WARWICK – “I ate the matzo, so I became a rabbi,” joked Rabbi Yossi Laufer on Sep. 13, at the start of the fourth stop on Rhode Island State Police Lt. Col. Joseph Philbin’s in-state speaking tour that began in August.
During the evening at Chabad of West Bay, the two bantered about swapping jobs, setting the tone of a warm and friendly after-dinner conversation between Philbin and the 60 people who attended the event to hear about the serious topic of public safety.
Philbin, who was accompanied by his wife, Kari, and his 91-year old mother, June, is speaking about his experiences in Israel during a one-week law enforcement training exchange program in Israel. He attended the program in December 2018. The exchange is of public interest for two principal reasons: as taxpayers, to find out what he may have learned that can benefit Rhode Island’s public safety practices; and as supporters of Israel, to find out the truth about political allegations in the US that training by Israel’s police forces results in militarization of American police forces.
Early in his talk about the program, which was organized and funded by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Philbin described an organized attempt to prevent his participation which reached not only him but also then-Commander Anne Assumpico and Governor Gina Raimondo.
He said he felt fortunate that those superiors believed in the value of the training and decided to support it; the Chief of the Vermont State Police and the Northhampton, Massachusetts Police were pulled from the program due to outside pressure. Pressure has also been applied to keep Philbin from speaking publicly about the trip.
A day-by-day personal description of the itinerary prompted numerous questions during the informal session. Among the highlights of Philbin’s talk:
• There were daily lectures from many levels of Israeli government and security, and in virtually every case a Palestinian counterpart also spoke, giving the participants a view of “both sides.”
• There was a visit to Israel’s maximum security prison, where there aren’t American-style jail cells but rather communal areas which are segregated politically – e.g., Hamas in one area, Fatah in another. In response to a number of questions as to the absence of jail cells, which otherwise might keep inmate-based conspiracies down to a minimum, Rabbi Laufer suggested that the reason may be based in Jewish teachings that forbid keeping humans in cages.
• From what Philbin could see, there was no evidence to support charges of militarization in Israeli security or any danger that the sharing of practices with Israel would cause militarization of American police.
• Israel’s police academy training was virtually indistinguishable from American police training.
• The incidents of homicides in all of Israel is dramatically lower than in some cities like Chicago.
The speaking tour has been organized by RI Coalition for Israel (www.ricoalitionforisrael.org), a grassroots organization of Christians and Jews whose mission is to support Israel and oppose the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement. At the time of publication, he has spoken at six venues, including churches, synagogues, a school and retirement communities. Plans are in the works for more speaking engagements.
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Howard Brown is executive director of RI Coalition for Israel.