Last week Durham, North Carolina became the first American city to align a municipal public policy with the agenda of the anti-Israel fringe organization Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), which falsely blames Israel and American Jewish groups for instances of police violence against blacks in the U.S. and domestic police militarization.

In a statement endorsed unanimously, the City Council prohibited international police exchanges “in which Durham police officers receive military-style training.” The statement, after an intense lobbying campaign by anti-Israel activists and over the objection of police groups, mentioned only Israel by name in the opening paragraph of the document.

It did so even though there have been no such exchanges for over a decade, and none are planned, with the Israel National Police. A single one-week trip that the former Durham police chief Jose Lopez once took to Israel involved how to deal with and manage mass casualty situations. By his own statement to the City Council, “none of the training had anything to do with militarization.”

It’s important to note that this is a very sly statement which the City Council just passed. The statement purports only to bar the Durham Police Department from international police exchanges if they involve “military-style training,” but in fact imposes a total ban on any exchanges with Israel (and Israel alone) because near the start of the statement the Council also “endorse[s] and affirm[s] as policy” a total ban on “any exchange to Israel” whether it involves a military-style police exchange or not.

The Council thus engaged in a sleight of hand that will now prevent Durham police officials from learning from their counterparts in Israel, who are internationally-recognized experts in terrorism prevention and response.

So to be absolutely clear about the costs involved: on account of the statement passed last Monday, Durham’s Police Department won’t ever be able to benefit from police exchange programs in Israel, such as those sponsored and led by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which are designed to equip law enforcement officers with the knowledge to safeguard communities from a range of threats, from terrorism and bombings to active shooter situations.

This offers yet another cautionary tale about how racial issues in the U.S. unrelated to Israel are being hijacked by anti-Israel activists:

For several years, anti-Israel activists have sought to hijack other causes in order to turn them against Israel.

A key component of these hijackings is so-called “intersectionality,” the concept that Israel is the unifying evil force in the world that ties together problems far distant from Israel, including alleged police brutality against and inequality among non-whites in the U.S. Israel thus serves the organizing purpose that Jews historically served in international conspiracy theories.

We have documented such intersectional hijackings many times, including with regard to Ferguson (Michael Brown) and Baltimore (Freddie Gray) riots, Eric Garner protests, the Standing Rock Sioux pipeline protest, domestic U.S. police shootingsReclaim MLK marches, and the Black Lives Matter movement, among others.

A recent focus is the plan to hijack the “anti-fascist” movement to turn it against Israel. We recently reported how Anti-Israel pro-BDS profs organizing Antifa campus network:…

Below I describe how Durham’s City Council ended up lending legitimacy to JVP’s malicious “Deadly Exchange” campaign, which demonizes Israel and American Jews and blames them both for institutionalized racism and societal ills in America.

A set of features unique to Durham made it particularly ripe for this exploitation by JVP, including:

  • a history of racial tensions and recent flare-ups (e.g., the tearing down of a Confederate Statue in Durham in August 2017, which generated widespread controversy);
  • a strong progressive movement in the city, along with the presence of numerous well-established left-wing groups that could serve as JVP allies;
  • city council members who had significant conflicts of interest;
  • a leadership of the local Jewish Federation which, while not officially in support of the JVP campaign, failed to visibly stand up in opposition to it;
  • a small pro-Israel group with insufficient funds to mount a successful counter to JVP’s well-oiled and professional grassroots activism; and
  • a committed group of JVP activists who could present themselves as legitimate representatives of Durham’s Jewish community.

Taken together, these features made Durham a very hospitable place for JVP’s anti-Israel and anti-Jewish bigotry and for its propaganda centered around the national “Deadly Exchange” campaign. Still, other cities may share at least some of those features and so may also be susceptible to JVP-initiated activism.

It’s worth understanding what happened in Durham not least because JVP is now buoyed by what it perceives as a major victory.

It’ll soon be looking for new municipalities to hijack for its anti-Israel cause. So Jewish and pro-Israel communities need to be prepared and plan accordingly.

The remainder of this post is organized as follows:

  1. Introduction
  2. Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) and the “Deadly Exchange” campaign
  3. Backstory: JVP spearheads effort to oppose training in Israel for Durham police
  4. Opposition to JVP’s “Demilitarize! Durham2Palestine” campaign intensifies
  5. City Council meeting on international police exchanges, April 16, 2018
  6. Aftermath to the Durham City Council Vote
  7. Lessons for other American Jewish communities
  8. Conclusion

Introduction

Last Monday April 16th, the City Council of Durham, North Carolina voted unanimously to bar the city’s police department from “international exchanges” in which officers receive “military -style training.”

The Council’s statement, which passed unanimously in a 6-0 vote, specifically singled out police exchange programs with Israeli law enforcement as the one and only example of the “exchanges that do not support the kind of policing we want here in the City of Durham.”

The Durham City Council appreciates receipt of the memo dated April 4, 2018 from Chief C.J. Davis to City Manager Tom Bonfield stating that “there has been no effort while I have served as Chief of Police to initiate or participate in any exchange to Israel, nor do I have any intention to do so.” The Durham City Council endorses this statement by Chief Davis and affirms as policy that the Durham Police Department will not engage in such exchanges.

The council opposes international exchanges with any country in which Durham officers receive military-style training since such exchanges do not support the kind of policing we want here in the City of Durham.

We recognize and share the deep concern about militarization of police forces around the country. We know that racial profiling and its subsequent harms to communities of color have plagued policing in our nation and in our own community….

