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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Saturday, May 25, 2024

Tufts Police Chief travels to Israel for counterterrorism seminar

The Tufts University Police Department's front entrance pictured on Jan 23.

On Dec. 3Director of Public and Environmental Safety Kevin Maguire, who oversees the Tufts University Police Department (TUPD) as well as the Department of Public and Environmental Safety (DPES), traveled to Israel for a nine-day National Counter-Terrorism Seminar (NCTS) along with a delegation of Massachusetts police officials, including: Somerville Police Chief David Fallon; officials from Boston University (BU); officials from the Plymouth County Sheriff's office; Secret Service agents and Drug Enforcement Administration agents; and police chiefs from a number of cities, among them Worcester, Foxborough and Watertown, according to Maguire.

The trip was funded by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a non-governmental organization which, according to its website, is “dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism and hate crimes.” The ADL has been sending delegations of U.S. police officials to the seminar since 2003.

According to an article about the trip in the Seattle Times, two of the officers who attended – the Watertown, MA police chief and the head of New England’s Department of Homeland Security – worked on the Boston Marathon bombing case.

Tufts is one of five universities to send a police officer on this trip since its inception. All of the others are Massachusetts-based as well. Police chiefs from Suffolk University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Northeastern University attended the seminar in 2016, according to an Arlington Patch article, in addition to Boston University, which sent officials alongside Tufts in December.

Tufts Executive Director of Public Relations Patrick Collins told the Daily in an email that the trip was an opportunity for TUPD to learn how to be prepared in the event of a terror attack.  

The university and DPES are committed to learning how to prepare for, prevent and respond to all types of emergencies. Terror attacks in cities throughout the U.S., including Boston, and on college campuses, such as Ohio State University (OSU), have demonstrated the need for local and university police departments to prepare for potential terror attacks and to know how to prevent and respond to them,” Collins wrote, referring to a Nov. 2016 stabbing incident at OSU, for which ISIS claimed responsibility. “The ADL seminar, which was cost-free to participants, was a valuable source of information that will enhance the university’s readiness to address emergency situations.”

Collins added that the university learned of the seminar by direct invitation from the ADL, and that university administration approved of Maguire’s attendance.

In an email to the Daily, Maguire confirmed his attendance, but deferred to Collins’ statement on the issue when asked further questions about his participation.

Fallon, the Somerville Chief of Police, did not respond to two requests for comment made to his office via phone call.

According to the ADL’s webpage on the seminar, officials attend the NCTSto study first hand Israel’s tactics and strategies to combat terrorism,” learning from “senior commanders in the Israel National Police, experts from Israel’s intelligence and security services, and the Israel Defense Forces.”

Robert Trestan, the New England Regional Director for the ADL, explained that Israeli forces are well-equipped to teach law enforcement strategies to American law enforcement officials because of their experience with counterterrorism.

ADL is the nation’s top non-governmental law enforcement training organization,” Trestan wrote in an email to the Daily. “The strategies and tactics learned from Israel exchanges enable American law enforcement leaders to increase their ability to protect the U.S. from attack, as well as enabling them to be prepared with effective responses after an attack.”

Allegations of human rights abuse against seminar speakers

Trestan did not provide information about the 2017 itinerary for the seminar “for the security of [its] participants.” Maguire also told the Daily that he was not able to provide any information about his experiences during the seminar.

A 2016 itinerary for the NCTS was requested from the Orlando Police Department by journalist Alex Kane for an Aug. 2016 article in Mondoweiss and is linked to in the piece. According to the itinerary, attendees meet with a number of prominent Israeli counterterrorism officials, including Alan Moss, the former head of the Israeli Security Agency, also known as Shin Bet, as well as representatives from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Shin Bet has been condemned by the UN Committee Against Torture for its “institutional” use of torture tactics on Palestinian detainees, including children, according to a 2010 report by the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights and an Al Jazeera article from last January.

Neither the university nor Maguire responded to questions regarding the controversial nature of the seminar.

Trestan insisted that the NCTS takes “civil rights” into account. He did not deny the existence of allegations of human rights abuse against Israeli government agencies.

“The presentations we’ve had with these government security officials focus on dealing with the terrorist threat while also protecting civil rights of all people,” he wrote.

Amira al-Subaey, a junior at Tufts and a member of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), said that though TUPD’s attendance at the seminar was surprising to her, it was consistent with her view of the department.

Al-Subaey is one of the co-authors of the Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate resolution that called for Tufts to divest from four companies with financial ties to Israel’s military occupation of Palestinian territory. According to a Daily article, the resolution passed last April.

