BDS group protests St. Louis police anti-terrorist training in Israel

Protesters with Jewish Voice for Peace gathered outside the Anti-Defamation League’s offices in Clayton to protest the organization’s sponsorship of local police officers’ training in Israel.

Eric Berger, Staff Writer

Members of Jewish Voice for Peace, a group that supports boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel, organized a protest Wednesday at the Anti-Defamation League office in Clayton in response to an ADL program that sends U.S. police officers to Israel for counter-terrorism training.

The dozen protesters were attempting to deliver a petition to the ADL, a nonprofit that aims to fight anti-Semitism and bigotry, to end what they described as a “deadly exchange” between U.S. and Israeli law enforcement officials.

Clayton police officers stood in front of the door and told the protesters that the office was closed.

The protest was the latest action from left-wing protesters linking U.S. law enforcement’s treatment of African-Americans to Israeli officials’ treatment of Palestinians.

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The ADL has organized four trips for police officers from the St. Louis area to attend counter-terrorism training in Israel. In March, police chiefs from Clayton, Creve Coeur, Florissant, Frontenac and Olivette spent more than a week in Israel meeting with, for example, Israeli Defense Forces commanders, Arab-Israelis, a survivor of a suicide bomb attack and residents of a kibbutz along the Gaza border, according to the ADL.

Jewish Voice for Peace protesters staged similar actions at ADL offices in 14 other cities, according to JVP.

We are “here in protest of the deadly exchange, which is the exchange of arrest tactics and surveillance tactics between the Israeli state and police officers in the United States,” said Rachel Brown, who is 34 and Jewish. “This is a huge concern, especially in the St. Louis context where police brutality and the general police presence and the criminalizing of brown and black individuals is such a big issue.”

The Black Lives Matter movement, which arose from the protests in Ferguson following the Michael Brown police shooting in 2014, has received significant support from some members of the Jewish community. The ADL has not endorsed the movement but knows “that many of the concerns raised by participants in the Black Lives Matter movement are critical civil rights issues that merit attention. Police brutality, mass incarceration, racial profiling and the school-to-prison pipeline are legitimate topics of discussion both in an educational setting and in the larger community,” Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO and national director of the ADL stated in a letter to The Jewish Week in 2016.

Despite that support, the ADL and other Jewish leaders have been criticized for their support of Israel. For example, in 2015, some people affiliated with Black Lives Matter/Hands Up United and St. Louis Jewish Voice for Peace criticized Central Reform Congregation Rabbi Susan Talve, who was active in the Ferguson protests, and posted a picture of her on Facebook with the hashtag “#realterrorist” and the words “supports genocide and international apartheid.”

And about a year ago, The Movement for Black Lives coalition released a platform that called for the United States to end military aid to Israel and accuses Israel of being an apartheid state.

When asked about people who support the Black Lives Matter movement and Israel, Brown said, “I would invite those people to see how it’s really damaging to not see those as connected, the sharing of police practices and surveillance strategies that have been used against Palestinians.”

“I think that in both cases, whether or not the day-to-day realities look exactly the same, there are certain forms of surveillance and incarceration without adequate due process that are related to race and socioeconomic status that are similar,” said Brown, who recently moved to St. Louis from Massachusetts.

Since they were not allowed into the building, the protesters stood outside and read the petition and chanted “Police exchanges don’t make us safe/ ADL, stop the hate.”

Karen Aroesty, regional ADL director, does not think the protesters’ effort was really “about policing at all. It is in fact an attempt to demonize Israel. If they understood the great variety of ways that the ADL staff are engaging with police departments, not just in counter-terrorism education, but in implicit bias education as well, they would know that their position is flawed.”

“Does that mean that Israeli society is without issue when it comes to race and society? No. They have issues like we do, as does every country in the world when it comes to race and otherness, but just to use that hook alone to take a side, is not to understand the nature of the conflict itself.” Aroesty said. “And to demonize Israel does zero for helping really address equity in racism in the United States.”