Passage of the statement came after a months-long effort on the part of virulently anti-Israel activists affiliated with the local JVP chapter, working in a coalition with ten other local groups, to make Durham the first American city to condemn training programs between local cops and Israeli security forces and law enforcement, consistent with the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement’s goal of blocking U.S. collaborations and exchanges with Israel.

The effort involved launching a campaign called “Demilitarize! Durham2Palestine” and fielding a petition which was opened for signature in October. It had garnered over 1,200 names by the time the City Council met to discuss the issue for the first time in early April.

[credit: Facebook]

It’s important to note that at the Durham City Council meeting last week, the statement that was adopted wasn’t the initial petition that JVP fielded together with its other allies, but a document drafted by Durham’s Mayor based on that petition.

The Mayor’s statement, which was passed by the City Council, didn’t include some of the more malicious language directed toward the Jewish state that had appeared in the initial petition.

But by deciding to block all police training with Israel, and insinuating via the statement, and in their remarks during the City Council meeting (see below), that these exchanges aren’t worthwhile for a police force concerned about “militarization,” the City Council, along with Durham’s Mayor Steve Schewel, legitimized the fraudulent claims of JVP and its partners.

That is, Durham’s Mayor and its City Council have given credence to the spurious accusations that law enforcement training programs between Israeli and American police officials generate a “deadly exchange,” and that these joint programs are directly responsible for a rising level of police brutality and racism against people of color and other minorities in the U.S.

Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) and the “Deadly Exchange” campaign

Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) is an anti-peace extremist hate group that enables, legitimizes and mainstreams antisemitism by providing a façade and veneer of Jewish legitimacy for the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

As we’ve highlighted in dozens of prior posts, JVP isn’t a Jewish group. Rather, it’s a far-left wing group that purports to be inspired by the Jewish tradition of social activism.

Appropriating the language of human rights and social justice, JVP presents itself as an organization committed merely to ending Israel’s ‘occupation’ and to advancing civil liberties and democracy through non-violent means. But as we’ve documented, its tactics and affiliations tell a very different story.

The reality is that JVP’s leadership and activists:

JVP advances its virulently anti-Israel agenda via a series of heavily-hyped national campaigns. One of its most recent initiatives, rolled out last spring and revamped over the summer, blames Israel and major Jewish American organizations for policing problems in minority communities, including police shootings. It sets Jews up as part of, and the driving force behind, a white supremacist power structure oppressing people of color

This national “Deadly Exchange” campaign is “undeniably antisemitic” because it holds Jews responsible for state violence and for harm to other societal minority groups:

In a prior post we showed that vehemently anti-Israel activists have for years been blaming Israel for U.S. police shootings of blacks. This notion that Israeli counterterror trainings are the source of a complex and multifaceted phenomenon like militarized policing in the U.S. is a ridiculous accusation for which there isn’t a shred of evidence.

That is, JVP’s allegation that an American cop involved in a police shooting was trained in Israel, and that this training contributed to an unjustified shooting, is pretty much baseless.

Basically, “Deadly Exchange” smears Israel as a key source of American racism and violence and asserts that the American Jewish establishment—organizations like the Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee, and AIPAC—are a powerful, wealthy, and malignant force behind discriminatory state practices toward minorities and civil rights violations against them by the police.

[JVP slide show for “Deadly Exchange” campaign]

We pointed out in our prior post that JVP has been widely criticized for this horrible campaign. The criticism has come even from within left-wing circles, by groups and individuals who are often otherwise sympathetic to JVP’s positions and even to BDS.

As we noted, they’ve slammed JVP for “crossing the line into antisemitism” by making unsubstantiated claims of a Jewish cabal out to harm America’s minority communities and by insinuating that U.S. and Israeli state agencies and major civil society organizations are deliberately conspiring to harm innocent people of color in both countries through their police training programs.

The reality is that these American-Israeli police exchanges don’t push police brutality or militarization but rather expand knowledge about counterterrorism for the safety and well-being of both Israelis and Americans.

Backstory: JVP spearheads effort to oppose Israeli training for Durham police

In the Fall of 2017, a coalition of progressive groups, organized to advance JVP’s “Deadly Exchange” campaign in Durham. The key from the start was to gain public buy-in for JVP’s allegation that fighting racism in the city would require shutting down the police department’s exchange programs with Israel.

JVP and its allies launched “Demilitarize! Durham2Palestine” and began soliciting signatures for a petition which they planned to present to the City Council in the spring.

On April 5, the Durham City Council went on record opposing “military-style training” by foreign governments for the city’s local police. A statement, reportedly written by the Mayor and discussed at a Council work session, was released to the public. The public was invited to comment on it at the next regular council meeting on Monday, April 16.

The statement reportedly came in response to the “Demilitarize! Durham2Palestine” petition calling on the city to cut all police ties with Israel. But its not clear from media reports why the Mayor or anyone else on the City Council would have seen the need to cater to JVP and its allies.

When I asked about it, one of the members of the Board of Directors of Voice4Israel, a Triangle-area pro-Israel not-for-profit founded nearly a decade ago, told me that the Mayor viewed the statement as a compromise and that he may have received support for it from a local rabbi—Larry Bach of Judea Reform Congregation, known locally as a synagogue with a progressive bent. Rabbi Bach had been adamantly opposed to the initial JVP-initiated petition, but apparently found the Mayor’s statement acceptable.