“I couldn’t imagine it would be so close to home and so directly affecting our day to day life,” al-Subaey said. “I think this exchange program [is about] training our law enforcement on discriminatory practices, on a lot of the things that we see happening in Israel that should make us really concerned.”

Controversy surrounds U.S.-Israel law enforcement exchange programs in general

Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), an activist group that advocates for Palestinian human rights, launched a campaign last May to end U.S.-Israel law enforcement exchanges.The campaign, called Deadly Exchange, condemns exchange programs like the NCTS, where, according to the campaign’s website, ‘worst practices’ are shared to promote and extend discriminatory and repressive policing in both countries.”

“We’re very concerned that American police chiefs and high-ranking police officials are going to Israel to learn, under the banner of counterterrorism, some of the worst practices of oppressive policing that are used by the Israeli government to perpetuate its half-century occupation. And it goes both ways; we’re concerned about [what Israeli police might be learning from] places like the NYPD, which have a long history of Islamophobic surveillance and broken window policing,” Ben Lorber, campus coordinator for JVP, told the Daily. “All citizens of the world who are concerned in our day and age about the rights of marginalized communities to be free from violent policing should be concerned about these exchanges.”

Lorber also expressed concern at the ADL’s lack of transparency regarding the details of their seminars, which as Trestan told the Daily, are not made public due to concerns for the security of NCTS participants.

“The first and most important call is a call for transparency. The public deserves to know what’s being learned and exchanged on these trips,” he said.

In his email to the Daily, Trestan said that JVP is a “radical anti-Israel group” and called Deadly Exchange a fringe campaign that aims to undermine collaboration between U.S. and Israeli police.

“ADL is tremendously proud of our longstanding partnership with the law enforcement community, including the counterterrorism training we coordinate with Israel, the resources we provide on domestic extremists and hate crimes, and the anti-bias training we deliver in communities across the country. JVP’s fringe campaign will not, in any way, stop us from continuing this important work,” Trestan wrote.

According to Leila, an organizer for the Deadly Exchange campaign who only uses her first name in all professional capacities due to concerns for her safety, the very nature of the NCTS and programs like it glorify oppressive police practices.

“The NCTS includes visits to checkpoints and Israeli prisons as well as other sites of Israeli oppression and violence,” she told the Daily. “These structures are completely and thoroughly rooted in racism and dehumanization; they simply cannot exist without those things. And [any] tour to these sites that doesn’t acknowledge that openly is a tour that normalizes that violence and dehumanization.”

While accusations of problematic policy exchanges are difficult to prove due to the secrecy of the NCTS, there are examples of U.S. police policies that have drawn from Israeli security practices.

In 2002, the New York Police Department (NYPD) implemented a secret unit, sometimes referred to as the Demographics Unit, to conduct covert surveillance of Muslim communities in the tri-state area in an effort to gather intelligence on potential terror threats, according to a fact sheet on the unit created by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

According to an Aug. 25 article in New York Magazine, Larry Sanchez, a CIA analyst who helped devise the unit for the NYPD, admitted to having borrowed the idea from Israeli methods of controlling the military-occupied West Bank.” 

Apart from being an openly discriminatory and unconstitutional practice, Leila said these kinds of counterterrorism measures can negatively affect the communities they target.

“What those kinds of policies and practices do result in is incredible trauma and distrust,” she said. “It’s a form of state violence against Muslims and Arabs that affects communities extremely deeply.”

Trestan said that American police so often travel to Israel because of Israeli forces’ level of experience in counterterrorism.

“The reality is that Israel National Police commanders and officers and other Israeli law enforcement officials have prevented and responded to more terror attacks than most, if not all, of their American counterparts and have expertise on how to balance the need for security with protections accorded by the laws and values of a democratic country,” he wrote.

Lorber said that the Israel forces’ global reputation as counterterrorism experts is the result of decades of oppressive policies that should not be emulated by campus police.

“Israel is regarded as the world’s shopping mall for homeland security technology … over its half-century of occupation it has perfected tactics for surveilling Palestinian communities, in addition to its much harsher measures of doing night raids on Palestinian homes, the violence used to counter weekly demonstrations against the wall … I pray that we won’t see the day when any of those more intense repressive measures are used on campuses,” he said.

Lorber added that he believes “counterterrorism” is often a misleading umbrella term for racist and violent Israeli policing practices meant to preserve Israel’s continuing occupation of Palestinian territory.

“According to their logic, they’re protecting citizens from terror,” Lorber said. “But our view, and the view of most people, is that real safety does not come through increased surveillance and militarized policing, but real safety for communities comes from the relationships we build and the alliances we form to protect each other.”

