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Cancellation of Israel trip draws criticism and praise

  • Chief Jody Kasper, right, and Captain John Cartledge march with the Northampton police department down Main Street during the Northampton Memorial Day parade.



Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated where Paul Redstone and David Sloviter live. Redstone is a resident of Northampton and Sloviter is a resident of Amherst.

NORTHAMPTON — The city’s decision to cancel a police training trip to Israel has divided Pioneer Valley residents.

“I’m 100 percent in support of it (the cancellation),” said Sut Jhally, of Northampton, a professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and the executive director of the Media Education Foundation.

“There seems to be a significant anti-Israel bias in this valley,” said David Sloviter, of Amherst, who opposes the cancellation.

The decision was made jointly by Police Chief Jody Kasper and Mayor David Narkewicz. The mayor said it was best for the city, but his decision wasn’t meant to be pro- or anti-Israel. It was made after a delegation met with the mayor and expressed concern about the planned trip. One of the members of that delegation was Ward 7 City Councilor Alisa Klein.

“I think it’s the right decision,” said Klein, who also served in the Israeli Defense Forces as a young woman. “I think that we can look for training for our police force domestically.”

Sloviter said he can’t think of any other country that deals with the threat of terrorism on a daily basis like Israel.

“I can’t imagine any group that knows about it better than Israel,” said Sloviter. He said the Northampton police could learn from this knowledge.

Sloviter said people in the Pioneer Valley can be “surprisingly smug” about their safety. He pointed to the terrorist attack on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, as well as the anti-Semitic and racist graffiti that appeared on Mount Tom following the 2016 election, which he said was indicative of similar white supremacist views in this area.

“Why wouldn’t we want our local police to learn more?” said Sloviter.

The training would have sent Kasper to what was billed as a leadership seminar on preventing terrorism and extremism in Israel. It was organized and funded by the Anti-Defamation League.

Klein is a dual citizen of Israel and the United States and has friends and family in Israel, as well as friends in Palestine. She expressed concern about what Kasper could learn on a trip to Israel.

“Policing in Israel has become increasingly militarized,” Klein said. “We do not think that U.S. police should be trained in Israel.”

She also said that “so-called counterterrorism tactics … have not made Israel safer.”

Paul Redstone, a semi-retired psychiatrist from Northampton, said he felt that the information from the training could be valuable.

“There’s ways perhaps of pressuring the government without mixing everything into the pot,” Redstone said.

Redstone, who is Jewish, had strong criticisms of both the Israeli government and the country’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

“I expect them to behave way better than other countries,” he said. “They have not.”

Jhally said that when Israelis talk about counterterrorism, they are referring to controlling the occupation of Palestine.

“It is a police state in the West Bank,” he said.

David Pakman of Northampton, who hosts a nationally syndicated radio show, also is critical of the current Israeli government and identifies himself as “super left.” Nevertheless, he opposes the trip’s cancellation.

“This is a trip organized by the Anti-Defamation League,” said Pakman, noting that it is a civil rights organization with a 100-year-plus history.

He also said that he felt the training could be valuable for Northampton police, noting that the ADL specializes in working with police on such issues as anti-bias training and de-escalation.

“As a progressive, I want Northampton police to be better trained,” he said.

Klein said that the city’s decision was not made as part of an international movement calling for the boycott, divestment and sanctions of Israel, popularly known as BDS.

Jhally said that the movement to boycott Israel is important because of how much financial support the U.S. currently gives the country.

“You have a moral and ethical obligation for the consequences of your actions,” he said.

He added that he and others concerned about Israel have voiced opposition to the actions of other nations, and said if there were to be an effort to boycott Saudi Arabia, “I would be the first one to sign that petition.”

Sloviter, meanwhile, sees a larger issue at play.

“If you only talk to your friends and people who agree with you, you never solve anything,”  Sloviter said. “I think dialogue is helpful.”

Bera Dunau can be reached  at bdunau@gazettenet.com.