The bulk of the short statement drafted by the Mayor focuses on problems that have “plagued policing in our nation and in our community” and highlights the positive changes in Durham that have occurred since Police Chief Cerelyn “C.J.” Davis took office in 2016.

But it begins by including a quote from Davis, taken from a memo she had sent City Manager Tom Bonfield:

There has been no effort while I have served as chief of police to initiate or participate in any exchange to Israel, nor do I have any intention to do so.”

Davis’s memo to Bonfield actually included a lot more than that. In the rest of her letter, Davis underscores that her own training experience in Israel “had nothing to do with terrorism tactics, military tactics, or the use of or exposure to, military equipment.” Davis wrote that during her previous visit, the programming was

based on developing leadership academies, leadership principles, and the challenges experienced with building community and police relations with the growing homeless population in the U.S., comparable to the Sudanese populations in Israel.”

These positive aspects of Davis’s memo didn’t make it into Mayor Schewel’s statement.

So as remarked by Mayor Pro Tem Jillian Johnson, the statement is “significantly different from the original petition received on this issue.” The initial “Demilitarize! Durham2Palestine” petition says that

The Israeli Defense Forces and the Israeli Police have a long history of violence and harm against Palestinian people and Jews of color. They persist in using tactics of extrajudicial killing, excessive force, racial profiling, and repression of social justice movements…These tactics further militarize U.S. police forces that train in Israel, and this training helps the police terrorize Black and Brown communities here in the US…”

The Mayor’s statement doesn’t include any of that language. But it also doesn’t include Police Chief Davis’s positive depiction of her own experiences participating in one of these police exchange programs—a depiction which strongly refutes JVP’s assertion that these are “racist police exchange programs.”

Instead, the Mayor chose to leave out Davis’s glowing words. As a result, the statement implies that Davis has a negative view of the police exchanges with Israel because she hasn’t initiated any and doesn’t plan to.

[City Council Meeting | April 16, 2018 | Powerpoint screenshot | Chief Davis’s memo]

It’s a completely false and misleading way of representing Davis’s position on the issue.

Opposition to JVP’s “Demilitarize! Durham2Palestine” campaign intensifies

As activists affiliated with the “Demilitarize! Durham2Palestine” began to canvass the city in the run up to the April City Council meetings, numerous experts and community leaders voiced concerns about the petition and the larger campaign.

Some of these opposing materials were referenced in media reports, but not all of them made it into news coverage of the policing controversy. If they were mentioned by the media they weren’t always hyperlinked (Legal Insurrection was able to obtain copies of the documents courtesy of Voice4Israel).

It’s worth noting that none of the following reproduced statements and letters, which were all delivered to the City Council, were solicited by the council members. That is, the City Council didn’t undertake or commission its own study of the relevant facts related to U.S.-Israel police exchange programs. They simply took the word of the “Demilitarize! Durham2Palestine” coalition at face value and never seriously interrogated the campaign’s central claim that what Israel was offering was “militarized training” or that the programs with Israel would be harmful to the Durham police department and wouldn’t “make Durham safer.”

[City of Durham, N.C. | City Council | credit: Facebook]

In other words, the City Council didn’t do due diligence. It didn’t make any attempt to gain the facts from law enforcement officials themselves or from mainstream organizations and community leaders.

Rabbis Oppose

Among the first community leaders to formally convey opposition to the City Council were a group of local rabbis.

Eight Triangle rabbis, with two more joining later, signed a letter urging the Durham City Council to reject the “Demilitarize! Durham2Palestine” petition.

The signatories included the new rabbi of the Judea Reform Congregation and also Rabbi Eric Solomon of Beth Meyer Synagogue. Rabbi Solomon is also affiliated with the left-wing Jewish organization Truah (the leader of Truah, Rabbi Jill Jacobs, slammed JVP’s “Deadly Exchange” campaign as antisemitic last year).

The fact that these progressive rabbis signed this letter is a good indication of just how discredited JVP is.

The letter called the petition “biased and bad policy” for the city and its police department. It’s worth reading in its entirety as it shows how well these rabbis understood the issues at stake:

Dear Durham City Council Members,

We are active Rabbis in the greater Triangle (most in Durham).

Our purpose in writing has its origin in the reports that a small organization, Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), has submitted or plans to submit, a petition that is intended to influence city ordinances concerning Durham and Israel.  This petition “demands” that the City boycott any future exchange programs associated with Israel and Durham police.  The petition is biased and bad policy for Durham and its police department.  The rationale for the “demand” surrounds false and inflammatory claims that Israel international expertise in counter-terrorism is directly linked to bias and racism in the Durham police department.  To link Israel to White Supremacy and other forms of hate speech in the U.S, to insinuate that Israel teaches American police to attack minorities in our country, or that problems in U.S. policing are due to the Israel/Palestinian conflict are insulting and will only serve to demonize Israel and the Jewish people. Efforts to delegitimize Israel are a purposeful strategy by some organizations, part of a broader strategy to promote Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel, and one that is purposefully targeting Durham to accept terrible lies.  No evidence exists that sharing best practices on counter-terrorism in society cannot be beneficial to those that listen, reflect and make decisions for their own communities.  The events that unfolded in Austin Texas, Parkland, Florida, and many more communities are great reminders that domestic terrorism does exist in the U.S. and can affect anyone and any community.

