police forces “learned the violent techniques used by Israeli forces as they terrorise the occupied Palestinian territories under the guise of security operations” and quoting an anti-Israel BDS leader to suggest that George Floyd’s brutal treatment and murder technique was imported from Israel.

But messages capitalizing on the tragic killing to blame it on or link it to Israeli policing were not limited to communists, BDS leaders and social media.

An Al Jazeera news article quoted a Palestinian analyst to link Israel and the U.S. together with allegations of systemic racism, asserting that “structures of policing in the US and Israel are meant to ensure that Black and Palestinian people are never treated as fully human” and that “what is happening is…about the rise and entrenchment of a transnational police force that criminalises and violently suppresses any threat to its hierarchies of power – hierarchies that are predicated on anti-Blackness.”

The theme was expanded upon in a subsequent Al Jazeera article entitled “How the US and Israel exchange tactics in violence and control” sponsored by Jewish organizations, labelled “far-right Israeli lobby organisations” in the U.S.

The New York Review of Books also jumped on the bandwagon with an article about the alleged militarization of American police which, the author claimed, learned its “techniques and tactics from Israeli military services”. The article claimed law enforcement agents from across the U.S. have travelled to Israel to “exchange methods of mass surveillance, racial profiling, and suppression of protest and dissent,” prompting “some cities, such as Durham, North Carolina, to oppose police training with Israeli security partners because of concerns about ‘subsequent harms to communities of color’ in the US.

And a similar message made its way into some prominent media outlets as an attributed view, an opinion column or on the twitter feed of its journalists.

The Los Angeles Times’ Tracey Wilkinson, in an article about how the response to the murder of George Floyd is affecting U.S. foreign policy, attributed to “Palestinians and their supporters” the position that:

“…the U.S. appears to be adopting many of the harsh law enforcement tactics that Israel has used for years in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, further eroding U.S. credibility to act as a mediator in the Mideast conflict.”

Abdallah Fayyad, son of former Palestinian Authority prime minister Salam Fayyad, who recently announced his appointment to the Boston Globe editorial board as a columnist about “race and poverty in America,” penned his first opinion column for the Globe on June 16, 2020 under the headline “The military presence at D.C. protests was disturbingly familiar.”  The article alleged U.S. law enforcement was becoming militarized by Israel’s defense forces, claiming “American police officers have been trained on how to deal with the very people they serve by a military that administers an occupation.”

And Charlotte Greensit who announced she’d be moving to The New York Times  on July 6th as managing editor and associate editorial page editor posted in a since-deleted tweet (captured by journalist Seth Mandel): “Israeli cops are training American cops despite history of human rights abuse”.

JVP’s “Deadly Exchange” Campaign

What these articles and messages all have in common is that they are untrue, echoing an anti-Semitic campaign orchestrated and named “Deadly Exchange” by the inaptly-named “Jewish Voice for Peace” (JVP). In fact, many of those articles cite or quote directly from that campaign.

The JVP campaign is based on stoking political and racial tensions within the US to blame Jews for what it calls “racist policing in the U.S.”

JVP falsely claims that exchange programs between the American police, the FBI, ICE, and Israeli law enforcement agencies (unlike those with police forces in Mexico, Europe and other countries) share “worst practices” in order to “promote and extend discriminatory and repressive policing in both countries.” At the center of JVP’s campaign of disinformation, is the libel that Americans are being schooled in “extrajudicial executions, shoot to kill tactics, police murder, and attacking human rights defenders.”

A JVP film promoting its “Deadly Exchange” campaign is filled entirely with inflammatory falsehoods whose sole purpose is to villify U.S.-Israeli security collaboration and demonize Israel’s law enforcers. For example:

  • The purpose of exchange trips with Israel is to “advance racist policies and target social justice movements as security threats.”
  • “Delegates meet with Israeli riot police who are well documented in their use of violence when suppressing peaceful Palestinian protest.”
  • The focus of the trips is “how to expand existing surveillance practices in both countries, with little regard for human or civil rights.”
  • “The trips serve as an exchange of worst practices, emboldening racist policing in the U.S. and holding up an occupying army as a global gold standard.”

Moreover, JVP’s campaign slanders not only Jews in Israel, but American Jews as well. It makes liberal use of anti-Semitic tropes in its condemnation of mainstream American Jewish organizations – including the American Jewish Committee (AJC) , Taglit Birthright, AIPAC, JINSA and the civil rights organization Anti Defamation League (ADL) – for being “compllicit” in the “deadly exchange” programs that are allegedly perverting non-Jewish Americans. JVP calls on its followers to “hold accountable the Jewish institutions that run and fund the deadly exchange.”

Such allegations of Jewish racism, power and money perverting non-Jews evoke the age-old blood libels against Jews, and are reminiscent particularly of the notorious forgery, Protocols of the Learned Elders of Ziyon, that accused Jews of using their wealth and influence to manipulate and control non-Jews to their detriment.

The JVP campaign has not a shred of evidence to support its defamatory accusations, nor does it bother to offer substantiation of any sort: Its proponents have no experience or direct knowledge of the exchange programs with Israel. Rather, the campaign is built entirely on fabrications brazenly promoted by Israel antagonists whose distinguishing goal is to stir up hatred against the Jewish state and Jewish organizations in the U.S.

