GSU’s GILEE program is proud of its partnership with Israel’s safety forces

Photo by Unique Rodriguez | The Signal

Georgia State has been the home of an international law enforcement exchange program for over 25 years, which sparked protests on Georgia State’s campus almost a decade ago.

The cause of the controversy is the Georgia International Law Enforcement Exchange (GILEE) program, a partner of both Georgia State University Police Department (GSUPD) and the Atlanta Police Department (APD). GILEE has been working with Israeli forces for over 25 years to compare and expand practices of both departments.

In 2010, Georgia State’s Progressive Student Alliance partnered with other organizations and held a protest in Unity Plaza, demanding the end of GILEE and gathering a petition of 900 signatures. The protest, fueled by outrage over the partnership, began with a press release from Kathryn Hamoudah, coordinating committee member for the Movement to End Israeli Apartheid-Georgia (MEIA-G).

Citing the program’s exchange of counter-terrorism tactics, Hamoudah said, “these tactics entail a well-documented history of extrajudicial killings, racial profiling of Arabs, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of detainees. Such a program not only implicitly supports these violations of human rights, but also gestures to the goal of implementing them here in Georgia.”

According to program founder Dr. Robbie Friedmann, that opinion, which some students still hold today, is misguided. Friedmann said he would like students to see past political and personal opinions for the sake of public safety.

“Indeed there are some students who may truly believe that,” Friedmann said. “Are there some officers that use excessive force? Probably so. The Israeli police does not train officers to be bullies nor condones such behavior. Officers who misbehave are treated very sternly by the legal system.”

Friedmann founded the program in 1992 in preparation for Atlanta’s 1996 Olympics. After the Olympics ended, the program continued to exchange tactics for protecting large gatherings around the world, obtaining and sharing information with 25 different countries, including Canada, and the U.K. Tactics exchanged through GILEE have been present in venues around the world, such as Beijing, London, Rio, Athens, Salt Lake City and Sydney.

According to Friedmann, no Israeli officers are coming to teach the APD how to, as Hamoudah said, “torture detainees.” Friedmann said, however, law enforcement leaders have come to Atlanta in the past to learn what practices to best use among their own police forces when hosting special events.

In response to students who express concern over the program’s potentially aggressive outcomes, Friedmann said, “The Israeli Police Force does not train officers to be bullies nor condones such behavior.”

But Hagar Baruch, President of Hillel, Georgia State’s Jewish student union, lived in Israel for her early life. Baruch said she feels the two departments don’t have enough common concerns to stem a partnership. In Israel, they’re worried about missiles. In the U.S., the police force is currently tackling how to properly address mass shootings. However, she supports anything that may increase student protection.

“People should look at it from their own political standpoint. I want to know that I’m safe and not have to put that responsibility on myself. I want to know that I live in a city that has gone out of its way to learn from police that know how to deal with extremes, than to be underprepared,” she said. “Not political safety. There are a lot of things that Israel does wrong, but we have to look at why this program would help us.”

Friedmann stressed the importance of GILEE’s strictly non-partisan practices and mission to keep public safety as its priority.

Given Israel’s extensive experience in counter-terrorism and large-scale security, Friedmann said the program seeks to learn how to manage large events and protect the public. One major exchange from the GILEE program was Atlanta’s implementation of security cameras, which Friedmann said has helped both Israel and Atlanta improve safety and the justice system.

CORRECTION: The original article that ran in The Signal’s April 3, 2018 print issue was not updated with the latest information. The information displayed in this digital article is up-to-date (April 24, 2018; May 26, 2018).