As Rabbis who serve the majority of Jewish families across the region, and who strive for social justice each and every day, we pray that you will take the time for due diligence before acting.  We believe that once you examine the matter carefully, including listening to experts in security, you will reject the petition and instead, embrace the myriad of proven activities that can be done in the City that promote less bias at home without singling out one of the World’s strongest democracies for unfair and false charges.

Statements from the Police

The Fraternal Order of Police Durham County Lodge # 2 wrote to the council stating “profound opposition” to the petition.

The letter stated that the “Demilitarize! From Durham2Palestine” petition pushed an “anti-police agenda” and was “not only offensive to law enforcement community, but to members of our Jewish community.” The group is part of the 6,700 member North Carolina Fraternal Order of Police. Here’s a section of their letter:

In addition to the letter from the Fraternal Order of Police, the Council also received a memo from a distinguished (retired) police commissioner in Philadelphia, who wrote in detail about his own experience in a police training program in Israel.

Here’s an excerpt of his letter:

Dear Members of the Durham, NC City Council

I am writing this letter in support of the exchange programs which send American Police Chiefs to Israel for meetings with the Israeli Police. I am the retired Philadelphia police commissioner and Washington, D.C. police chief. I have served in law enforcement for 47 years in three cities; Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia. I am past president of the Major Cities Chiefs Association and the Police Executive Research Forum. I was appointed by President Barack Obama to serve as co-chair of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing. I was recently appointed by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf to serve as Chairman of the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency. It is also important to note that I am African-American…

It has come to my attention that some are making allegations that such exchange programs are racist and designed to terrorize Black and Brown communities. Nothing could be further from the truth. I had the opportunity to participate in one such exchange program while Chief of the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department. I found the program to be extremely valuable. American law enforcement leaders visit Israel to learn how to better protect our country from terror attacks and to recognize potential warning signs. The Israel Police, unfortunately, have enormous hands-on experience in preventing and responding to terror attacks. These exchange programs allow U.S. law enforcement to see first-hand how Israel protects their public transportation system, airports, restaurants, malls, etc. The lessons they have learned enable American Police to better protect our communities and country…

In response to the allegation that these exchange programs help American Police to terrorize Black and Brown communities and erode civil rights, this is simply not true.  There are no examples of police executives who have participated in such programs returning from the visit and then directing actions to suppress the rights and liberties of community members. And, it is completely false to allege that these programs, which are designed to better equip American law enforcement officials to prevent terrorism and protect all of our communities, are racist. The issue raised about the so-called militarization of police is entirely unrelated to these exchange programs. These exchange programs, do not teach or encourage unconstitutional or biased policing. American policing faces many challenges; building trust and legitimacy in communities of color, addressing crime and disorder issues and dealing with the very real threat of terrorism. As a profession, we must be prepared to meet those challenges but do so in a manner that protects the constitutional rights of all people. These exchange programs help American policing accomplish that mission…

Sincerely,

Charles H. Ramsey

Philadelphia Police Commissioner (ret)

These statements from police officials and organizations were important in light of JVP’s anti-police stance. Yet, they were rarely mentioned in the media coverage on the controversy. These expert opinions from the police were also largely ignored during the City Council meeting last Monday.

[credit: Voice4Israel]

Anti-Defamation League letter

The Council also received a letter from the ADL’s Washington, D.C. Regional Director Doron F. Ezickson. The letter was excellent in terms of highlighting the nature of both JVP and the ADL’s law enforcement programs. Here’s a portion of the letter (the letter in its entirety can be read here):

April 12, 2018

Mayor Steve Schewel

Members of City Council

City of Durham

101 City Hall Plaza

Durham, NC 27701

Dear Mayor Schewel and City Council Members:

On behalf of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), I write to express concern over potential misconceptions by the Durham City Council about law enforcement programs in Israel run by the ADL. We have worked with law enforcement on issues related to combating hate crimes and extremism, and strengthening community engagement for decades. And having seen the tremendous benefits these trips provide we want to set the record straight about certain false accusations made against such programs. The Demilitarize! From Durham2Palestine petition is part of a national campaign organized by Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), a small and unrepresentative group whose fiercely anti-Israel organizational views are overwhelmingly rejected by the larger Jewish community, its institutions, and leaders. The group uses manipulative tactics and false propaganda with the sole intent of demonizing Israel—the only democracy in the Middle East and a critical American ally…

 The Demilitarize! From Durham2Palestine petition promotes the malicious and erroneous charge that American police exchange programs with Israel, like the ones led by ADL, play a role in police militarization, and oppression and brutality against Americans of color. This accusation is ludicrously false.

During our exchanges, American law enforcement leaders spend time in Israel learning how to prevent and respond to terror attacks. Israeli law enforcement officials are internationally recognized as experts in terrorism prevention and response, due to their unfortunate vast experience dealing with terror. They have valuable expertise on how to balance the need for security with protections accorded by the laws and values of a democratic country. The online petition also fails to acknowledge that the programs we run have included meetings with not only the Israel National Police, but also with the Palestinian Civilian Police. Participants learn about local police operations, training, information sharing, and strategies for fighting terror while also being responsible for everyday police work. American law enforcement leaders who participate in these programs return to the U.S. better able to protect their communities from terrorism and respond to attacks ranging from bombings to active shooter situations…

Far from training that “helps the police terrorize Black and Brown communities,” ADL’s law enforcement programs, including those in Israel, are designed to equip officers with the knowledge, understanding, and sense of accountability necessary to help safeguard all of our communities and ensure that our civil rights and liberties are rigorously protected.

