City Council statement embarrasses Durham, supports anti-Israel agenda

At the April 5 Durham City Council work session, the council received a petition by the deceptively titled Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), calling on Durham law enforcement to boycott cooperation with only one country on the planet: Israel.

The council’s proposed “statement” continues the demonization that JVP is seeking. It uses a selected paragraph from Police Chief Davis but omits another part that praises the leadership training her team received during the Israeli engagement while she was on the Atlanta Police force. This omission appears to be conscious effort to bash Israel; it needs to be corrected in the final version.

JVP promotes the boycott and weakening of Israel and is using Durham to publicize its anti-Israel agenda. Durham law enforcement has no relationship with Israel and no future plans for one, which makes this selective targeting of Israel unnecessary, bigoted and evil.

Durham’s City Council allowed a mere 12 minutes of speakers on this topic. Ten minutes after people finished speaking, the press published a council statement clearly prepared in advance that supported the petition and publicly called out Israel. The council publicly sided with those who falsely accused Israel of training the police to “terrorize Black and Brown communities here in the US.” Clearly this was well orchestrated

The omitted part of the chief’s letter reads: “My specific visit [while an Atlanta chief] was based on developing leadership academies, leadership principles, and the challenges experienced with building community and police relations with the growing homeless population in the US, comparable to Sudanese populations in Israel. The Atlanta Police Leadership Institute was an assigned project under my leadership and is well regarded as a curriculum designed to groom bright and extremely prepared Atlanta Police leaders of tomorrow. This highly academic training has no police operations component, and challenges selected participants to become 21st Century police leaders.”

Her statement speaks for itself. She saw the training as useful for Atlanta. Very likely, left alone to continue improvements here, she would have availed her department of such training.

In the weeks leading up to this council meeting, eight rabbis (most from Durham) wrote the council, saying “The petition is biased and bad policy for Durham and its police department … and will only serve to demonize Israel and the Jewish people.” The CEO of the Jewish Federation of Durham-Chapel Hill, wrote the council, “I am deeply concerned that the rhetoric in the petition … portray(s) an anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic sentiment.” These concerns appear to have had little influence to date on the council’s actions.

On April 8, Charles H. Ramsey, the retired Philadelphia police commissioner and Washington, D.C. police chief, wrote to the council that exchange programs with Israel “allow U.S. law enforcement to see first-hand how Israel protects their public transportation system, airports, restaurants, malls, etc. The lessons they have learned enable American police to better protect our communities and country.”

We believe that council members should meet with local rabbis and The Jewish Federation before instituting policies that will make Durham known as a city that formally embraced a policy that is not just critical of Israel, but has many elements of an anti-Semitic nature.

On April 16, the mayor and council will hear from residents and then vote on a final statement that specifically aims to assist in further condemnation of Israel by singling out that one country and by not disavowing the defaming petition that started a debate that embarrasses our community. The fast-track effort, based on a program that has never existed locally, attempts to hijack Durham for a radical and fringe political agenda. The council should hold off on further action until it includes a specific disavowal of anti-Israel sentiment. Careful writing of such a document requires time.

This commentary was written by Adam Goldstein, Robert Gutman, Peter Reitzes, Stanley Robboy, and Michael Ross For the Voice for Israel.