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City cancels police chief’s trip to Israel amid opposition: Jody Kasper was to train with Israeli security forces 

  • From left to right: Vijay Prashad, Michel Moushabeck, Rachel Weber, Alisa Klein, Maureen Carney and Rose Bookbinder shortly after meeting with Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz and Police Chief Jody Kasper on Nov. 20, 2018, to express concern over a training trip Kasper planned to take to Israel. SUBMITTED PHOTO



Staff Writer
Sunday, December 02, 2018

NORTHAMPTON — Activists are claiming victory over the city’s canceling of a trip the police chief planned to take to Israel to train with that country’s security forces.

Local residents, including members of the national organization Jewish Voice for Peace, raised concerns over the trip after learning through a public records request that Police Chief Jody Kasper was prepared to go on the trip. Rachel Weber, an organizer with the local chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, said the training — organized and funded by the Anti-Defamation League, or ADL — raised human rights concerns.

“The Israeli security forces are engaged in what is an active military occupation in Palestine,” Weber said, adding that the community had no information about what tactics or ideological content would be included in the training. “This is a big, huge problem, and hopefully this is a step on the road to greater transparency.”

Jewish Voice for Peace is billing the decision by Kasper and Mayor David Narkewicz on Tuesday, as well as a similar decision the day before by Vermont State Police, as the first time ever a police department has backed out of a trip to train with Israel’s security forces due to public pressure.

In an interview with the Gazette, Kasper and Narkewicz said they canceled the trip after meeting with a delegation that included Weber, city counselors and other concerned residents, and after discussion with others in the community. 

“We were not making a statement pro- or anti-Israel, or pro- or anti-ADL, or pro- or anti-Jewish Voice for Peace,” Narkewicz said. After hearing a range of different opinions on the trip, including some who thought it was unfair to single out Israel for such criticism, Narkewicz said he and Kasper came to the decision that canceling the trip was best for the city. 

Kasper said she became aware of the trip to Israel because she sits on the governor's task force for hate crimes with Robert Trestan, the executive director of the ADL’s Boston office.

“We’re disappointed, but understand it’s a local decision,” Trestan said of the city’s cancelation of the trip. “We have a relationship with Chief Kasper, so we spoke to them and provided them with the information that they asked for and they made their own decision.”

Weber said her group's concerns were over civil rights abuses committed by the Israeli military and police. Among those abuses, Weber said: subjecting Palestinians to military law, which allows for indefinite detention; interrogation techniques that would be considered torture in the United States; racial profiling; the detention and interrogation of children; and the Israeli Defense Forces recently firing on and killing Palestinian demonstrators.

“We feel strongly that there is an underlying political agenda with these trainings,” Weber said. 

Trestan disagreed with that characterization. He said that the training was meant as a leadership seminar for senior American law enforcement to learn about preventing terrorism and extremism.

“There’s no part of this trip that focuses on interrogation techniques, or incarceration of people against their rights, or locking up children or racial profiling,” Trestan said. “And the ADL has very public policies that oppose all of those things. We certainly would not support anyone doing that.”

Trestan said that the trip has no political agenda, and would not include a meeting with Israel’s military — known as the Israeli Defense Forces, or IDF. 

However, Weber pointed to a 2016 itinerary for the ADL’s counterterrorism trip, provided to the Gazette, that includes a dinner “with IDF friends.” The itinerary also included a meeting with the country’s paramilitary riot police known as Yasam, which Weber said has a “well-documented track record of use of excessive, racialized force” against Palestinian, Mizrahi and Ethiopian citizens of Israel.

Weber also raised concerns about what she said are close ties between the IDF and Israeli police, and how both uphold the country’s occupation of Palestine and infringe on civil rights.

Trestan said the training trip is an opportunity for American law enforcement to learn the latest techniques for preventing and responding to terrorism. He gave the example of car-ramming attacks, saying that law enforcement in Israel is practiced in dealing with those acts of terrorism. 

More broadly, Testan said that the ADL is the largest non-governmental police training organization in the country. Kasper herself has previously attended an ADL training in Washington D.C.

“It was a total focus on hate crimes, the development of white supremacy rising in our nation, how to respond to that,” she said of that trip.

As for the trip to Israel, similar trainings have been happening for years, but Weber said that the administration of President Donald Trump adds to her group’s concern over the trainings, given his close ties with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. 

“What that looks like is more walls, more prisons,” Weber said of what she said is Trump and Netanyahu's shared ideology and law enforcement tactics. “The collaboration between Netanyahu and Trump makes it much scarier.”

Weber said she and the other members of the delegation who visited Kasper and Narkewicz shortly before Thanksgiving are grateful for the decision their city’s officials made after listening to their concerns. The group planned to bring thank-you messages to City Hall on Friday afternoon.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.