Sincerely,

Doron F. Ezickson

Washington, D.C. Regional Director

Anti-Defamation League

Voice4Israel

The 5-person Board of Directors of Voice4Israel, a small pro-Israel group in the Triangle area that just last year incorporated into 501(c)3, only found out about “Demilitarize! Durham2Palestine” in late February, following the publication of an article about the group in the local Indy paper.

Voice4Israel was founded nearly a decade ago. According to the Board, the group has a few hundred ‘members’ who are so designated if they ask to be on the mailing list and show up for the group’s events.

I reached out last week to Board member Josh Ravitch who told me by email that “Because of the short reaction time and some structural issues with having an amorphous coalition, our group never pulled together formal planning.” Unlike JVP and its allies who together formed the “Demilitarize! Durham2Palestine” coalition, Voice4Israel didn’t have the “structure, financial and advisory support, or a plan.”

“Demilitarize! Durham2Palestine” had everything from T-shirts to an active online media campaign, videos, a petition drive, and the funds and support to organize protests. The diffuse and informal nature of Voice4Israel and its lack of financial support precluded this kind of mobilization—even if they had learned about the project earlier.

http://www.heraldsun.com/news/local/counties/durham-county/article209005199.html

City Council meeting on international police exchanges, April 16, 2018

According to media reports, the Council was “set to approve” Mayor Schewel’s statement even before the Durham City Council met on April 16.

Prior to the meeting, three Council members reportedly told the local paper that they planned to endorse the Mayor’s statement that evening.

So it’s not really clear what the point was of inviting the public to weigh in.

At the meeting, which took over 2 hours, some 50 community members who had pre-registered were each given 2 minutes to speak their mind. They probably came thinking that the Mayor and the Council members could be swayed by their remarks, not that they had already made up their minds.

But the reality was that the fix was in, given that the Council members had already shared their decision with the press.

It’s hard not to conclude that City Council was just going through the motions, so that they could show the semblance of a vote that was based on the public’s feedback at the meeting.

Here’s the video of the City Council meeting. The discussion on the policing issue starts at the 51:50 mark:

Public Comments

It’s worth watching the whole two hours of public comments to get a sense of the kind of anti-Jewish hostility and divisiveness that JVP brings to a community.

Many of the speakers opposed to the Mayor’s statement raised excellent points with common themes emerging.

A large number of speakers urged the Council to simply strike Israel out of the statement. Dr. Bob Gutman, a member of Voice4Israel’s Board of Directors, said that it would be fine if the Council took the word “Israel” out of the statement and just said “We don’t want the police learning anything from any other country.”

Others questioned why the statement was even necessary given that no such Durham police exchanges with Israel had happened for years. Several remarked that former Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez spent a week in Israel—but that was a decade ago (Lopez attended a national counterterrorism training program organized by the ADL, which he said focused on “how to manage mass casualty situations”, “leadership and preventing terrorism” and didn’t have “anything to do with militarization”).

Richard Ford, who has served on the Durham Human Relations Commission and chairs Friends of Durham, a key political action committee, said that the statement wasn’t “council business,” or a “Durham issue,” and was an “insult to the police and to the rabbis.” Ford rightly noted that of the “real problems facing the city, the Palestinian situation isn’t one of them.” His two-minute commentary begins at 1:03:42 and was among the strongest of the evening, in my view.

As those in favor of the statement and the original petition spoke in turn the forum quickly became a referendum on Israel. One after another, speakers used their 2 minutes at the podium to rage at the Jewish state and its alleged brutal mistreatment of the Palestinians.

Israel’s “massacre” of “peaceful civilians” at the Gaza border in recent weeks came up again and again in the speaker comments. But as we’ve highlighted in multiple posts, the vast majority of those killed at the recent border clashes have in fact been terrorists affiliated with Hamas or other terror groups, engaged in armed militancy under the cover of civilians, PHOTO: Gaza “protesters” loft Molotov cocktail on swastika kite over Israeli border.

Particularly disheartening at the City Council meeting was watching (see the 1:30:45 mark) a local college student offer up a modern day blood libel: “Israel brutally tortures, mutilates, and kills Palestinians to prevent them from fighting apartheid.” It’s breathtaking the amount of misinformation you can share in just two minutes—like bogus figures of Palestinian incarceration and cockamamie claims that Israel and America “mirror each other” as “carceral states”:

It’s worth watching Sandra Korn’s presentation too at the 1:10:12 mark:

Korn is a JVP activist and Board member of Judea Reform Congregation in Durham. In her two-minute monologue she focused on how “her Judaism” compels her to support the enemies of the Jewish people. The best part of her 2-minute speech was at the beginning when she asked everyone in the audience wearing a “Demilitarize! Durham2Palestine” T-shirt to stand up. It’s exactly the kind of manipulative stunt for which JVP is legend.

There were a few other truly memorable speakers out of the 50—some who shamed the Council proceedings with their gross bigotry and others who dignified the meeting with measured and thoughtful commentary.

One speaker who identified himself as Jihad Shawwa struggled to get a video to play then went on a tirade about Zionism and the IDF being a “terrorist organization.” You can watch that circus beginning at the 1:07:33 mark.

Later, the crackpoterry resumed when a minister from the Nation of Islam delivered a 2-minute anti-Jewish rant, referring to a “synagogue of Satan” and accusing Jews of having “an inordinate amount of control” in city politics:

The Mayor immediately condemned the remarks. Other speakers that followed also denounced them. Sandra Korn (on social media) and other “Demilitarize! Durham2Palestine”-affiliated speakers who subsequently came up to the podium made a point of saying that the man wasn’t a part of their group or connected to them in any way.

