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Part 2: How Durham Came to Discriminate Against Israel and the Jewish People

On April 16, 2018, the Durham City Council in North Carolina unanimously passed a resolution banning police exchanges and training between Israel’s military and the city’s police department. The anti-Semitic move was orchestrated by the fringe organization Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) and other Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS)-supporting groups as a part of “Demilitarize from Durham2Palestine” campaign.

Public record requests have discovered that in late March, Durham’s highly respected Chief of Police, Cerelyn “C.J.”Davis, was notified by Durham officials of JVP’s petition and of media questions stemming from JVP letters to the city council. JVP’s disinformation campaign was clearly succeeding as evident by one reporter’s question, “I’ve been noticing a lot of emails to City Council recently regarding Durham police getting trained by Israeli security forces…How long [have] DPD [Durham Police Department] officers have been receiving it?”

Chief Davis responded the very next day in a March 30 memo by highly praising the police training she received in Israel when a member of the Atlanta Police Department. Davis wrote that her training in Israel was “based on developing leadership academies, leadership principles, and building community and police relations with the growing Homeless population in the US, compared to Sudanese in Israel.” Davis offered to share the “curriculum and course outline” from her training in Israel when with the Atlanta Police Department “if it helps to quell this evolving matter.”

After praising Israel in her memo, Chief Davis directly responded to the questions she was provided by stating, “In addition, there has been no effort to begin any discussions related to the involvement of DPD officers in an exchange to Israel, nor do I plan to establish such an exchange program in the future. During my short tenure, I have been quite focused on building strained police and community relations here in Durham, and find this [JVP] issue to be an unnecessary distraction and potential roadblock to that progress.” Davis was simply correcting the misinformation spread by JVP that Durham police train with their Israeli counterparts.

A highly edited and sanitized version of Chief Davis’ memo, dated April 4, was published in lieu of Davis’ March 30 original memo, notably excising both Davis’ criticism of the council’s foray into anti-Israel foreign policy and her offer to set the record straight about her training in Israel. Some are wondering why the city of Durham buried Davis’ original memo.

In a recent interview, Mayor Schewel disingenuously claimed that he and his fellow council members simply responded to Chief Davis’ memo. In fact, the Council ignored most of Davis’ memo which praised Israeli police training, and instead cherry picked a single quote and used it out of context, which is the core of this entire issue.

In the anti-Israel city council statement passed on April 16, Schewel wrote, “The Durham City Council appreciates receipt of the memo dated April 4, 2018 from Chief C.J. Davis to City Manager Tom Bonfield stating that ‘there has been no effort to begin any discussions related to the involvement of DPD officers in an exchange to Israel, nor do I plan to establish such an exchange program in the future.’ The Durham City Council endorses this statement by Chief Davis and affirms as policy that the Durham Police Department will not engage in such exchanges.”

Why did the City Council single out Israel for discrimination and demonization when Chief Davis and at least one other police department official, when asked, singled out Israel for excellence and professionalism? Why did Durham partner with JVP while ignoring the mainstream Jewish community against the advice of their very own police department? Why did the Durham City Council choose to boycott police training with Israel and no other country without any evidence or fact-finding investigation?

This Situation Could Get Worse

On May 15, in response to my request for public-business emails in council member DeDreana Freeman’s personal account, Freeman contacted City Attorney Patrick Baker and asked, “Please let me know if it’s a problem to black out folks’ email addresses from my personal emails.”

The public-business results sent to me from Freeman’s personal account consisted of a string of emails regarding an April 16 letter written by the People’s Alliance to Schewel and the city council. In their letter, the People’s Alliance expressed their support “for the campaign led by Triangle Jewish Voice for Peace to preclude any collaboration” between the Israeli military and Durham Police Department. They urged the council “to pursue community safety without resort to the kind of military tactics used by Israeli police against Palestinians.”

The People’s Alliance is a powerful, local political organization, whose election endorsements are highly desired. The letter indicates the People’s Alliance is now asking Schewel and the council to turn their statement into a resolution, which would be binding on the city manager and police. One of these emails was from Mayor Schewel’ s wife, Lao Rubert, offering advice to the People’s Alliance. Another email was from JVP activist Noah Rubin-Blose.

Freeman’s instinct to blacken out any part of this public record is concerning and would likely be illegal. It is also a worrying sign of what is to come for the Jewish community in Durham.

This article is part of a three-part series on anti-Semitism in the city of Durham, North Carolina. Part one ran in The Tower yesterday. Part three you can exclusively read on our website tomorrow.

[Photo: Paul Sableman / WikiCommons ]