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Durham and its police chief are being sued over Israeli policing statement

Durham Police Department
Durham Police Department jwall@newsobserver.com

Two Israeli volunteer police officers have filed a civil discrimination lawsuit against the city of Durham and its police chief, dragging the debate over the City Council’s recent action on international police exchanges into Superior Court.

The action — which the lawsuit describes as a policy but city officials refer to as a statement — discriminates against the men on the basis of national origin, the lawsuit states.

“The city of Durham has two standards when it comes to international police exchanges: One for the Israelis and one for the rest of the world,” the lawsuit states. The plaintiffs are Moshe Eyal and Itay Livneh.

The lawsuit claims the city’s actions violate a section of the North Carolina Constitution that says no one shall be discriminated against because of race, color, religion or national origin.

Durham City Attorney Patrick Baker said he hasn’t seen the lawsuit and declined to comment until he had more information.

David Abrams, executive director of the Zionist Advocacy Center in New York City and an attorney of the plaintiffs, said the lawsuit was filed to “challenge the recent Israel resolution of the Durham City Council.”

However, the council decided not to pass a resolution about policing, instead issuing a statement about militarized policing written by Mayor Steve Schewel that includes part of a memo from the police chief. Schewel released the statement at a council work session in April when the group Demilitarize Durham2Palestine, led by the Triangle chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, presented a petition asking for a resolution against police training in Israel.

The statement, later endorsed by the council after a long and sometimes contentious meeting with many public comments in April, referenced a memo from Durham Police Chief Cerelyn “C.J.” Davis.

In the months since, Jewish leaders have asked for the word “Israel” to be taken out of the statement. But Schewel has said no.

“I’m Jewish. I can understand anybody who’s worried about anti-Semitism in this country or elsewhere. But this has nothing to do with that. This is all about policing,” Schewel told The Herald-Sun.

In Chief Davis’ memo, she said that previous training in Israel was related to leadership, and she and the department “have no intention to” participate or initiate an exchange with Israel.

Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: 919-419-6563, @dawnbvaughan
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