But the reality is that anti-Semites will always be attracted to JVP’s campaigns of hate against Israel.

That’s why it’s no surprise that a NOI member registered to speak at the meeting. He may have even thought that the “Demilitarize! Durham2Palestine” crowd would embrace him given their own nasty habit of trafficking in antisemitic tropes about Jewish money and power.

For more uplifting fare, watch Mr. Gabriel Liberty at the 1:12:17 mark. Self-identifying as an American-Israeli father of four he spoke eloquently about why “Israel is the most moral, sane country” and how the Mayor’s statement “ostracizes and demeans us [Jews].”

Also noteworthy were the comments from a kippah-wearing college student at the 2:26:15 mark. Kudos to this young man for calling out the “hateful petition” and stating the obvious: “you can’t deal with the issues of racism in Durham by bashing Israel.”

Council Member Remarks

The Council members made some brief remarks after hearing from all the speakers and before the vote. These are also worth viewing (they start at the 2:42:49 mark), especially those offered by Mark-Anthony Middleton and Mayor Pro Tem Jillian Johnson.

In a bizarre comment, Middleton insisted that the Council was wasn’t singling out Israel because its statement simply quoted from remarks made by the Police Chief, so “That’s how Israel got in here.” Never mind that Davis’s positive remarks about her police training experience in Israel didn’t get in there, or that the statement bans all police exchanges between the Durham Police Department and Israel while only opposing “military-style training” for Durham police officers in future international exchanges with other countries.

Jillian Johnson reminded everyone that she’s well aware of “what antisemitism is” and warned that charges of anti-Jewish bigotry shouldn’t be used as a way to stifle criticism of Israel. Her remarks are a useful reminder that when most victims call out bigotry, progressives typically take their accusations seriously, except when Jews raise the accusations they are the ones accused of exaggerating or trying to stifle debate.

It’s important to know that Johnson was reportedly “on board” with “Demilitarize! Durham2Palestine” from the campaign’s early days (she had signed the original petition) and so she wasn’t in any sense a neutral or impartial participant in the process. A board member of Voice4Israel also told me that Johnson has long been “very friendly” with JVP activists in the Triangle area.

Mayor Schewel’s Remarks – Acknowledges JVP Accusations False, but Supports Statement Singling Out Israel Anyway

Like other Council members, Mayor Steve Schewel, who presided over the meeting and wrapped it up, made a big deal over the fact that the Council decided to pass a different statement than the original petition fielded by JVP and its allies—as if that somehow created a sufficient distance between the City Council and the malicious “Demilitarize! Durham2Palestine” campaign.

In fact, the Mayor gave JVP and its partners the outcome that they had hoped for—official endorsement by the City of Durham of a document condemning local police participation in international exchange programs, with only Israel referenced.

As the ADL’s Doron F. Ezickson remarked following the vote,

The Council statement is still troubling, and is a clear sign that much work is still needed to combat the myth surrounding American law enforcement, Israel, and the value of exchanges.”

Some of the Mayor’s remarks during his 14 minute monologue (starting at the 3:02:23 mark) were helpful. It was useful for Durham residents to hear about how JVP “falsely attacked” and “made stuff up” about the Durham police department by giving the public the misleading impression that the police train all the time with the IDF in Israel.

The Mayor also can be commended for noting that the “Demilitarize! Durham2Palestine” is operating under a “basic misunderstanding” of how discriminatory policing happens—as he put it, this has “everything to do with our own problems and not Israel.” Indeed, there is simply no connection between the challenges of racism in the U.S. and the situation facing the Palestinians. It was helpful for Mayor Schewel to ram that home.

But beyond these positive aspects, the sum total of Mayor Schewel’s comments was very damaging.

Here’s a video clip of the Mayor’s remarks, so you can judge for yourself:

In my view, there are four central problems with his wrap-up commentary:

First, the Mayor created a false equivalence between JVP and Voice4Israel. By chastising both groups in his remarks, and expressing his “disappointment” in each, he implied that both organizations should be seen in the same way—as groups with legitimate points of view who disagreed on a policy matter.

But the reality is that JVP is a radical group that, as the ADL recently wrote

sets itself outside even the broadest conception of American Jewry’s big tent, attacking the liberal bona fides of pro-Zionist American Jews and using language to describe American Jewish organizations that veers uncomfortably close to age-old anti-Semitic canards about Jews using their influence to undermine the societies of the countries in which they live.”

Second, the Mayor refused to defend the well-documented value of Israel-U.S. police exchange programs, despite recognizing that racialized policing in America “isn’t because of Israel.” It’s important to note that Mayor Schewel’s beef with JVP wasn’t really over the central message of their campaign—that training with Israeli law enforcement and security personnel “won’t further or promote” the kind of policing that’s beneficial for Durham.

On this the Mayor was in complete agreement with JVP and its allies.

What he took issue with was the fact that they “lied” about the number of police exchanges that had taken place, and that by doing so, in his view, had “damaged police relations with the community.” That assertion though is a logical leap. Fabricating the number and frequency of actual police exchanges would only hurt the police in the eyes of those Durham residents who think that these U.S.-Israel police exchanges are a bad thing—as the Mayor himself does.

