Last month the Durham City Council voted unanimously to ban its local police force from exchange programs with their Israeli counterparts. This decision, resulting from successful disinformation by the anti-Israel organization Jewish Voice for Peace, will deprive that city’s law enforcement community of valuable learning opportunities that help keep Americans safe. Repeating this mistake would only needlessly put more Americans’ lives at risk.
In their efforts to discredit such cooperation, Jewish Voice for Peace falsely claimed these programs imparted military-style training to American law enforcement. They also accused Israel and major Jewish-American organizations of facilitating “racial profiling, mass surveillance, police shootings, and violent suppression of political dissent.”
As the head of counterterrorism programs at the Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA) and a former FBI assistant director, I am no stranger to alarmist campaigns trying to prevent U.S. law enforcement from working with the Israel Police at any level. Nor am I unfamiliar with the growing efforts of the larger boycott, divest and sanction movement to unfairly slander and single out Israel for censure – as is the case with the Durham City Council’s decision.
But most importantly, I appreciate firsthand how our country’s police and national security officials benefit directly from such exchanges, in turn enabling them to better protect our citizens and defend our country.
In the aftermath of 9/11, JINSA established the Law Enforcement Exchange Program to forge a “best practices” exchange between active-duty American law enforcement and expert Israeli counterterrorism practitioners. Contrary to the baseless allegations made in Durham, programs like these do not provide military-style training to participants, nor do they encourage suppression of political rights and civil liberties.
In fact, they accomplish exactly the opposite. Police chiefs and commissioners, sheriffs, state Homeland Security directors, representatives from the FBI, DEA and other federal agencies – all of them learn from some of the world’s foremost experts how to defend American citizens by preventing acts of terrorism and responding effectively when such acts occur.
Israel is the best place to learn these lessons. Facing constant everything from individuals with knives and cars to jihadist groups planning to inflict mass casualties at holy sites, Israel’s police force has gained a world-class appreciation for the best methods to identify and thwart these dangers.
Crucially, Israeli police have defended their communities while subject to many of the same restraints that exist on American law enforcement, and in service of a liberal democracy.
JINSA is proud to have provided a unique chance for American law enforcement to gain these insights. Many have described their participation as the best single learning experience of their careers. Yet the impact of this program extends far beyond the few hundred officers who engaged directly with their Israeli counterparts. In many instances, chiefs of police have called back to their departments in the United States while in Israel to discuss the insights they have gained, and to suggest changes to training and operational protocols. Other participants have returned home and incorporated lessons learned in Israel within their agencies. Most importantly, many participants have commented that what they learned in Israel has made their communities safer.
The simple reality is the United States needs more of these programs, not an end to them. There are 18,000 law enforcement agencies across this country, and the growing ability of groups like ISIS to inspire “lone wolf” attacks means more and more of these agencies will have to begin seriously preparing to defend against this evolving threat.
In this light, decisions like the one taken by the Durham City Council, however well-intentioned, are dangerously misguided. Communities that ban police exchange programs with Israel are willfully missing out on some of the best opportunities to glean valuable lessons – lessons often gained at a high price – from the frontlines of counterterrorism.
JINSA will continue doing everything it can to help our police, sheriffs and federal officials protect Americans, including by taking another delegation to Israel this fall. To towns, cities, counties and states across the country, I cannot encourage you strongly enough: support the participation of your law enforcement communities in these critically important programs with our critically important ally.
Steven L. Pomerantz, former assistant director of the FBI, is director of Counterterrorism Programs at the Jewish Institute for National Security of America (JINSA).