A Deadly Exchange: The Implications and Effects of American-Israeli Police Relations

CW: Racial violence, police brutality


In December 2017, Kevin Maguire, Tufts’ Director of Public and Environmental Safety, attended a National Counter-Terrorism Seminar (NCTS) in Israel. According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the organization that funds these trips, more than 175 high-ranking American law enforcement officers have attended these trips, which consist of 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.” In an itinerary from a 2016 trip, attendees visited Israeli checkpoints in the West Bank, which are classified by Human Rights Watch as “severe and discriminatory restrictions on Palestinians’ human rights.” Participants also visited prisons where children are incarcerated and prisoners are tortured, including the Gilboa Prison. In that same prison last month, officials called for “harsher conditions” and “limited food and water” after Israeli prison guards sprayed Palestinian prisoners with tear gas. Finally, members of the trip attended a lecture from Micky Rosenfeld, the spokesman of Israel’s National Police. Rosenfeld oversees a department whose arrestees from 2011 to 2015 were 60 percent non-Jewish, although only 25 percent of Israel’s population is non-Jewish.

Given these documented human rights violations of the Israeli army, the militarization of police in both the US and Israel, and the trading of arms, tactics, and ideologies that take place on these trips, activists around the country are calling the program the #DeadlyExchange. Since Maguire’s trip in 2017, Tufts community members have also voiced concern regarding Tufts’ involvement in the program.

Last spring, a letter was written and signed by more than 216 people—including 46 faculty and staff members, 117 students, 48 alumni, and five community members—in protest of Tufts attendance on this controversial trip. The letter notes that “these trainings contribute to the militarization of police forces. Adoption of Israeli approaches to security would endanger our students, staff, and faculty.” The letter draws attention to the fact that TUPD Chief Maguire visited checkpoints, prisons, and other locations of documented violence against Palestinians. Tufts Professor of Anthropology Amahl Bishara was especially disturbed to find out that one of the site visits on Maguire’s trip was a checkpoint near where she lives when she is in Bethlehem. Noting that the checkpoint separates people by nationality, she said, “[It is] on its face discriminatory, it makes people feel unsafe.”

While it is deeply troubling that TUPD has participated in one of these trainings, they are not the only US or university police department to have attended. In addition to Tufts, a handful of other universities have also sent officers from their police forces to train with the IDF. Several of these schools are within the Boston area, including MIT, Northeastern, and Suffolk. So far,Tufts is the only school where students have mobilized in protest of the arrangement. The Chicago, New York City, and St. Louis Police Departments have also attended this training––departments which were responsible for the murders of Black teenagers Laquan McDonald, Ramarley Graham, and Michael Brown. The tear gas used by police to disperse protesters in Ferguson, MO following Brown’s death was the same tear gas used on Palestinians by Israeli law enforcement.

Just last year, reports came to light that the Boston Police Department, which also attended the counter-terrorism trip, was using social media spyware to surveil and track Muslim people in the Boston area. After countless instances of police brutality against Black men in Baltimore, the US Department of Justice published a report that documented “widespread constitutional violations, discriminatory enforcement, and culture of retaliation” within the Baltimore Police Department (BPD). According to Amnesty International, BPD was also trained in Israel—on “crowd control, use of force and surveillance by Israel’s national police, military and intelligence services.”

Similar to the well-documented history of US police murders and racial-profiling of Black and Brown people is the history of the Israeli military’s unlawful murders, racial profiling, use of torture, and surveillance of Palestinian adults and children. The statistics on Israel’s widespread imprisonment of Palestinians also mirrors those of the mass incarceration of Black people in the US. While 40 percent of Palestinian men are arrested in their lifetime,  Black Americans account for 34 percent of the total US prison population but only account for 13 percent of the total population. State-sanctioned violence against Black and Brown people is a global systemic oppression, and its many forms—from police brutality, to surveillance, to incarceration rates—manifest both here and abroad.

In an attempt to call attention to the grave implications of TUPD’s participation in this program, Tufts Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) launched their own Deadly Exchange campaign based on the Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) campaign to end US-Israel law enforcement and military exchange earlier this year. Tufts SJP member Parker Breza explained how TUPD’s training with the Israeli military can affect students. “While all students are impacted by the militarization of the police…  students of color, undocumented students, and Muslim students are disproportionately impacted by police violence and police aggression in the world at large…” Breza said. “If we want these trends to stop, then we also need this relationship to stop between Tufts University and a foreign military.”