Third, the Mayor unfairly disparaged Voice4Israel because it questioned the procedures by which the City Council had arrived at its statement. The Mayor reproached Voice4Israel for daring to suggest that the process was less “thorough, fair and open” than it might otherwise have been. Clearly, as was reported in the media, at least some of the Council members had a conflict of interest in that they were long-time JVP supporters and had also supported the “Demilitarize! Durham2Palestine” petition when it was first opened up for signature.

The April 16 meeting was a “wide open forum”, as the Mayor suggested, but only insofar as people who pre-registered were allowed to voice their opinions. As noted above, the meeting was actually irrelevant in a policy-making sense (i.e., the way we typically think of ‘deliberative democracy’) because a majority of the Council members had already made up their minds to vote in favor of the Mayor’s statement.

Nor, as far as I could tell, did the City Council do any due diligence in assessing the merits and factual validity behind the JVP-initiated “Demilitarize! Durham2Palestine” campaign. So, in my view, there’s enough here to suggest that the process was significantly compromised and tainted.

Lastly, the Mayor abused his position as chairman of the City Council meeting to lecture Durham residents about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The April 16th Council meeting wasn’t supposed to be a referendum on Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians or the current situation on the Gaza border. But many speakers turned it into one by moving far beyond the issue at hand, namely international police exchanges. Yet, it’s the Mayor who actually wins the prize for moving completely off-track and well-beyond the Council business at hand.

In concluding his remarks, Mayor Schewel asserted that neither Israel nor American Jews are doing enough to provide “justice for Palestinians.” He said that our “mortal souls are in danger” for failing in this regard. He also stated that survival of the Jewish state is “dependent on doing justice to Palestinians.” Perhaps most disturbing, the Mayor came close to inverting the Holocaust, a form of antisemitic discourse, when he said that Jews are now visiting the “terrible traumas” that we experienced in our history on to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

It’s worth noting that the Mayor, by his own admission, has only visited Israel twice in his life. In addition, I was told by a Board member of Voice4Israel that the Mayor Schewel is a congregation member of the progressive Judea Reform synagogue and in years past he was also a member of Jews for Justice in Palestine—the forerunner to the JVP chapter in Durham-Chapel Hill.

Bottom line: The mayor provided the Jewish “cover” and stamp of approval for this pernicious City Council statement in much the same way that JVP provides the Jewish cover for BDS statements and other events and programming where Israel is slandered and defamed.

The Vote

After a 2+ hour meeting, the voting went swiftly. Within minutes it was clear that with its “Deadly Exchange” campaign, JVP had succeeded in shamefully exploiting divisions and tensions in Durham.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZnK7oyMKBY

Aftermath to the Durham City Council Vote

Following last week’s “victory” in Durham, JVP is “thrilled by this first win of the Deadly Exchange campaign.” Clearly in a self-congratulatory mode, its leadership is no doubt seriously considering the organization’s next city council target. They’ll also be trying to ensure that the City of Durham doesn’t reverse its decision.

A letter of support to the city by an interfaith group of rabbis, Christian clergy and imams was reportedly co-sponsored this past week by JVP, the virulently anti-Israel and antisemitic Friends of Sabeel-North America (FOSNA) and American Muslims for Palestine, a group whose leadership has been implicated in the past for Hamas fund raising.

Voice4Israel also received support—from StandWithUs, a 16-year-old non-profit Israel education organization, which applauded them for “standing up to anti-Semitism and anti-Israel extremism in their city.”

The StandWithUs April 19th press release also calls on the Durham City Council to “formally and unequivocally condemn” the antisemitic remarks made during the public comment at the Durham City Council meeting, specifically the Nation of Islam speaker featured in the video above (StandWithUs credits Legal Insurrection for posting the video clip).

In my conversations with various Voice4Israel Board members this past week, they told me that they would continue to fight the demonization of Israel in Durham and the neighboring cities of Chapel Hill and Raleigh.

One board member who preferred not to be mentioned by name in this post has filed several FOIA requests. One partially fulfilled request revealed fraud in the process by which the petition from “Demilitarize! Durham2Palestine” was forwarded to the City Council. Apparently, in addition to the offensive online version of the petition, a different sanitized one was created, and that’s the version that was given to the council members.

Other Board members of Voice4Israel have decided to write directly to the Council to express their dismay. Here’s an excerpt of a powerful, heartfelt letter that Gabriel Szulik sent this week, after participating in last Monday’s meeting (reprinted here with permission):

To the Major and Durham City Council,

I have been a Durham resident for almost exactly 20 years now. I am a Hispanic immigrant, Jewish, came to Durham from Argentina in June 1998. I was born in Argentina and lived in Israel for a few years…I had family killed in the Holocaust, and also had direct family members fight in multiple wars to protect the State of Israel. My mother was Argentinian of Middle Eastern descent, spoke Arabic growing up in a Jewish home of Sephardic origins…

To you, from attending Monday’s Council meeting, it seems like Israelis are white supremacists, oppressors of minorities, a terrorizing army, etc…to witness that spectacle at City Hall was heartbreaking, to listen to a “debate” about Israel in the same discussion where Black Lives Matter, Farrakhan, immigration, oppression of minorities, etc. were mentioned was disgusting, and above all, an incredible display of ignorance on the Council’s part…

Israel is the only true democracy in the Middle East, the only country in that part of the world where the LGBTQ community is free and respected, with annual parades taking place in Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem; Israel takes care of Syrians who are injured in their civil war, in Israeli hospitals; Israel is almost always the first country to send doctors and aid all over the world when natural disasters strike; Israeli Arabs are first class citizens, they can serve in the IDF and can vote, are represented in the Israeli Parliament and have the same rights as any other Israeli citizen. Israel is the only country in the region where women are treated as first class citizens.

