The uprisings sparked by the murder of George Floyd have transformed political debate and rightly brought attention to the systemic use of state violence and mass incarceration as a tool of repression directed against black people in the United States. As part of the interrogation of these truths many are drawing attention to the synergies between the black struggle for liberation and other struggles for freedom, justice and equality. They are recognising that struggles against racism around the world are deeply interconnected.
In this context, attention has been drawn to the exchange programmes that have developed between police forces in the US and in Israel over the past two decades. Our friends at Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) have shone a light on this issue for some years via their ‘deadly exchange campaign’.
Thousands of United States police personnel have been sent to Israel since 2001, to meet with military and police forces. They have taken part in training and workshops with Israeli forces. These exchange programmes are designed to facilitate the sharing of practices between the forces, and reinforce practices of surveillance of public space, racial profiling and the excessive use of force by learning from Israel’s extensive surveillance, monitoring and targeting of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank. The tours have included visits to West Bank border checkpoints, military facilities and surveillance operations. The training has included models of applying violence in protest scenarios as well as limiting media coverage after the use of force (Deadly Exchanges Report, p.27).
Amnesty USA reported in 2016 that hundreds of law enforcement officials from Baltimore, Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, California, Arizona, Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Georgia, Washington state as well as the DC Capitol police have travelled to Israel for training, while thousands of others received training from Israeli officials in the U.S.
Learning from forces who implement a totalising matrix of control and domination, through a belligerent military occupation, makes racialised communities in the United States less safe by facilitating the transfer of knowledge on how to repress and control oppressed communities.
When drawing attention to these issues it is important to apply context and depth. Israel is not responsible for white supremacy in the United States or for policing methods that are deployed there. As JVP outline “suggesting that Israel is the start or source of American police violence or racism shifts the blame from the United States to Israel.” There is no clear evidence that Israel has trained US police officers in the technique of “neck kneeling” as a tool of restraint. But as JVP also point out these exchange programs exist to promote and extend discriminatory and repressive policing in both countries. In this way Israel’s training of US police personnel adds to the militarisation of domestic policing in the US.
As Maxine Peake has acknowledged, her interview in The Independent could have benefited from greater accuracy, as well as extra context and depth in its reference to the exchange programmes. As JVP point out in addressing the issue of the “deadly exchange” programme it is important to avoid any framing that suggests Israel has uniquely malevolent global designs or reach, and as such could be considered to trade in antisemitic tropes. Maxine Peake has made clear that was not her intention, and there is no evidence to suggest otherwise. There is nothing to suggest that this was the intention of Rebecca Long-Bailey. Rebecca Long-Bailey’s sacking for retweeting the article is wholly unjustified.
As an antiracist organisation PSC rejects antisemitism including indulging in antisemitic conspiracy theories.
As an antiracist organisation PSC will continue to resist all attempts to separate the Palestinian struggle for justice from the broader antiracist movement.
We will also resist attempts to redefine antisemitism in ways that detract from the ability to legitimately discuss and describe the experiences of Palestinians and what the experience of Zionism and Israel’s practices have meant for them living under Israel’s settler colonialism, apartheid, racism and discrimination.
We resist all attempts to redefine racism against a particular community to serve the political goal of precluding or vilifying the struggle against other forms of racism. We must not accept the creation of spaces in our community, including within the Labour Party, in which Palestinian voices and messages of solidarity with the Palestinians cannot be heard, including the right of Palestinians to call for boycott, divestment and sanctions in response to Israeli oppression. Just this week we have seen the Black Lives Matter movement in the UK attacked for alleged antisemitism on the basis of its principled support for the Palestinian-led BDS movement.
We know the only way to defeat racism is through uniting our struggles as part of a global movement for collective justice. To do this we must act in solidarity, recognising that none of us are free until all of us can live with dignity and justice.