Tufts Executive Director of Public Relations Patrick Collins said the University is “opposed to the militarization of police” and characterized the semi-automatic weapons that TUPD officers have been carrying since 2008 as “needed protective gear and equipment.” However, many Tufts community members—especially students, faculty, and staff of color—do not feel “protected” by TUPD officers with guns.

Christihanna M., co-president of Pan-African Alliance (PAA) and an organizer with the #TheThreePercent movement, expressed that she and other Black students already feel unsafe on campus and that the integration of weapons only exacerbates that fear. “The role of TUPD should be safety—not terrorizing their students and not policing the existence of their students,” she said. Particularly when Black and Brown students are disproportionately profiled and surveilled by TUPD, the increase of TUPD’s firepower coupled with attendance on a training with visits to known sites of racial profiling and discrimination reinforces existing feelings of fear for students of color instead of feelings of safety. As Christihanna added, “going to get trained by an occupying army is not a tactic to use to make students feel safe.”

Collins dismissed the political nature of Tufts’ trip to train with the Israeli military, saying, “The trip was not intended to serve as an endorsement of any particular policy or policing strategy. Rather, it was meant to serve as a collaboration between local area police leaders who were invited to attend.” However, this contradicts the view of the ADL, who organize the trips. In 2015, David C. Friedman, the ADL’s national director of law enforcement initiatives, remarked  that American officers who go on trips to Israel “come back and they are Zionists.” Though TUPD denies any ideological influence or endorsement behind the exchange, the influences of being trained by any kind of foreign security forces inherently involves political bias.

Tufts Black Student Union (BSU) President and lead organizer of #TheThreePercent movement at Tufts, Caila Bowen, noted that “nothing about [the trip] is impartial.” When Christihanna M. learned of TUPD’s attendance on the military trip, she said, “It makes me feel disgusted, unsafe, disappointed, but not really surprised.” Professor Bishara added that “it definitely made me feel unsafe, and I know that’s true for other faculty of color as well.”

This isn’t the first incident where students and faculty of color have felt unsafe or have protested issues of racism within TUPD and Tufts more broadly—Black students and faculty have historically led major campaigns against issues of racism on campus for decades.

In 2015, Black students led the #TheThreePercent movement “to demand that Tufts address our treatment as second-class citizens by this university,” as stated in  a letter to the administration written by a coalition of Black organizers. Christihanna M. noted that #TheThreePercent movement was sparked not only by the rampant racism plaguing the University of Michigan, but also by the #IndictTufts movement, another undertaking  led by Black students at Tufts to “interrogate anti-Blackness on campus and nationwide,” according to a Tufts Daily article.

#TheThreePercent movement had nine demands, two of which were centered around the lack of representation of Black students on campus––an issue that persists today. Bowen noted that “a huge problem of the disenfranchisement of Black students on campus is that we simply don’t see ourselves, not with our peers, but also in faculty and staff.” Of all Tufts faculty members employed in Fall 2018, only 2.8 percent were Black, and of all Undergraduate students enrolled in Fall 2018, 4.3 percent were Black. The letter written by Black activists highlights the history of Black student resistance at Tufts, noting that “the Black community has historically had our needs both dismissed and deferred by this institution.”

Bowen echoed this, asserting that “this university thrives off of free student labor” in reference to the creation of countless programs, departments, and spaces at Tufts for Black and Brown students that exist thanks to  student organizing. The letter further emphasizes the history of Black student activism as the force which pushed Tufts to create “the Africana Center instead of establishing the Black Studies Major that Black students had been fighting for in 1969” and again in 2011 when “Black student activism led to the creation of the Africana Studies major.”

Student organizing has been critical to many major changes throughout Tufts University’s history. According to Bowen, the creation of the Black-centered pre-orientation program, Students’ Quest for Unity in the African Diaspora (SQUAD) is also a “direct result of the #TheThreePercent movement,” yet there is no mention of this history on the Tufts website. The posters of anti-apartheid protests can be seen from Tisch Library to Hotung Café, yet students protested for months against Tufts’ refusal to divest from South African apartheid.

