What is GILEE? Exploring recent student opposition

White student protesters at Georgia State Student Center

The Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange program, or GILEE, was founded by Robert Friedmann and partners with police departments across the state and nation, including the Atlanta Police Department to help expand and improve safety in the Atlanta area. GILEE’s essential function is to facilitate training exchanges between Georgia police departments and international police forces. Since 1996, GILEE has continued to exchange safety tactics for gatherings of law enforcement officials with 25 different countries, one of these being Israel.

Though its supporters believe there is good that could come from the GILEE program, it is controversial to some because of who it partners with. In a published letter, then Student Government Association Senators Jazmin Mejia and Hamza Rahman stated their opposition to GILEE because of its collaboration with human rights violators and its history of bigotry.

Mejia and Rahman introduced a university-wide opinion resolution, 89-UWSR-05, this past spring semester, which ultimately did not pass. It called for three things: to encourage Georgia State University to withdraw its police department from GILEE, redirect Georgia State University Police Department funding to appropriate police training activities and to end the program’s presence at Georgia State. SGA established an ad hoc committee to investigate the legislation. They found that the connection between GILEE and GSUPD was simply baseless.

Prior to joining Georgia State, Chief of GSUPD Joseph Spillane went on a delegation to Israel during his time serving as deputy chief of the APD. 

Spillane confirmed that, since he assumed the position of chief of police in late November 2016, zero dollars from the GSUPD’s budget have been spent on GILEE and zero GSUPD officers have attended the program.

GSUPD is not connected to the GILEE program beyond my previous participation,” Spillane said. “I do not have any current plans to send any officers to GILEE, and I have not budgeted any training funding to send anyone from GSUPD in the FY2020 Budget.”

Reactions to GILEE coming to the spotlight have been mixed by students and outside forces. Founder Friedmann encouraged people to put their political and personal values aside and evaluate the safety of the community around them. Friedmann ensured students in a previous article by The Signal that the Israeli police officers are not training Georgia officers to be “bullies” or to “torture detainees.” But the pushback against GILEE didn’t just begin last semester. Kathryn Hamoudah, a coordination member for the now-defunct Movement to End Israeli Apartheid – Georgia (MEIA-G), fueled the beginning of a protest in 2010 with a press release. Hamoudah begins by stating the initial function of GILEE, facilitating training exchanges between Israeli and Georgia police officers. 

Hamoudah said Georgia State University President Mark Becker cannot afford to be affiliated with a program such as GILEE because she believed it implies that Georgia police officers will apply the same dangerous tactics used in Israel.  According to Hamoudah, Becker has an “opportunity to stand for human rights.” In an effort to get Becker to discuss the end of Georgia State’s affiliation with GILEE, Hamoudah petitioned with more than 900 signatures. According to the release, Becker agreed to meet but never fulfilled his promise.

The controversy arising within Georgia State about its affiliation with GILEE has found its way into several student groups — often for the program’s support of Israel, which many in turn view as inherently anti-Palestinian.

Hagar Baruch, president of Hillel, Georgia State’s Jewish student union, wanted to provide a different view for her peers by trying to present a more personal perspective, as she is from Israel. She agreed GILEE and APD don’t have enough “common concerns” but Baruch isn’t opposed to strategies that improve safety. The Progressive Student Alliance has worked to investigate and oppose GILEE for years because they believe the Israeli police system works to enforce apartheid against the Palestinian people.

But GILEE discussion won’t end here. On August 10, during the university-wide SGA meeting, Senator Walton reintroduced the idea of forming an ad hoc GILEE committee, which will be chaired by Senator DeHart, and the bill passed with 17 votes. The next step for SGA is to decide which senators will serve on the committee.