Anti-Blackness and Israeli Police Training

Rania Khalek on 4 December 2015 published an article on Electronic Intifada – a site I too write for – titled “US cops trained to use lethal Israeli tactics.” The Facebook lede for the piece was “The Chicago police officer who killed Black teen Laquan McDonald belonged to an Israeli-trained department.” The following critiques Khalek’s article which is bad on its own merits but also stands in for a lot of reporting on the linkages between Israeli training and local oppression, including a piece of my own earlier reporting (Here, an article offering some of the same bad analysis as Khalek published on the same website six years ago. The concluding paragraphs especially share a flaw I will get to below.).

khalek article

Screen capture from the EI facebook article posting

Khalek links together the numerous U.S. police training sessions from Israeli police and trips to Israel with the methods U.S. cops use to kill Black people (presumably shooting but it isn’t made clear). Khalek then mentions viral videos of police killings and terms them snuff films. She goes on to note how these training trips serve to recruit ideological supporters for Zionism.

Khalek then points to regressive ideological formations that tie together varieties of population criminalization. She then ties together Palestinians in Palestine and Black people in the U.S. as “disposable” people in need of “warehousing” according to the Israeli and U.S. regimes. Towards the U.S.’s goals Khalek notes about Israeli training, “Who better to learn from than a state with decades of experience occupying and warehousing a population that has been deemed disposable?”

Khalek’s article contains a lot of facts yet is fundamentally flawed and the aforementioned Facebook lede is misleading at best.

There are indeed linkages between agencies of sovereign violence (police, military, intelligence, etc.) in the United States and Israel. For example, how a large segment of Washington D.C. patrol cops keep their lights flashing at all times is the direct result of travel to Israel by former and current D.C. police chiefs Charles Ramsey and Cathy Lanier. It is the adoption of an Israeli policing tactic of high visibility policing.

Yet contrary to Khalek’s thesis there is no clear linkage between Israeli training of Chicago cops and the murder of Laquan McDonald nor other Black people.

U.S. sovereign violence has two basic premises, indigenous removal and African slavery. Alternately put, harming Black people is a raison d’être of U.S. policing. What could Israel – especially as a subordinate partner of empire – teach that would lead to increased anti-Black violence in a country premised on anti-Blackness? At most there can be slight variations in practice through adopting techniques of Israeli anti-Palestinian violence as with D.C. cops deploying the perpetually flashing lights of some Israeli police patrols.

The examples Khalek offers are “American police behaving as fully militarized occupying forces in poor Black neighborhoods,” resistance against which “are met with suppression tactics nearly indistinguishable from Israel’s occupation regime.” But that has always been the case, including prior to any Israeli training. It has been so widespread for so long that already in the 1970s the U.S. had a popular tv show called S.W.A.T. dramatizing the increased militarization of police. Before Israel was teargassing Palestinian demonstrators, the U.S. was teargassing and fire-hosing Black demonstrators, the technological transfer in this instance going from the U.S. to Israel.

The article also imagines the training as unidirectional. The Khalek makes use of the war on drugs to make the case yet neglects that the U.S. is the largest – by a vast margin – trainer of police forces in the world. The U.S. has a special focus on training foreign polices and militaries in drug interdiction and suppression. One anti-drug force that has received a lot of U.S. training is Israel’s. Yet U.S. training is not something that motivates even slightly Israel’s ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestine. It is the material relations and ideological formations of Zionist settler colonialism in Palestine that premise anti-Palestinian violence. That the United States provides the technological backbone (arms provisions, etc.) of Israeli sovereign violence and that Israel is wholly dependent on U.S. political and material support does not change this even a little bit. To argue otherwise is to argue apart from the material history and to decenter U.S. anti-Blackness as an antagonism fundamental to U.S. history and mislocate it in part in Palestine.

This is the damning error in my earlier article as well, to imagine the was a time when U.S. police violence was ever not an occupying army in encounters with Black people. This reflects a failure to grasp the insights of both critical race theory and Afro-pessimism, the latter even more than the former elucidating the fundamental antagonism between U.S. sovereign violence (the monopoly of legitimate violence, to paraphrase Max Weber) and Black people.

Where the author talks about “viral snuff films” of police executions of Palestinians and Black people there is a real opportunity to discuss the false solidarity and pseudo-empathy in the mass consumption of imagery portraying violence against Black people and Palestinians. The mass consumption of images of anti-Blackness is a real thing and causes real harm, not to mention it plays to the worst aspects of “witnessing” as solidarity. Khalek’s use of the term “snuff film” would set the stage to discuss the libidinal economy of anti-Blackness. Jared Sexton describes the libidinal economy as, “the economy, or distribution and arrangement, of desire and identification (their condensation and displacement), and the complex relationship between sexuality and the unconscious” comprising “a dispensation of energies, concerns, points of attention, anxieties, pleasures, appetites, revulsions, and phobias capable of both great mobility and tenacious fixation.” Thus looking at viral images of harming Black or Palestinian people as “snuff films” is a horrifying yet accurate path to engage the libidinal economy of anti-Blackness, the ways that progressives consume Black death as a means of purported anti-racism.