Seminar’s Zionist ideology leads to concerns over possible political repression on campus

Al-Subaey shared Lorber’s sentiment and said that because the university can also claim counterterrorism as a blanket defense, she does not expect Tufts to apologize for facilitating Maguire’s trip.

“We see the U.S. government do this, and I think Tufts will probably follow suit, which is that under the guise of counterterrorism and security you can get away with militarizing the police, increasing surveillance, enacting discriminatory policies, all that stuff,” she said.

Al-Subaey also expressed concerns that what was taught during the seminar will exacerbate what she claimed were TUPD’s discriminatory practices, which were alleged in a Sept. 25 article published in the Tufts Observer.

According to a 2015 article in the Jerusalem Post, David C. Friedman, the ADL’s Vice President for Law Enforcement, Extremism and Community Security, explicitly stated that the NCTS and other ADL-funded exchange programs often serve to ideologically sway officers that attend.

“[Officers] come back and they are Zionists. They understand Israel and its security needs in ways a lot of audiences don’t,” Friedman said.

Trestan did not directly answer the Daily’s question as to the ideological aspects of the NCTS, instead reiterating that “the strategies and tactics learned from Israel exchanges enable American law enforcement leaders to increase their ability to protect the U.S. from attack.”

Spencer Zeff, a sophomore and the co-president of Tufts Friends of Israel (FOI), said that he felt TUPD's attendance at the seminar would make Tufts a safer place.

"Knowing that our police have been trained in Israel should make our whole community feel more safe and secure," he wrote in an email to the Daily. "The only way I see this program having an effect on police activity at Tufts is in the event of a tragedy, where our police can use the crucial skills they learned through this potentially life-saving program."

To some students, TUPD’s attendance raises concerns about political repression on campus, especially around pro-Palestinian student activism."

“I think by Tufts taking this stance and by being directly connected to a state that practices regularly suppressing political dissent sends a message to this campus that if you are on that side of the aisle on this issue, then our law enforcement is not trying to protect you,” al-Subaey said.

Leila also questioned whose safety programs like the NCTS prioritized.

"One of the most important things we want to be asking through [the Deadly Exchange] campaign is what is safety? Who is defining safety, who is that safety for and what we really think about these programs is [that] they are part of a much larger structure that indeed tries to promote safety for certain groups at the expense of other groups," she said.

Lorber echoed these concerns, cautioning Tufts activists to be aware of this possible bias.

“It’s likely now the Tufts chief of police has a lot more knowledge about surveillance tactics and other repressive policing and very likely the chief has also been inculcated now with a very strongly pro-Israel viewpoint,” Lorber said. “The last thing students need are police chiefs who see them as sympathetic to terrorists or a threat to safety for doing something like putting up a mock checkpoint or an apartheid wall.”

TUPD’s attendance at the NCTS has also fostered doubts about the university’s claim to political neutrality on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Al-Subaey told the Daily that TUPD’s participation in the seminar undermines the university’s claim that “Tufts University does not adopt institutional positions with respect to specific geo-political issues,” which was made in a statement from President Monaco last April responding to TCU’s divestment resolution.

“I think [it] is really hypocritical when we have these very strong ties to the state of Israel and specifically in security, surveillance, military, those exact elements that we were trying to address in our resolution,” she said.

Al-Subaey also expressed frustration at what she sees as a hypocrisy at the heart of Tufts University’s stated progressive values, which she says TUPD’s participation in the seminar betrays.

I’m especially thinking about last year when we had the rally to protect undocumented immigrants at Tufts and [University President Anthony] Monaco made a statement at that event stating his commitment and the University’s commitment as well. And when we’re training law enforcement officers on campus on border issues and immigration from a state that targets people based on their identity, based on their citizenship, their ethnicity, that seems really concerning to me,” she said. “It just adds layers to the confusion around what this university says it stands for, and what it does.”

Leila added that while it’s possible police departments like Tufts’ agree to attend the NCTS simply because it’s an all-expense-paid trip, she thinks it is more likely that the idea of partnership in the “global war on terror” is a bigger reason for participation.

“I think that in reality, there is an incredible amount of subscribing to this overall worldview that the U.S. and Israel are partners and need to stick together to fight global Muslim terrorism,” she said.

Correction: This article has been updated to remove any reference to Zeff’s position on the Israel-Palestine conflict, as it was misrepresented, and clarify the link between the ADL exchanges and a NYPD policing program. The Daily regrets these errors.