In April, leadership at Tufts University outside Boston was embarrassed when it was disclosed that Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), the toxic anti-Israel group with a sordid history of campus activism, had been given “The Collaboration Award” by the Office for Campus Life for the group’s role in exposing what they refer to as The Deadly Exchange—partnerships and cooperation between U.S. law enforcement and Israeli security forces. Tufts president Anthony Monaco immediately tried distancing the university from SJP’s award, saying that he “would be reviewing the awards process” to clarify why the divisive SJP—which promotes boycotts against Israel on the 200 or so campuses where it has chapters—should be hailed for collaborating at all, let alone winning an award.
The Deadly Exchange program provided an irresistible bit of additional weaponry for Israel-haters in the cognitive war against the Jewish state, particularly after the death of George Floyd in May and the rapid ascent since then of Black Lives Matter in the racial consciousness of activists on and off campus. The longstanding narrative which portrayed Israel as a racist, apartheid oppressor of brown Palestinians was given new relevance when it could be suggested that the same racist white police officers who were being accused of randomly killing black men in the United States were being trained—and made even more lethal and dangerous—by the IDF. “The Deadly Exchange between the U.S. and Israel solidifies and augments both countries’ methods and equipment for state violence and control,” SJP members wrote in a letter in the Tufts Daily, “including mass surveillance, racial profiling and suppression of protest and dissent.” The November 23rd letter was part of a SJP effort to “have a referendum on the ballot as a part of our campaign to End the Deadly Exchange at Tufts,” with the primary goal of “demanding the Tufts administration prohibit TUPD officers from attending military-led and/or similar international trips in the future, refine the vetting process to prevent prior attendees from being hired, and apologize for sending [in 2017] the former Tufts police chief to a militarized training trip.”
And what is the rationale for having members of the Tufts police department not hone their skills in programs with Israeli security forces? To end the systemic racism of law enforcement, of course. “Our referendum is seeking to promote the safety of students,” SJP contended, and “especially” students of color.
Ever since George Floyd’s death, and other recent instances of shootings involving white police officers and black victims, there has been a vocal, but horribly misguided, call to “defund the police,” with various explanations of what that actually would mean and if the radical cop-haters promoting this scheme actually want to eliminate conventional law enforcement officers or wish to replace them with kinder, gentler enforcers of law such as social workers and psychologists armed with compassion instead of firearms. So SJP’s ambition of neutering the Tufts police department is not entirely unique, since other campuses have experienced riotous calls to defund or eliminate altogether their school’s respective police departments. But by bringing the Deadly Exchange aspect into the conversation about how to assess campus police departments, SJP and Jewish Voice for Peace, the virulently anti-Israel group pushing the Deadly Exchange campaign, have been devious in ascribing blame for the alleged racism and brutality of U.S, police departments to the progressive world’s favorite target—namely, Israel.
The Tufts SJP members reveal their fundamental enmity for the Jewish state, and reveal how Israel is once again falsely accused of occupation, repression, blatant racism, and general brutality in dealing with the ever-aggrieved Palestinians. The Tufts police force “should not train with any military or intelligence forces,” SJP demanded, and “especially not those currently engaged in an illegal occupation of Palestine.” An illegal occupation of Palestine? What is that, exactly? Palestine, as every sentient being knows, is the name given to a territory, not a sovereign state, and included Gaza, Judea and Samaria, present-day Israel, and what is now Jordan. Is Israel part of what SJP considers to be occupied Palestine? Is Gaza, from which Israel fully disengaged in 2005, still occupied? As SJP should know, but has never seen fit to admit, there was never a sovereign state called Palestine, never a people called Palestinians who were specifically identified by their connection to that specific geographical area, and Israel’s presence in Judea and Samaria (what is carelessly referred to now as the West Bank) is as a result of a defensive war and their acquisition of that area where no high contracting party had ever enjoyed sovereignty means that Israel has every right to ownership and control of that territory. It is certainly not illegally “occupied,” nor is it Palestinian land—disputed territory, yes; occupied Palestine, no.
The idea of an illegal occupation of Palestine by a brutal, militarized oppressor—Israel—is, of course, central to the false narrative that propels anti-Israel activism on campuses where SJP has a presence, and the current obsession with criticizing and dismantling domestic police forces conflates nicely with a discussion about the way Israel’s predations are perceived to be equivalent to the racist, oppressive behavior of white American police officers in their interaction with blacks and other marginalized groups and “people of color.” The notion that racist Israeli soldiers are now training U.S. law enforcement personnel on techniques for perpetrating racism through oppressive subjugation is, naturally, repellent to these activists, a poisonous partnership that needs to be curtailed.
“Under Occupation,” the SJP members wrote in their letter, “Palestinians live under a regime of constant surveillance, regulated movement, racial profiling and Apartheid and militarized state violence against dissent.” Everything about Israel’s self-defense is thereby reduced to aggression, brutality, illegality, and abusive suppression of an indigenous people, behavior and tactics that certainly have no place on an American campus. Tuft’s own police department “should not be exposed to these tactics and technologies; they have no place on our campus,” they wrote. And there is another, compelling reason why having the IDF train domestic police officers at Tufts and elsewhere is a bad policy; in fact, it is immoral and Tufts compromises the university community by participating in this ‘deadly exchange.’ “We must hold the university accountable for bringing these destructive and toxic policing methods to our campus,” SJP alleged, ominously, “and for implicating all of us in the occupation of Palestine [emphasis added].”
