A lot of attention has been directed recently at the “training” American police receive from Israel. It’s extensive and pervasive. The point, however, is not that Israel has made US police more violent. They were violent and repressive a century or more before Israel was even established. It isn’t even that Israel has helped militarize the US police. It has, of course, but in response to fundamental shifts in the American political and economic scene.
The “Israelization” of the American police begins in the wake of 9/11, but three key developments in the US explain why. First, by 9/11 the debilitating effects of neoliberalism, starting in the Reagan Administration but already creating huge social and income disparities in the Bush and Clinton years. They began calling for “law and order,” domestic wars (on drugs, on crime, on “radicals”) and a need to control and pacify an ever-growing precariat, under-employed, under-paid middle-class people, the “working poor, and the largely racialized actually poor. Capitalism’s enforcers are the police.
Second, by 9/11 the US had lost the Soviet Union and communism as an external/internal threat that could be exploited to justify repressive, anti-democratic policies at home. While the threat of “terrorists” had become a minor issue in Clinton’s time, it was not tied strongly to the domestic arena. That tie-in, the third source of police “Israelization,” came with 9/11. The Patriot Act, which until today fundamentally curtails American civil rights and due process, was enacted less than two months later. Clearly it was in the drawer waiting for its opportunity. And again, policing becomes the vehicle for a wholly new para-military task: “homeland security.”
This was the backdrop. It was not an Israeli creation. But Israel been a Security State since its founding in 1948 – I would even put its roots as a highly-militarized society back to the start of the twentieth century. It has been over the past 125 years of settler colonialism that the Israeli Security State emerged. Israel’s ongoing war against the internal/external Palestinian people/enemy, with all the inherent insecurity and preoccupation with security that engenders, placed it just where post-9/11 America wanted to be. Israel provided the US – and particularly the US police and security agencies – with ready-made policies, doctrines, para-military structures, and weaponry they lacked but needed in order to construct an American Security State. Israel provided the model and the hardware.
But what was the problem? Why couldn’t the US just enact the policies, create the structure and produce the weapons conducive to a Security State, especially now that it has the “homeland security” justification? The answer is akin to the notion of color-blindness. In The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander describes the dilemma of enforcing policies of racial repression at a time (from the 1960s and ‘70s) when outright expressions of racism were no longer acceptable. She documents how the War on Drugs co-opted the racial agenda but under the rubric of fighting drugs, which few could argue with. The US had the same problem in its transition to a Security State. How could it subordinate civil liberties in favor of policing while retaining its image as a democracy?
Specifically, the “problem” facing the US in empowering its police to engage in homeland security was the wall erected by the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878. Like similar laws and regulations in other European states, the Posse Act strictly separates domestic law enforcement (internal security) from the deployment of the military (external security). It looks something like this:
This doesn’t mean that the military cannot be deployed domestically. The National Guard plays that role occasionally. But for the real military to be called out, as Trump tried to do in Washington, DC, an obscure 1807 Insurrection Act had to be invoked, and the Pentagon refused.
So even though US companies have the capability of producing military weapons, the “wall” has placed constraints on them from developing military-style police arms. This opens a huge market for Israel, not only custom-tailoring military weapons for law enforcement, but for the civilian market as well. The Israeli Weapons Industry (IWI) has opened a manufacturing plant in Middletown, PA, where it produces, for example, a pistol-sized Uzi submachine gun or police. That plant produces a wide variety of militarized weapons for law enforcement, including lines of Galil and Tavor assault rifles and a tactical rifle called the Zion-15. (Take a look at the IWI US website.) Israel is also the world’s leader in drones, producing 60% of the global market. Drones are becoming staples of US police departments, but here, too, the “wall” poses a challenge: drones are commonly used for surveillance, but weaponized drones are still forbidden to US police.
A second source of Israeli militarization of US police comes from the Israeli experience itself. Zionism, like US “manifest destiny,” is a settler colonial movement. In that all colonized peoples resist their displacement and elimination, the settler community lives in a state of perpetual insecurity, of permanent emergency, in which every aspect of life is militarized. Much of the violence in American culture comes from the genocidal campaigns against the Native Americans (Andrew Jackson is Trump’s favorite president), and many Westerns revolve precisely around sheriffs and marshals, showing just how closely connected policing is to violent colonization. By the 1870s, however, the American settler regime had largely pacified the Native Americans. That made it possible to shift to a more civilian regime; the enactment of the 1878 Posse Act served to “civilianize” the police. In Israel that never happened. The Palestinians remain a potent source of resistance to colonization, and therefore Israel is the only Western country not to separate civilian law enforcement from the military. On the contrary, by criminalizing Palestinian resistance as “terrorism,” Israel combines policing with the military. Thus in Israel the police are not separated from the military but bonded with a variety of para-military units that connect the two, as illustrated like this:
This is the kind of restructuring of US police forces that Israel advocates. The Israeli police is far from being merely a civilian agency charged with maintaining law and order. It is a paramilitary organization, operating under the Ministry of Internal Security, which is integrated into the wider military and security agencies under a regime of “permanent emergency.” Israel views the majority of the country’s population, the Palestinian citizens of Israel and the non-citizens of the Occupied Territory, plus other segments of Israeli society from African asylum seekers to “pro-Arab” progressives and Leftists, as “the enemy.” The major stance of the Israel police is thus not primarily a civilian task – protecting society as a whole – but one of counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism.
