ADL under fire for training U.S. police in Israel– and when a Reddit AMA goes off script

It’s a bad public relations week for the Anti-Defamation League, traditionally a group that has not gotten opposition from inside the Jewish community. The group is facing two challenges spearheaded by Jewish activists against overseas police seminars, in Israel, and against a federal bill the American Civil Liberties Union says “threatens First Amendment rights.”

The ADL is in Israel at the moment, hosting a “counter-terrorism” seminar for American law enforcement officers to train with Israeli agencies, both police and military to trade tactics and best practices, according to a Freedom of Information Request submitted by Jewish Voice for Peace.

JVP is running a campaign to pressure the ADL into dropping these trips, which JVP calls Deadly Exchange. In an email sent to supporters, JVP says American police are learning bad practices from Israeli counterparts who have engaged in human rights violations:

Nitzan Nuriel is a war criminal.  As Commander of the Golani Brigade during the first intifada, he gave orders to beat Palestinian detainees. During the 2006 Israeli invasion of Lebanon he was among those responsible for “serious violations of the laws of war… result[ing] in the deaths of at least 1,109 Lebanese, the vast majority of whom were civilians.”

He is now an associate at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, an Israeli think tank with close ties to the military and intelligence establishment.

Why am I telling you about him? Because meeting and training with Nuriel is just one of many stops that U.S. law enforcement officers make on the ADL’s National Counter-Terrorism Seminar (NCTS).”

American police receive further training from the Israeli military and combat units. Again, from JVP’s campaign material:

“The Yasam unit, another key stop on the ADL’s NCTS trip, is a paramilitary “riot-control” unit of the Israeli Police designed to repress and attack nonviolent Palestinian protest. The unit has a well-documented history of excessive use of force, including physical, verbal, and sexual assault of Palestinian, Mizrahi, and Ethiopian citizens of Israel.2 They recruit directly from combat units in the IDF and Border Police special forces— an example of the deep intertwining of police and military power in Israel.”

Screen shot of 2016 ADL counter-terrorism seminar with U.S. law enforcement in Israel.

Palestinian civil police are also involved in the ADL-coordinated training of  U.S. law enforcement. While the JVP campaign did not address the human rights record of the Palestinian police force, the Independent Commission for Human Rights, a quasi-government watchdog, has received more than 100 complaints of allegations of torture and abuse from Palestinian officers over the last year. 

These allegations were also noted by the State Department in a 2016 country report on human rights published earlier this year, which gave poor human rights scores to both Israeli and Palestinian police agencies.  Palestinians “reported abuses by PA authorities in the West Bank included forcing prisoners, including persons accused of affiliation with Hamas, to sit in a painful position for long periods; beating; punching; flogging; intimidation; and psychological pressure,” said the State Department report.

Israeli police were cited by State for violations relating to the shootings and deaths of Palestinians: “There were reports of human rights abuses including allegations of unlawful killings related to actions by Israeli authorities.”

According to the ADL’s website, the group has coordinated joint training courses between U.S. and Israeli officers since 2004, with at least 100,000 participants. “There is no fee for these trainings.”  The seminar is described as “an intensive week long course led by senior commanders in the Israel National Police, experts from Israel’s intelligence and security services, and the Israel Defense Forces.” The exact itinerary of the trips is not disclosed.

A number of former participants have praised the seminar for the focus on anti-terrorism tactics and border security.

“I have a couple of friends who are sheriffs who went two years ago and felt it was very beneficial to see how they secure their borders, deal with the terrorist threat and how they get in front of the media right away,” San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon told a Riverside news outlet before taking a 2016 trip. 

In a separate 2016 ADL training in Israel, Arlington Police Chief Frederick Ryan told a local paper, “We visited the Hebrew University, and the research being conducted there relative to lone gunman/terrorists will help inform public safety policy makers here in the U.S.”

Jonathan Greenblatt of the Anti Defamation league, September 2017

Despite the ADL’s counter-terrorism seminars, the group is best known as a civil rights organization that has combated hatred and intolerance directed at the Jewish community for nearly a century. Its forays into a security relationship with Israel, and backing an anti-boycott law circulating through Congress, has drawn the ire of Jewish community groups and activists who see the organization as favoring pro-Israel advocacy over monitoring anti-Jewish hate groups.

This tension was visible during a recent Reddit AMA — Ask-Me-Anything — with the ADL’s CEO Jonathan Greenblatt, who promoted the appearance as a chance to talk about how the ADL is working with Congress in the wake of the deadly events at Charlottesville to pass bi-partisan legislation renouncing white supremacists, along with telling Reddit users that his name means Green leaf in German.

“I have ideas about how to combat hate, but would like to hear from you and ask for your support. So, feel free to AMA…” Greenblatt wrote on Tuesday.

From the below screen shots, some Reddit users questioned the ADL about pushing a bill would make it illegal for Americans to boycott Israeli companies that operate inside of and profit from the occupied Palestinian territory. The law itself is a little tricky in that while boycotts generally are regarded as protected speech, the Israel Anti-Boycott Act would criminalize boycotts that are in consort with foreign organizations, such as the United Nations, or any Israeli and Palestinian civil society organizations. Critics have described the loose terms of the legislation as a “slippery slope” or back door policy of stifling free speech protections.

Greenblatt asserted the bill does not infringe upon First Amendment rights. On Reddit he explained, “this Act focuses on ensuring that we deal with the discrimination that can result from these types of political activities.” Greenblatt directed readers to an editorial he co-authored with Stuart Eizenstat, a former adviser to President Jimmy Carter, published in the Washington Post yesterday. The two argue in the op-ed there is a timeliness to passing an anti-boycott law. The United Nations is about to publish a “blacklist” of companies that operate in the occupied Palestinian territory, and the European Union is forcing settlement products to remove their “made in Israel” label. If Americans chose to take up these boycotts, “that could subject American individuals and companies to discrimination, yet again, for simply doing business with Israel.”

Snapshots from the AMA:

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