No More “Deadly Exchanges”: Vermont State Police Cancel Israeli Anti-Terrorism Training in Israel

Since 2001, thousands of U.S. police and agents from the FBI, CIA, and ICE have attended special programs either in Israel or here in the U.S. with visiting Israeli military personnel.  Just weeks ago, we learned that Vermont State Police were headed on one of these trips.

These programs facilitate the introduction of tactics and technologies intended to militarize civilian policing, while also deepening ties between the U.S. and Israel. They are led by members of Israel’s military, state security institutions, and government who have developed and honed techniques of mass violence, incarceration, surveillance, torture, censorship, and extrajudicial assassinations for over 50 years in the occupied Palestinian territories. 

In mid-November, a coalition of Vermont organizations – Vermonters for Justice in Palestine, Migrant Justice, Black Lives Matter Greater Burlington, WILPF, Justice for All, the Peace & Justice Center, Brattleboro Common Sense, Students for Justice in Palestine at UVM, VT National Lawyers Guild, Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), Jubilee Justice Committee, Cathedral Church of St.Paul, New England Yearly Meeting of Friends’ Israel-Palestine Working Group – expressed their strong opposition to participation by Vermont’s State Police in a December training in Israel organized by the Anti-Defamation League.

To his credit, Colonel Matthew Birmingham, director of our State Police, cancelled Vermont’s attendance at the training. The mayor of Northampton, Massachusetts, also called off participation by that town’s local police after local organizers contacted him. There were, in fact, organizing efforts across New England dedicated to ending what Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) refers to as “deadly exchange” programs.

A 2018 report by Researching the American-Israeli Alliance and JVP has detailed the consequences of collaboration between U.S. police and Israel security forces.  Here are excerpts:

Informants [working with the NYPD] known as “mosque crawlers” were deployed to visit mosques, bodegas, and student organizations, and kept extensive dossiers on Muslim communities. Founders of this program admitted that they were inspired by Israeli practices in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

During the trainings in Israel, airport officials explain to US delegates how they use ethnic and racial characteristics to identify suspicious passengers, and how to screen and question these passengers, read their body language and verbal responses, and perform searches.

Law enforcement from San Bernardino and Los Angeles, among others, reported that they learned about how to intervene and shape media access and coverage of violence committed by the military and police.

This is the first time in the history of the Deadly Exchange Campaign that federal, state or municipal officials have responded to public pressure and canceled participation in a training program in Israel. In Vermont, we owe that decision in large part to our allies who know that safe, fair and impartial policing cannot be achieved through training exchanges with a brutal occupation army. This is a huge success and a reminder of how effective grassroots activism can be.

After Colonel Birmingham made known his decision to cancel the trip to Israel, we learned from an article published in The Times of Israel that he met with representatives of the Jewish Communities of Vermont.  It said they would support “the formation of a rapid response team” to blunt protests in the future against Vermont police receiving training in Israel.

But Colonel Birmingham should know that groups like the Jewish Communities of Vermont do not represent the views of many, if not most, Jews; many Jewish citizens in our state are very grateful for his recent decision.

Military occupation is dirty, bloody work.  Those who do it, rationalize it, or profit from it must be exposed and stopped. They should not be instructing or equipping our police.  

Gaza, Ferguson, Baltimore, Standing Rock, the U.S.- Mexico borderlands – this chain of militarized state violence, repression, and surveillance, marked by cruelty and a racist disregard for the lives of the oppressed, the poor, people of color, and indigenous communities, has deep historical roots in the U.S. and Israel.  But it can be broken. 

In 2019, let’s urge our elected officials to pass legislation that would permanently bar all Vermont law enforcement from collaborating in any capacity with Israeli security forces or from purchasing technologies and weapons from companies complicit in the occupation of Palestine.  This will make Vermont safer for all its residents.  


Take action today:

We have learned that the Vermont State Police are now receiving many calls from people upset about their decision to “skip the trip.” Please help balance this out by calling  Colonel Birmingham at the VT State Police (802-244-8727) to say, “I support your decision to withdraw from the training in Israel. Thank you.” You can also submit a communication online here.