The lies upon which the campaign is built are directly refuted by those with firsthand knowledge of the exchange programs.

Steve Pomerantz, who served as assistant director of the FBI before becoming Director of the Homeland Security Program at the Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA) is the architect of one of the exchange programs. He explains how the program actually works and what its true goals are:

In truth, JINSA’s Homeland Security Program was launched in the wake of the September 11th attacks in order to address the well-recognized counterterrorism needs of local law enforcement in the U.S…. Despite suggestions to the contrary, there is no field training involved in either the conferences or trips, and no training on holds or arrest mechanics. The exchanges, which are hosted by the Israel National Police, focus on effective counterterrorism 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.

Trip participants have discussed efforts to build trust with minority communities, visited hospital trauma units and crime scenes, and spoken with terrorists serving life sentences for murder. One year, JINSA organized a specialized trip for American bomb squad commanders which focused on topics such as post-blast forensics and the materials used in explosive devices…

Orlando police chief John Mina, who dealt with the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history, when, in 2016, gunman Omar Mateen slaughtered 49 people in an Orlando LGBT nightclub and wounded more than 50 others, and who has participated in an exchange program similarly refuted the JVP slander, saying:

“We’re not here to learn how to kill black people. We’re learning how to fight against terrorism. How to evacuate people at the scene of an attack. It only takes Israelis a couple of hours to clear an attack scene, whereas we need a few days. We’re studying investigation methods, because we have such a different way of working…We are certainly not learning how to kill black people.”

The description of the exchange program by Acting  Chief of the Atlanta Police Department Rodney Bryant, who took over as police chief following  the killing of Rayshard Brooks, belies the “Deadly Exchange” characterization of the program, as do the descriptions of other participants. Bryant said:

“One of our greatest challenges in American policing is serving a community that is vastly more diverse than the local police department. Comparatively, the Israeli police are responsible for serving a variety of demographics. I was impressed by the level of community policing efforts employed by the Israeli Police to build relationships and maintain peace among such diverse populations…”

When asked about the campaign against the exchange programs, Robert Friedmann, the director of the Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange and Professor Emeritus of Criminal Justice at Georgia State University responded:

“It’s a modern-day blood libel. In my mind, there’s no difference between claiming this and that Jews used the blood of Christian children to bake matza on Passover. This may seem milder, but it comes from the same place… It’s absolutely ridiculous, their accusations are baseless… Our goal is for as few people as possible to be harmed by violence and terrorism. If a person acts in an unlawful manner, he needs to be brought to justice, but that has nothing to do with us… For 25 years I’ve been bringing US police officers to Israel and they’ve never once been taught how to kill. They get to hear lectures about deploying forces, self-defense, law and constitutional rights. We never ever talk about assassinations.”

The Roots of the Deadly Exchange Campaign

The latching-on of Palestinian grievances in Israel to African-American charges of racism in the U.S. was already in progress in 2014, when Palestinian activists tweeted their support for those protesting the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and linked their cause to those protesting the police action.

Conspiracy theories regarding Israeli police training were promulgated by anti-Israel agitators even earlier. In 2009, the radical anti-Zionist website, Electronic Intifada, ran an article by an anti-Israel propagandist entitled “Israel’s export of occupation police tactics.”

But the more serious collaboration between anti-Israel activists and anti-policing activists in the U.S. came about through the joint efforts of Dream Defenders, a group affiliated with the decentralized, loosely-structured Black Lives Matter movement and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP).

Dream Defenders was founded in reaction to the killing in Florida of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed African-American high school student by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer of mixed race, following a physical altercation. Dream Defenders activism was originally focused on repealing Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” Law which they believed resulted in Martin’s killing. The group was founded by three alumni of Florida state universities in Tallahassee, one of whom was Ahmad Abuznaid, a Palestinian-American who tried to create a nexus between his group’s ostensible demands and Palestinian grievances. In April 2014, he spoke at an event sponsored by the BDS group, Students for Justice in Palestine, at his alma mater. His topic was “The Freedom Struggle From Florida to Palestine: A Look at Racial Oppression in America and Israel.”

As the broader Black Lives Matter coalition moved from an online slogan to more organized protests following the shooting death of Michael Brown, the efforts by Palestinian activists to attach their own cause to the protests increased. By December 2014, Dream Defenders had embraced the anti-Semitic BDS movement, and a month later, Ahmad Abuznaid initiated his group’s so-called “Delegation to Palestine”, recruiting prominent black activists to join the trip, the goal of which, he stated, was

“to allow for the group members to experience and see first-hand the occupation, ethnic cleansing and brutality Israel has levied against Palestinians, but also to build real relationships with those on the ground leading the fight for liberation. In the spirit of Malcolm X, Angela Davis, Stokely Carmichael and many others, we thought the connections between the African American leadership of the movement in the US and those on the ground in Palestine needed to be reestablished and fortified… As a Palestinian who has learned a great deal about struggle, movement, militancy and liberation from African Americans in the US, I dreamt of the day where I could bring that power back to my people in Palestine. This trip is a part of that process.”