The Israeli police are very up-front about this. Their official website defines their role as “prevention of acts of terror, dismantling of explosive devices and deployment in terrorist incidents,” only them moving on to routine police matters such as maintaining law and order, fighting crime and traffic control. Counterterrorism is the “mentality,” with great overlap between “high intensity policing” and “low intensity warfare” is a common securocratic “battlespace.” Former Shin Bet director and then-Minister of Internal Security, Avi Dichter, speaking before 10,000 police officers attending the International Association of Chiefs of Police in Boston, used the term “crimiterrorists” to underscore “the intimate connection between fighting criminals and fighting terrorists.” “Crime and terror are two sides of the same coin,” he asserted.
Israel’s mythical reputation as the world’s premier anti-terrorist power lends it great clout in Congress, in the Pentagon, in homeland security circles and among the police. Israel’s para-military police fit well with para-military tendencies already present in American police departments. Already in the mid-1960s Philadelphia and LA established SWAT teams – SWAT meaning originally “Special Weapons Attack Team,” hardly a civilian concept. This begins what Radley Balko calls “the rise of the warrior cop.” Today 80% of police forces have SWAT teams.
Sharpshooter, with weapon trained, atop a SWAT vehicle during the protests in Ferguson, MO following the police killing of Michael Brown, August 2014 (Photo: Jamelle Bouie/Wikimedia)
Let’s take a brief look at how American police forces apply principles from Israel’s manual on counter-terrorism on American cities. Taking Israel’s notion that intelligence is the key to prevention and interdiction. In the early 2000s the NYPD established a secret “Demographic Unit” that sent undercover officers, known as “rakers,” to map the “human terrain” of targeted minority neighborhoods – “modeled, according to an NYPD source, “on how Israeli authorities operate in the West Bank.” Informants known as “mosque crawlers” monitored sermons and mosque activities. A “Terrorist Interdiction Unit” followed up on their leads, and yet another squad, the Special Services Unit, conducts undercover work – illegally in some cases – outside of New York City.
In 2012, the NYPD even opened an Israeli office, located in the Sharon District Police Headquarters in Kfar Saba, in order “to cooperate on a daily basis with the Israel Police.” “If a bomber blows himself up in Jerusalem, the NYPD rushes to the scene,” said Michael Dzikansky, an NYPD officer who served in Israel. “I was there to ask the New York question: ‘Why this location? Was there something unique that the bomber had done? Was there any pre-notification. Was there a security lapse?’” Dzikansky subsequently co-authored a book, Terrorist Suicide Bombings: Attack Interdiction, Mitigation, and Response, another example of how Israeli security practices enter into American law enforcement.
Cathy Lanier, Chief of the Washington DC police, who once stated “No experience in my life has had more of an impact on doing my job than going to Israel,” authorized checkpoints in the troubled northeast DC neighborhood of Trinidad to monitor and control street violence and the illegal narcotics trade.
“War,” of course, has long been an American political concept, especially in terms of racial relations. American policing became overtly militarized when Reagan declared the War on Drugs. That, in turn, was ratcheted up to a real war by Bush Sr. In the early 1990s he inaugurated a program allowing surplus military equipment, weapons, and tactical vehicles to be transferred to law enforcement for use in “drug enforcement.” The Clinton Administration further militarized policing by passing the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (authored by Joe Biden). This, Alexander argues, laid the legal infrastructure for America’s racial caste system, since it resulted in the mass incarceration and of disenfranchisement of millions of black people. In 1997 the Clinton Administration established the 1033 program which expanded the transfer of military equipment to police. Today the police in Oxford, Alabama, have an armored personnel carrier; in Lebanon, Tennessee, they have a tank.
Now add to all this the real real “War Against Terrorism” in the wake of 9/11, and virtually every American is subject to militarized policing and disenfranchisement, particular through the Patriot Act, an assault on civil liberties that places the US under a state of permanent emergency. It gives the authorities power to short-circuit due process – and that, if anything, describes American police behavior today. (The Patriot Act has been reaffirmed by Congress under every administration.) The militarized way in which the Occupy camps were dismantled showed that young middle-class white people dissatisfied with neoliberalism can be suppressed as easily as black community.
As a result of all this, the police, who had long resented the “wall” holding back their penchant to violence and suppression – which, in fact, had been the original purpose of creating the police in the first place – now had a legal and ideological justification for chipping away at it. So the ultimate “contribution of Israel to US policing is the concept of the Security State, its own model of a militarized democracy. The Security State being peddled by Israel is actually a sophisticated police state whose populace is easily manipulated by an obsession with “security.” It is a state driven by the logic permanent war, in which the demand for “security” trumps all democratic protections. The following chart shows the circular logic of the evolving Security State.