The Deadly Exchange campaign, of course, takes the accusation of racism one step further, making it part of a global, ongoing campaign to slander and delegitimize Israel by ascribing to it the worst moral characteristics, including, specifically, the one accusation that is the most grievous and unforgivable: racism. And not only does it provide yet another opportunity for anti-Israel activists to trumpet the predations of the Jewish state, to stress once again the alleged racism, apartheid, and ethnic subjugation of Arab Palestinians, it can also smear Israel with another, even more sinister, accusation: not only has Israel perfected its brutality and oppression toward the Palestinians but now, thanks to these cooperative training programs with U.S. law enforcement personnel, Israel can export its moral depravity and cruelty, and its racism can metastasize itself in minority communities in the United States, too. The placards seen at protests for years now, saying “From Ferguson to Palestine,” echoed that very theme, purporting that the racial injustices experienced by blacks in America are mirrored in the experience of Palestinians who suffer under the similar racism and oppression of Israel.
This alleged linkage of oppression is central to the notion of “intersectionality,” a commonality of suffering shared by victims of racism and other forms of oppression. For anti-Israel activists to be able to draw a straight line now from the “white” Israeli racism and military oppression of “brown” Arabs to law enforcement’s brutality and racism in the United States toward black victims is yet another libel that works perfectly in portraying Israel as the world’s worst example of moral degeneration and human rights offenses.
A 2018 report prepared by Jewish Voice for Peace, “Deadly Exchange: The Dangerous Consequences of American Law Enforcement Trainings in Israel,” reveals that the principal concern with police training by Israel is not that it is ineffective or unnecessary, but that Israel’s own record with racism and the militarization of law enforcement is tainted with a purported concern for fighting terrorism that obscures a racist motive that uses law enforcement as a way of maintaining apartheid. “While framed as an opportunity for US law enforcement to learn policing strategies from a closely aligned democracy with counter-terror experience,” the report contended, “in fact these are trainings with an occupying force that rules a population deprived of human and civil rights.” And the report also promotes the absurd notion that law enforcement, both in Israel and in the U.S., is a destructive force and actually undermines citizens’ safety, not insures it. “Rather than promoting security for all,” the report suggested, “these programs facilitate an exchange of methods of state violence and control, including mass surveillance, racial profiling, and suppression of protest and dissent.”
Perhaps the “state violence and control” that is referred to in the report when describing Israel is possibly the result of decades of Arab terror against the Jewish state, and that checkpoints, the security barrier, a military presence, and other tactical elements of self-defense exist, not because of Israel’s cruelty and desire to be randomly oppressive, but because these measures have been necessitated by, among other things, 15,000 rockets and mortars sent into southern Israeli neighborhoods by Hamas over the past decade, psychopaths with suicide vests, knives, stones, guns, and vehicles used as weapons against the IDF and Israeli citizens, and publicly stated policies by Hamas of a sacred duty to murder Jews wherever they are found and to never accept treaties, peace plans, or Jewish self-determination of any kind. And when the report mentions “suppression of protest and dissent,” the authors may be fantasizing about the type of peaceful protests typified by the Civil Rights Movement; in Gaza and Judea and Samaria; however, dissent and protest have lately involved the Palestinians’ deadly new technique of trying to kill Jews, namely, the incendiary kites and balloons being launched from Gaza into Israel, devices that caused an average of 12 fires a day—678 fires in total—and destroyed over 6,000 acres of forests and agricultural fields.
The Deadly Exchange narrative reinforces the linkage between racist law enforcement in Israel and racist law enforcement in the U.S., in fact, ascribing to Israel blame for providing a perverse model of how to suppress and control minority populations. “Israeli trainings in counterterrorism,” the report suggested, “reinforce a highly militarized discourse that calls for institutionalized racial profiling and state violence targeting Black and Brown communities and social movements that seek racial justice.”
The JVP report and the SJP Tufts Daily op-ed share a similar view of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, consistent with the ideology and rhetoric of other campus anti-Israel groups and individuals, and therein lies their flaws. Whenever the history of the conflict is discussed, there is never nuance, context, or even facts to support the contorted narrative that has been created by Israel’s enemies in which Israel is always the oppressor and the long-aggrieved Palestinians are always the Jewish state’s victims.
And now, another grotesque accusation is being leveled against Israel: not only is Israel mistreating the Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, and Israel proper, but Israel’s sharing of expertise and “best practices” in law enforcement and military techniques for suppressing civilian populations is having direct and tragic effect on black people in the United States, that Israel’s malign racism is being exported and inflicted on minority communities by American police forces. Making Israel responsible for racism and oppression targeting black Americans is yet another libel against the Jewish state by its enemies, and though seemingly unreasonable, the linkage imbued in the deadly exchange narrative seems to have established itself. That Israel has become the embodiment of evil, that its racism, militarism, and oppression now are so powerful that they cross borders and infect minority communities in America, and that the Jewish state can now be held responsible for bigotry on campuses far from its own borders indicates how powerful the anti-Israel narrative has become, and how the obsessive hatred by activists against the Jewish state insures that the oldest hatred shows itself in yet another hateful permutation.
Richard L. Cravatts, Ph.D., a Freedom Center Journalism Fellow in Academic Free Speech and President Emeritus of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, is the author of Dispatches From the Campus War Against Israel and Jews.