Instead Khalek reads this as learning from Israel again, or seems to, it really isn’t clear what she’s pointing to in this segment if at anything at all. Like much of the article (and my previous engagement of the topic) Khalek lists things along side each other as if certainly connected without demonstrating any linkage. That Avi Dichter has a quote that seems prophetic does not matter if the fulfilled prophecy pre-dates his vision as with the militarization of U.S. police beginning in the 1960s with the various “wars on…”, a process entirely independent of Israeli training.

The author professes concern with anti-Black violence yet the unidirectional focus means it does not even briefly tough on how, to quote a recent article by Zoé Samudzi, “Afro-Palestinians [sit] at the intersection of Zionism’s anti-Palestinian sentiment and global anti-Blackness?”

The one useful piece of the article is the “Churning out Zionists” subsection (though I also appreciate Khalek characterizing militant street actions in Ferguson and Baltimore as “resistance”). The author looks at how visits between agents of sovereign violence help to build ideological relationships. In other words, police trainings are small parts of normalizing settler colonialism as foreign policy. Yet even here the author’s myopic focus makes it appear that this too is unidirectional and some kind of foreign manipulation, rather than a space of mutual affirmation. As if the billions in military sponsorships, trainings on advanced U.S. technologies and trainings of various Israeli police and military do not perform the same task so much so that Israel as a whole is a client state, even if at times a petulant one.

The technological transit throughout empire and between settler colonies is not incidental and is important. Investigations can identify spaces for joint struggle and nodes for disruption. But shallow readings like the one in the linked articles by Khalek and myself-six-years-ago lead to only superficial solidarity. The interactions themselves are outrageous enough without arguing a false causality and there are places of causality, they’re just not to be found in Khalek’s article.

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2 thoughts on “Anti-Blackness and Israeli Police Training

  1. Zmashd says:

    I’m not sure if it’s fair to read Rania’s analysis as ‘unidirectional’, or to read it so harshly.

    Presumably journalists need to have some focus in their work (particularly ones who write shorter pieces for popular audiences), and because on the left in particular, we have quite limited resources, capacities and energies, it makes sense that Khalek would provide a fairly focused perspective rather than a grand, sweeping overview in order to make her point. Palestine just happens to be her thing.

    Sure, this means that some important details might be left out or receive less attention – not because they are less important or because Khalek is unaware of them (or chooses to ignore them), but simply because of the angle of the piece.

    It also bears pointing out that, if you read Khalek’s work, I would imagine that she would probably agree with the idea that exchange of hardware and techniques between the U.S. and Israel is a ‘space of mutual affirmation’.

    There’s a de facto division of labour when it comes to this kind of work, and no one can cover all angles all the time. I don’t think that drawing fire towards Khalek for this is the best way of addressing what you perceive of as a hole in her argument. It seems to me that Khalek’s work would complement any work done on this history of police violence in the U.S. pretty well, rather than run counter to it.

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    • The premise over several articles she’s written and others have written is that Israeli training has some unexclusive causative or correlative relation to U.S. police violence against Black people (others have written about it against protestors – with generally the same problem – and against other people of color – sometimes accurately). There is zero such relation. The image above paired with the article (which may have been an editor, as with the Facebook lede) suggests that Israeli training is somehow related to anti-Black violence. It is not. The fundamental premise is wrong. At most in these exchanges there are minor technical adjustments through integrating technologies developed to oppress others Others. That is sufficient to organize around. Arguing for any level of causation argues for misapprehension of what is going on and shifts understanding and disrupting anti-Black violence from its actual causes.

      I have no beef with an article not covering all aspects of oppression. It’s not what Khalek leaves out that is the problem but what is included, specifically the shit analysis that forms the crux of the piece. I mention the myopic focus mostly as analytical relief to show how folks would, appropriately, find it ridiculous to locate Zionist violence in substantial U.S. counternarcotics training to Israeli police. As noted above, it just lists things and pretends they’re connected somehow without demonstrating a connection. It’s shoddy analysis at best, and harmful at worst. It obfuscates rather than elucidates which helps no one.

      And with regards to tone, Khalek has been apprised of all of this by folks in Ferguson, on Twitter and elsewhere, constructively, destructively and otherwise.

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