Writ large, the job of the police is to police the endemic insecurities of predatory capitalism under different names: the War on Drugs, the War on Crime, Global War on Terror, “securocratic wars,” “wars amongst the people,” “resource wars,” counterinsurgencies, campaigns for law and order and other euphemisms. What unites poor and racialized communities of color, working-class people in general, the middle-class precariate” and young people just seeking to enter the job force is that the neoliberal economy has no place for you beyond “temp” jobs, and that you will all face the police – capitalism’s enforcer – if you threaten the system that is destroying you. That is the true and circular zero tolerance attitude conveyed to the police by the Security State. It dovetails well with the role of police throughout history, from where the violent police culture stems. If the US can be prodded on its journey of becoming a Security State (not a hard sell), then Israel gains not only a major market for technologies of repression but a reliable ally in its own battle against Palestinian resistance. Police training and hasbara are intimately linked.
And so Israeli training of American police. Beginning in 2002, just after 9/11, a spate of training programs emerged. The American Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), an organization that holds there is no difference between the national security interests of the US and Israel, inaugurated its Law Enforcement Exchange Program (LEEP). It partners with the Israel National Police, the Israel Ministry of Internal Security, and the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet), and supported by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the Major County Sheriff’s Association, Major City Chiefs Association and the Police Executive Research Forum, to bring to Israel for “education” police chiefs, sheriffs, senior law enforcement executives, state homeland security directors, state police commissioners and federal law enforcement leadership. Over 9500 law enforcement officers have participated in twelve conferences thus far. “The knowledge gleaned from observation and training during the LEEP trip,” effused Colonel Joseph R. (Rick) Fuentes, Superintendent of the New Jersey State Police, on the JINSA website, “prompted significant changes to the organizational structure of the New Jersey State Police and brought about the creation of the Homeland Security Branch.”
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) hosts an Advanced Training School twice a year in Washington, DC. Its “School” has trained more than 1000 US law enforcement professionals, representing 245 federal, state and local agencies. The ADL also rums a National Counter-Terrorism Seminar (NCTS) in Israel, bringing law enforcement officers from across the US to Israel for a week of intensive counter-terrorism training, as well as connecting American law enforcement officials with the Israel National Police, the IDF and Israel’s intelligence and security services.
And remember IWI, the Israeli Uzi manufacturer? It runs a police academy in Pauldon, AZ, open to the public as well as police. And then there is the Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange (GILEE), located in a black box of a building at Georgia State in Atlanta, another major Israeli police training center. (Check out their video “Community Policing in a Time of Polarization and Anti-Semitism.”)
So the use of “violence” is not the issue in Israeli-US police training. Interestingly enough, the inter-personal violence so characteristic of American police in conflict situations is lacking in Israel. Israeli police rarely handcuff people or pull their weapons, the first instinct of American cops. The “violence” in Israeli policing is more controlled, as it is in combat. It is less a macho kind of violence, and I think his is a key lesson Israel tries to impart to American police: Strike faster than you do. Since Israel does not have all the nicities of reading to suspects their rights or interacting with them, as we saw in the Atlanta shooting of Rayshard Brooks last week. As civil rights continue to contract in the American Security State, this may be ever-more possible. But at the same time, Israel police do not move so suddenly from detaining to shooting. They prefer to react only through control of the situation.
But when the need for shooting starts, Israeli police shift quickly to a military mode. An American security officer relates what he learned during his time in Israel with a Yamam Special Police Unit, akin to a SWAT team:
“When it came to shooting, the major difference between Israel and America training is our philosophy on close-quarter or urban combat. The biggest difference between what the Israelis did and what we Americans were trained to do was that they would oftentimes suggest going almost headlong at an enemy position while firing through whole magazines. It usually took a matter of seconds to burn through a magazine, so fast reloads factored heavily into one’s success. In training, we would advance by increments of 40 or 50 meters at a time in urban settings, all the while firing on full-automatic. Back in the States, the attack is more controlled. We were taught to perhaps squeeze off rounds in three-second bursts and then seek cover. This is not the way of Israeli security apparatus and though it may be too bold in every circumstance, in the right scenario, I cannot think of a more effective way to gain ground.”
This all falls into what I call Global Palestine. Don’t think Israel is developing all its sophisticated weaponry, technologies of repression, tactics of population control and its Security State framework merely to control the Palestinians. They are the guinea pigs, the Occupied Territory only a laboratory. That piece of Israel’s military/industrial complex is geared for export, and your police are buying. Steven Graham concludes, “integration is underway between the security-industrial complexes and the military-industrial complexes of Israel and the United States. Even more than this, the emerging security-military-industrial complexes of the two nations are becoming umbilically connected, so much so that it might now be reasonable to consider them as a single diversified, transnational entity.”So connect the dots. As the US police become “Israelized,” you, the American people, become “Palestinianized.”