The trip’s participants — including Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter global network, leaders of affiliated groups, and former CNN commentator Marc Lamont Hill —  met with BDS founder Omar Barghouti and other anti-Israel activists. It was the first of several trips to Israel and the West Bank organized by Dream Defenders to inculcate activists into the anti-Israel creeds of BDS and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a U.S.-designated terror organization. (For more details, see “American Non-Government Organizations Are Intertwined With PFLP Terror Group”).

Palestinian activists, foremost among them Dream Defenders, labored to depict Israel’s 2014 war with Hamas as a massacre of Palestinians and link it to the protests at Ferguson. They recruited over 1000 signatories for a “Black Solidarity Statement with Palestine” to strengthen the BDS campaign against Israel.

Dream Defenders also teamed up with fellow BDS group, Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP). Aznaid was a featured speaker at JVP’s 2015 annual conference.  The two groups collaborated on a solidarity video. And both engaged in outreach to students and young adults to adopt BDS and link the Palestinian cause to racism in the U.S.

In August 2016, the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL), a coalition of members from the Black Lives Matter network as well as other organizations representing black communities in the U.S., put out a lengthy political platform, entitled “A Vision for Black Lives: Policy Demands for Black Power, Freedom & Justice.”  One section, headlined ”Invest-Divest,” accused the US, through its alignment with Israel, of complicity in what the authors called the “genocide that is taking place against the Palestinian people” and Israeli “apartheid.”

These accusations of genocide and apartheid provoked widespread condemnation from across the spectrum of the Jewish community, as well as from others who recognized the falsity, ignorance and malice behind the charges. The manifesto thus lost support from many liberal Jews who, while expressing solidarity with other parts of the platform, were opposed to the extremist rhetoric that delegitimized the Jewish state.

JVP, by contrast, immediately endorsed the Movement for Black Lives platform in its entirety, calling it “inspiring” and attacking as racist the Jewish organizations that opposed the platform’s designation of Israel as genocidal and apartheid.  JVP further attacked the platform’s critics through its newly assembled “Jews of Color Caucus”,  accusing Jews who dared to object to the platform’s anti-Zionist elements of racism and being “part of a white supremacist power structure.”

But the M4BL platform and all other earlier attempts to piggyback the delegitimization of the Jewish state on campaigns for racial justice in America paled in comparison to the outright anti-Semitic “Deadly Exchange” campaign concocted and unleashed by JVP in 2017. It was this campaign that became the model and basis for holding Israel and Jews responsible for police brutality, racism and inequality in the US.

Internal Division

The financial and moral support garnered for the #BlackLivesMatter cause during the protests that followed George Floyd’s tragic killing has been unprecedented. To conflate George Floyd’s murder with baseless anti-Zionist claims motivated by hatred of the Jewish state only impedes this support.

Perhaps that is why the Movement for Black Lives has not publicly come out to directly link the two and why even  the BDS-affiliated American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) put out a statement in the wake of the killing went no further than the anodyne “…ADC knows that the liberation of all marginalized groups is tied to that of our Black brothers and sisters. ADC stands against injustice, discrimination, and racism regardless of the group it is targeting.”

There is still debate among Palestinian American activists about whether or not this is the right time to seize on the Deadly Exchange campaign by capitalizing on Floyd’s killing. For example, activist George Zeidan argues “Leave Palestine out of Black Lives Matter. For now.“ while others, for example, Gabriel Khoury and anti-Israel propagandist Miko Peled argue the opposite.

Perhaps the JVP leadership was directed by allies to temporarily tone down the group’s “Deadly Exchange” campaign or perhaps they recognized that exploiting George Floyd’s murder to further an anti-Semitic campaign could eventually backfire. Whatever the reason, JVP attempted to walk back its “Deadly Exchange” campaign in an updated statement on its website. The update states:

Making connections between the U.S. and Israel without context can do harm

Highlighting these police exchange programs without enough context or depth can end up harming our movements for justice. Suggesting that Israel is the start or source of American police violence or racism shifts the blame from the United States to Israel. This obscures the fundamental responsibility and nature of the U.S., and harms Black people and Black-led struggle. It also furthers an antisemitic ideology. White supremacists look for any opportunity to glorify and advance American anti-Black racism, and any chance to frame Jews as secretly controlling and manipulating the world. Taking police exchanges out of context provides fodder for those racist and antisemitic tropes.

But once a demon is created and unleashed, it is not so easily stuffed back into the bottle, even temporarily.  JVP chapters across the country continue to feature Facebook posts blaming Israel for Floyd’s murder, as do others who seize on the vicious JVP campaign as a handy tool to demonize Israel. For example:

The anti-Semitic “Deadly Exchange” is JVP’s signature campaign, and if it means exploiting the killing of an unarmed black man in order to further the delegitimization of the Jewish state, so be it. Despite JVP’s updated statement and its pretense of interest in the situation of African-Americans in the U.S., it is clear that  JVP’s primary focus is, and has always been, on demonizing Jews.