Israel, Ferguson and the Militarization of US Police (You Won’t Find This in the NY Times)

Ever since police killed an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Mo., last August, it seems that every facet of the issue has come under scrutiny in The New York Times: police equipment, police militarization, grand juries, racial disparities, training, trust, local politics and profiling. But one element is missing from nearly all the column inches devoted to this topic—the Ferguson-Israel connection.

Others are talking about this, however, including protesters who took to the streets after the shooting and again when a grand jury refused to indict the officer who killed the teen. In Ferguson some taunted police saying, “You gonna shoot us? You gonna shoot us? Is this the Gaza Strip?” Protesters on the Manhattan Bridge chanted, “From Ferguson to Palestine, occupation has got to go,” and at least one of them held a sign that read “We are FERGUSON We are GAZA, because We are Human.”

The staunchly pro-Israel Anti-Defamation League has reported this development with alarm, listing nearly 20 separate U.S. groups that have emphasized the link between Israeli and American police abuse. Commentators in Israeli newspapers (here and here) have taken up the issue, as well as media outlets in the United States.

But the Times has avoided the topic, with one exception: Blogger Robert Mackey reported that Palestinians tweeted advice to protesters on how to deal with tear gas; he also published the taunts to police in Ferguson. However, his blog, “Open Source,” does not appear in print nor does it receive prominent play online, and his post failed to pursue another, deeper connection between Israeli security forces and U.S. law enforcement—“counter-terrorism” police training under Israeli instruction.

The newspaper has reported charges that U.S. police have become overly militarized and ran at least one story (in 2005) about Israeli training of American police, but in the recent discussion about militarized police, it has made no mention of the pervasive Israeli influence on local departments.

Since 2004, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, has sent 9,500 “law enforcement executives” to study with Israeli police, army and intelligence services. The Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee’s Project Interchange also sponsor these trips. In addition, Israeli security officers come to the States to give training sessions, Israeli police maintain an office in New York City and the NYPD has an office in Tel Aviv.

The curriculum includes dealing with terrorist operations, transit security, intelligence sharing, surveillance and crowd control during protests. Suppressing protests is a large part of the training, and U.S. police tactics have become a “near replica” of their Israeli counterparts, according to community leader Shakeel Syed of Southern California.

“Whether it is in Ferguson or L.A., we see a similar response all the time in the form of a disproportionate number of combat-ready police with military gear who are ready to use tear gas at short notice,” he said. “Whenever you find 50 people at a demonstration, there is always a SWAT team in sight or right around the corner.”

An Amnesty International report, “Trigger Happy: Israel’s Excessive Use of Force in the West Bank,” has charged Israeli forces with lethal actions in the face of demonstrators who pose no threat to soldiers. The report cited “willful killings” of some protesters, which amount to war crimes, and “virtual impunity” for those responsible.

Nevertheless, American police speak with admiration of Israeli practices. A Maryland officer trained in Israel told former Israeli soldier Eran Efrati (now a dissident and outspoken critic of the army), “Oh, man, you guys are badasses. You guys are the best!” Former U.S. Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer has said that “Israel is the Harvard of antiterrorism.”

A recent Center for Investigative Reporting story underscores the effect of this training on U.S. police. It states, “The most tangible evidence that the training is having an impact on American policing is that both countries are using identical equipment against demonstrators, according to a 2013 report by the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem and photographs of such equipment taken at demonstrations in Ferguson and Oakland and Anaheim, California.”

During 2011 Occupy protests in Oakland, U.S. army veteran Scott Olsen was shot in the head with a bean bag round and left with a permanent brain injury. His experience echoes that of protesters in occupied Palestine who have been killed or injured after being hit by “non-lethal” tear gas canisters. Two victims permanently disabled by these projectiles are Americans—Tristan Anderson and Emily Henochowicz, both wounded in the West Bank.

Oakland has a strong connection with Israeli police and army methods. Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern trained in Israel and instituted the annual Urban Shield weekend, in which police forces compete in mock “terrorist attack” exercises. Israel joins local departments in this event and has often taken first place in the competition.

In 2011 journalist Max Blumenthal called the pervasive Israeli influence on U.S. police tactics the “Israelification of America’s security apparatus.” This year others are also making the connection in light of Ferguson.

Ali Winston of the Center for Investigative Reporting wrote about the effect of Israeli training in a piece titled “U.S. police get antiterror training in Israel on privately funded trips,” and journalist Rania Khalek of The Electronic Intifada took up the issue in “Israel-trained police ‘occupy’ Missouri after killing of black youth.” Kristian Davis Bailey published a story in Ebony titled “The Ferguson/Palestine Connection” and noted that “Israel has played a role in the militarization of American police.”

All this is worth mention in the Times, but it prefers to look elsewhere in the discussions of police brutality and militarization within the United States. Its 2005 story on Israeli training was apparently never repeated. Now that the effects of this training could be cause for scandal, it has opted for silence.

Barbara Erickson

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