Immigrant students have also led the fight to protect undocumented students at Tufts amid national attacks on immigrant and refugee communities, which led to  President Monaco making a statement in support of protecting undocumented and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Tufts students. After students found out about Maguire’s attendance on the trip, students and faculty expressed concern about the safety of undocumented students on campus as well as how the trip undermines Tufts’ statements of supporting those students according to a Tufts Daily article. Recently, through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request led by Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), it was revealed that the deputy Director of Immigration Customs Enforcement had also attended a “Deadly Exchange” trip.

In a 2017  Observer article, Black students detailed many instances  of unfair and aggressive treatment they had experienced from TUPD. Bowen and Christihanna M. also shared multiple stories  of times TUPD had profiled them and made them feel unsafe—a feeling they say other Black students at Tufts share in and identify with. K. Martinez, former Director of the Women’s Center at Tufts, previously reported incidents of police harassment during their tenure at Tufts when unmarked cars patrolled the Women’s Center. According to Patrick Collins’ email, TUPD only uses unmarked vehicles “sparingly.” The experiences of Black students and faculty on campus say otherwise, “Why are [TUPD] following Black faculty into buildings?” Bowen asked.“Why are they patrolling around the Women’s Center and Africana Center and Latinx center in unmarked police cars? If we already have TUPD as plain clothes and unmarked cars, how is that gonna change when they are training with a military?”

These cases exemplify an  unfortunately common trend at Tufts and across the  country: law enforcement abusing their powers under the guise  of “counterterrorism” to unjustifiably target Black and Brown people. Martinez notes that anti-Black racism goes beyond TUPD, from the lack of “Black and Brown counselors well versed in racial trauma” at Tufts to the high number of faculty of color departing from the University documented in another Observer article from 2018. The exchange of  tactics between the IDF and American police, both of which have a documented history of human rights violations and racist violence, only serves to exacerbate the oppression of Black and Brown people in Palestine and in the United States.

Black-Palestine solidarity has a long and vibrant history, as with other cross-border solidarity struggles for justice for Indigenous people. On their website, Black activists in solidarity with Palestine describe their activism as an active choice, stating: “We choose to join one another in resistance not because our struggles are the same but because we each struggle against the formidable forces of structural racism and the carceral and lethal technologies deployed to maintain them.”

One of these activists, Marc Lamont Hill, was fired from his position at CNN on the basis of his advocacy for Palestinian freedom. His story fits into  a longer history of silencing and criminalizing Black internationalist activists. Similarly, Angela Davis––a historic and influential Civil Rights activist and educator––received a human rights award which was later  revoked because of her “long-term support of justice for Palestine.” Davis called the decision “not primarily an attack against me but rather against the spirit of the indivisibility of justice.”

Activists leading the #DeadlyExchange campaign around the world argue that community and solidarity makes for a just world—not security and militarization. Beyond the Tufts campus, communities across the country are running campaigns to stop their police forces from participating in Deadly Exchange trips. By bringing together Black youth and immigrant rights organizations, in Durham, NC, for example, the city unanimously voted to pass a city council bill to end all military exchanges between the local police department and any foreign military.

Laila Nur of Durham For All, one of the coalition members, characterizes this as “an important step towards divesting from militarization and over-policing, and investing in Black and Brown futures… it’s a huge victory towards a vision of safety and sanctuary for all.” In November 2018, Vermont State Police Director Colonel Birmingham and Northampton Mayor Narkewicz withdrew their respective police forces from participating in the annual trip to the Counter-Terrorism Seminar in Israel because of pressure from local JVP activists. As Bowen noted, “What keeps us standing is knowing that we are not alone, and building solidarity with all Black and Brown people.”  

At Tufts, a coalition of organizations and student groupsincluding the Arab Student Association, Tufts Labor Coalition, United for Immigrant Justice, Students for Justice in Palestine, Tufts Jewish Voice for Peace, Association of MultiRacial People at Tufts, Muslim Students Association, Pan-African Alliance, and Students Against Incarceration, Left Unity Project, and South Asian Perspectives and Conversations—are coming together to demand that the University take action.

The #DeadlyExchangeAtTufts coalition is calling for Tufts to apologize for Kevin Maguire’s participation on this trip and pledge to never go on this specific trip, or any training trip with a military again. Further, the coalition demands an increase in transparency and accountability starting with a public town hall, followed by the creation of a community advisory board of TUPD. The advisory board must include students and workers, as well as Medford and Somerville residents in order to create a more safe, inclusive, and equitable campus.

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