Opinion

Campaign Against U.S.-Israel Police Programs Is the BDS Version of Blood Libel

Efforts to derail Israeli training for U.S. law enforcement reveal the link between BDS and anti-Semitism by attempting to blame Jews for police shootings in America

Members of Jewish Voice for Peace at a general assembly of the Presbyterian Church in 2017.
Jewish Voice for Peace

Jewish Voice for Peace can finally claim a couple of victories for its Deadly Exchange program. The Vermont State Police and the Northampton, Massachusetts Police Department have pulled out of a program in which law enforcement personnel take part in a week-long seminar on terrorism in Israel. Participants hear from Israeli and Palestinian Authority police and learn from their experience in dealing with the problem.

The program, which is sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League, is more than a decade old and is one of those that have been targeted by JVP as part of its so-called Deadly Exchange campaign. JVP’s argument is that exposing American police officers to the techniques and ideas employed by Israel in its counter-terrorism efforts encourages brutality and mistreatment of minorities back home. The conceit of Deadly Exchange is that such training is both inappropriate for Americans as well as indirectly responsible for outrages like “police murders,” “shoot to kill policies,” “extrajudicial executions” as well as “spying” and “deportation and detention.” The claim here is that Israeli police are a force that is primarily interested in repression and violence and those U.S. personnel that learn from them are more likely to kill Americans.

The problem with Deadly Exchange is more than a matter of how you think the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should be resolved.

Deadly Exchange is just one more battle in the efforts by the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement to isolate Israel from the rest of the world. While JVP pitched its successful arguments to the Vermont and Northampton departments by questioning what it claimed was a lack of transparency in the ADL program, this is more than just a question of whether Israeli police are good role models. JVP’s assertion is that any seminar with Israeli law enforcement is, by definition, a how-to course for violating human rights.

This is a natural consequence of intersectional ideology that falsely identifies all Third World struggles, including the Palestinian war on Zionism, with the struggle for civil rights in the United States. But it goes further because it implicates Israel and its American Jewish supporters, who back such exchange programs, in police shootings of African Americans on the streets of U.S. cities or in mistreatment of immigrants on the country’s borders.

That’s why this particular BDS offensive goes farther than those aimed at hindering the sale of Israeli products, pressuring cultural figures from appearing in Israel or halting contact with academics. Rather than seeking to merely single out the Jewish state for criticism in terms not used against any other nation, JVP’s attacks on the exchanges seek to connect Israel with police violence in the United States or along its borders.

But in making such arguments, JVP is not only wrong on the facts, it is also essentially proving that BDS isn’t so much a critique of Israeli policies but an attempt to delegitimize Israel and ultimately a justification for anti-Semitism.

As the ADL has pointed out, the exchange program it sponsors is not a form of tactical training. Rather, it gives Americans an idea of the challenges Israel faces and how its police handle extraordinary threats of terror and violence within the constraints a democratic society with an independent judiciary puts on law enforcement. While Israel is no more perfect than any other democracy, it has faced a unique set of circumstances, an ongoing conflict that dates back 70 years involving state-supported terror groups and other organizations bent on killing civilians. Israelis have learned, by trial and error, how to cope with this threat and to do so without inflicting indiscriminate violence or abandoning democracy. The notion that Americans have nothing to learn from this experience or that Israeli police are essentially lawless human rights offenders without the same restraints imposed on them by a democratic society doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

Israeli police firing tear gas canisters to disperse Druze protesters outside a polling station in Majdal Shams, October 30, 2018
\ AMMAR AWAD/ REUTERS

You don’t have to be a supporter of the Netanyahu government to understand that BDS is not an attempt to criticize Israeli policies or to express an opinion about how a two-state solution might be implemented. As advocated by explicitly anti-Zionist groups like JVP, its goal is to delegitimize the state of Israel and not merely West Bank settlements. Indeed, JVP states its opposition to Birthright Israel trips by young Jews in terms that make it clear that it believes the “right of return” of the descendants of the 1948 Arab refugees must be recognized before Americans consider visiting the country. That actually aligns it with Hamas and its efforts to eliminate the Jewish state by one means or another rather than with any effort to promote peace.

Treating Israel as a pariah state is both unjust and counter-productive to peace efforts. But by linking Israel and its supporters to disputes about American law enforcement, JVP is seeking to smear them as being ultimately responsible for the murders of African Americans. As crazy as that sounds, it should be eerily familiar to students of history. Blaming Jews for crimes, especially the murder of innocents, even though they had nothing to do with them, is a classic trope of anti-Semitism. In that sense, even though JVP presents itself as defending Jewish values, its campaign is merely an updated version of medieval blood libels, where Jews became the scapegoats for problems that were not of their making.

Americans and Israelis have a lot to learn from each other and one may reasonably criticize either nation’s policies. But those who single out the one Jewish state in this manner and subject it to discriminatory boycotts are not promoting peace. To the contrary, this most noxious form of BDS is about demonizing Israelis and makes the connection between BDS and anti-Semitism painfully clear.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS (the Jewish News Syndicate) and a contributing writer for National Review. Twitter: @jonathans_tobin