Something broke Monday night for me and my family. We made Durham our home 20 years ago, have invested in this community, raised our kids in local schools, worked in and built local businesses, built a home and adopted this city as our own. Unfortunately, it is now clear to us that we are not welcome as Jews and Israelis. The City of Durham will never be the same after Monday night, you’ve divided this community forever, Durham won’t be the same for us, ever again.

It is your leadership or lack of it that allowed that painful and divisive spectacle to take place. A community is built when people meet in a central place, and not when personal agendas, extremism, ignorance and lies win.

Respectfully,

Gabriel Szulik

Durham, NC

Lessons for other American cities and Jewish communities

Some of the features that increased the likelihood that JVP and its allies would prevail are probably idiosyncratic to Durham. Still there are at least three generalizable lessons for other American cities.

Pro-Israel activists need to be mobilized before a crisis hits

The Voice4Israel members who I spoke with last week all acknowledged that they weren’t prepared to counter the sophisticated grassroots campaign that JVP and its allies launched in Durham. JVP has been working on the project since the early Fall, yet Voice4Israel didn’t learn about it until early March—and that was only because of an article published in the local newspaper.

Voice4Israel now plans to routinely monitor JVP’s social media (at the local and national level) as well as that of other progressive groups in the Triangle area so that new initiatives can be addressed effectively. As Voice4Israel’s Josh Ravitch told me,

Lesson #1 for [Legal Insurrection] readers is the need to be proactive and constantly searching social media for danger signs. Some members of our loose coalition group will be more formally organizing and taking on the proactive research, plan, and action roles.”

Jewish Federations need to be visible partners in opposing JVP

In researching this post, what was striking to me was the lack of any visible engagement on the issue by Jewish Federation leadership.

I was told by Voice4Israel Board members that the Jewish Federation servicing Durham and Chapel Hill did write a very supportive letter to the City Council, informing them of the local Jewish community’s concerns. But this letter, or excerpts from it, never made it into the local Durham newspapers nor did statements from Federation leaders appear in the media.

I have no way of knowing if Federation leadership made themselves available for interviewing, was working the issue behind the scenes, or simply thought that Voice4Israel was handling the pushback.

Nor can we be certain that a more proactive stance in opposition to “Demilitarize! Durham2Palestine” on the part of the Federation would have made any difference. But of one thing we can be certain: it could have helped Voice4Israel to have more support, and may have made it more difficult for the Mayor to chastise them publicly at the Council meeting.

Jewish communities need to take a proactive stance against JVP

One of the reasons that JVP was so successful at leading the BDS campaign at the City Council was because its Durham chapter activists weren’t outsiders in the Jewish community. This allowed them to better make the case that they were speaking from a legitimate perspective within the Jewish ‘big tent.’

According to several Board members at Voice4Israel who I spoke with last week, JVP activist Sandra Korn, who spoke at the Council meeting in favor of the mayor’s statement (see above), works at the Jewish Federation as a teacher and has a leading role in an area synagogue.

She’s a Board member and head of adult education at Durham’s Judea Reform Congregation. (Incidentally, Korn also works on the editorial staff of Duke University Press, which has come under fire recently for its anti-Israel bias and specifically for publishing the work of virulently anti-Israel Rutgers University Professor Jasbir Puar).

I was told that several other JVP activists also hold positions in the Federation and in area synagogues.

In order to prevent Council hijacks in other American cities, Jewish Federations and pro-Zionist synagogues will need to do a better job of blocking JVP activists and sympathizers from gaining positions of power and influence which they can then abuse to provide “Jewish cover” for pernicious anti-Israel statements.

Conclusion

In an excellent recent critique of JVP, veteran Jerusalem Post columnist Carolyn B. Glick rightly notes that this virulently anti-Israel and anti-Jewish organization is “punching above its weight because the Jewish communal leadership is punching beneath its weight.”

Glick chastises the American Jewish community for being “confused” about JVP, which is why it often succeeds.

Glick is right. It defies reason that JVP—a group that blames Jews for everything in order to promote its anti-Israel activism—should have the kind of clout and access that would enable it to manipulate a community discourse and even drive a policy outcome, as recently happened in Durham, North Carolina.

Bottom line: Last week the City of Durham shamed itself by singling out Israel based on falsehoods and propaganda concocted by the radical and fringe JVP. Durham’s Mayor and City Council allowed a lot of anti-Israel, pro-BDS and antisemitic voices to gain strength and to claim victory. There’s a great deal of damage that will now need to be undone in Durham. Others should take the lessons learned there and apply them nation-wide.

Acknowledgements: The author thanks Voice4Israel‘s Board of Directors for taking the time out of their work and travel schedules to speak with me about the controversy related to the April 16th Durham City Council vote on police exchanges with Israel, and for sharing copies of relevant documents and materials.  

Miriam F. Elman is an Associate Professor of Political Science and the Robert D. McClure Professor of Teaching Excellence at the Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Affairs, Syracuse University. She is the editor of five books and the author of over 60 journal articles, book chapters, and government reports on topics related to international and national security, religion and politics, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She also frequently speaks and writes on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) anti-Israel movement. Follow her on Twitter @MiriamElman