By Guy Page
The Vermont State Police, under pressure by anti-Israel groups, last November backed out of an all-expenses-paid counter-terrorism seminar last month in Israel.
According to Vermont State Police, the event, called “Leadership Seminar in Israel: Resiliency and Counter-terrorism,” was sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League. The withdrawal was made “in the best interests of the Vermont State Police.”
The decision drew a strong rebuke from Lawrence Zupan of Manchester, a Jewish supporter of Israel and the 2018 Republican nominee for U.S. Senate.
“Those charged with a stout defense of Vermont’s citizenry, namely the Vermont State Police, withdrew their acceptance of an offer of free anti-terrorism training from those most experienced at same, the Israeli Defense Forces,” Zupan wrote in a Jan. 2 email to Headliners. “The decision was made in apparent response to the protests by a group called Justice For Palestine, who reflexively oppose anything connected to Israel and wish to persuade the world to Boycott, Divest and Sanction the only post Holocaust true Jewish sanctuary in the entire world.
“Rather than evaluate the offer strictly on its merits, the VPS responded by declining this valuable offer. Never mind that Israel has proven to be a haven for the world’s Jews, a most reliable American ally, a brilliant defender of its own citizens and a country where its own Arab citizens have protected rights unavailable to them anywhere else within the region, we must bow to those who want to shut Israel down with their BDS even at Vermont’s expense.”
The pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel BDS movement has long been active in Vermont. In 2011 Vermonters for a Just Peace in Palestine called on Ben & Jerry’s to sever ties with an Israeli ice-cream manufacturer. UVM was targeted by a “divest from Israel” movement in 2011. Last month a BDS group displayed the Palestinian flag and anti-Israeli slogans on the UVM campus. In an Oct. 29 defense of the BDS movement, the Vermont Peace and Justice Center outlines the supposed injustices of Israeli “colonialism” but is mute on the subject of the ongoing terror campaign against Israeli citizens by Hamas and other violent opponents of Israel.
The BDS movement uses the language of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, but also does not recognize Israel’s right to exist, the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or the desire of many Israelis to peacefully resolve it, the ADL claims.
The pro-Palestinian BDS movement in Vermont celebrated the VSP withdrawal. The Vermont Peace and Justice Center said Nov. 29: “With the growing concern about US law enforcement’s treatment of asylum seekers at the US-Mexico border, New England residents are asking if they want their local police receiving training from the Israeli military. According to the VT National Lawyers Guild chair Henry Harris, ‘To support shared training and tactics with the Israeli occupation is to lose all credibility and morality in public view of the people of Vermont.’”
Vermont State Police spokesperson Adam Silverman yesterday provided this background information:
“Earlier this year, Col. Birmingham accepted an invitation from the Anti-Defamation League, a leading civil-rights organization that works to combat anti-Semitism and is an advocate for Israel, to join roughly 50 law-enforcement leaders from across the United States on the ADL’s “Leadership Seminar in Israel: Resiliency and Counterterrorism” trip.
“Scheduled for Dec. 2-11, the event provided an opportunity to interact with Israeli and Palestinian law-enforcement agencies, observe the security strategies and systems Israel uses to prevent terror attacks, and discuss the challenges the parties face in the region. All expenses are covered by the ADL. A previous Vermont State Police director attended the seminar in the past and found it informative and useful, but this would have been Col. Birmingham’s first time participating.
“Following his acceptance of the invitation, Col. Birmingham heard concerns from fellow Vermonters about attending the seminar. The Colonel and Commissioner of Public Safety Thomas D. Anderson weighed the pros and cons of the trip and after discussing the options agreed that it would be in the best interests of the Vermont State Police for Col. Birmingham to withdraw his participation. This decision should not be interpreted as an endorsement of the positions held by the groups that spoke out against the trip.”
According to the VT Peace and Justice Center statement, “the petition calling on the Colonel to cancel participation in the seminar was sent to him on November 27 and was signed by Vermonters for Justice in Palestine; Students for Justice in Palestine, UVM; Justice for All; Migrant Justice; Peace & Justice Center; Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Burlington Chapter; Black Lives Matter of Greater Burlington; Jubilee Justice Committee, Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Burlington VT; Green Mountain Solidarity with Palestine; New England Yearly Meeting of Friends, Israel-Palestine Working Group; National Lawyers Guild Vermont; Brattleboro Common Sense; and Jewish Voice for Peace.”
Statehouse Headliners is intended primarily to educate, not advocate. It is e-mailed to an ever-growing list of interested Vermonters, public officials and media. Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership; the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare; and Physicians, Families and Friends for a Better Vermont.