September 24, 2021
On Tuesday, September 20, the Seattle City Council voted 5-4 against passing CB 120142, colloquially known as the “Deadly Exchange” bill. The legislation would have banned the Seattle Police Department (SPD) from training with the military or police of Israel and many other countries. For months, the Federation’s professional team tracked this legislation, analyzed its potential impact, sent action alerts to synagogues and Jewish agencies, and communicated with city council members. We coordinated with other organizations like the ADL, AJC, and StandWithUs, and community leaders who were also committed to defeating this legislation. I am grateful for the dedication and hard work of all these individuals (especially Cassie Garvin!). It was only through teamwork that we were successful.
The origin of the legislation was “End the Deadly Exchange,” a campaign seeking to end police exchanges between the U.S. and Israel. Proponents blame police violence in the U.S. on tactics learned through exchanges between U.S. and Israeli law enforcement. While there may be similar practices used by both U.S. and Israeli police, correlation does not equal causation. In addition, the campaign draws false equivalencies between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and systemic racism in the U.S., which contributes to false narratives about Israel that can foster antisemitism.
During Tuesday’s public comment period on the legislation, several individuals made disparaging remarks about what they called “Zionist forces,” dredging up the ancient antisemitic trope that alleges Jewish control or Jewish power. Left unaddressed, such comments stir up increased antisemitism.
The Federation’s opposition to this legislation was not related to a disagreement on police violence, to which the Federation is opposed. We know that Black and Brown people, including Black and Brown Jews, are disproportionately impacted by this violence. We support policies rooted in b’tselem elohim, ensuring that everyone is treated with dignity and respect. In the state Legislature’s 2021 session, we worked under the leadership of the Washington Coalition for Police Accountability, a group led by the family members of police violence victims. The Federation advocated for historic police reform bills, the first of their kind in the nation, that will save lives and require greater accountability.
I have worked with our state Legislature for over a decade. That experience has taught that a key prerequisite of effective advocacy is asking foundational questions before recommending legislation to policymakers: What is the problem that needs to be solved? If nothing is done, what would happen? How would this legislation address the problem? The answers to those questions clearly show that advocates of the “Deadly Exchange” bill failed to make a case.
No police exchanges between SPD and Israel have taken place since 2015. There are no plans for future exchanges. There is no substantiated evidence that past exchanges with SPD have led to disproportionate police violence against Black and Brown people in Seattle. In short, the bill was a solution looking for a problem, a distraction from the pursuit of effective police reform, and potentially dangerous for the Jewish community.
During public comment on the bill, I heard a number of Jews express support for it. While I disagree, I respect their right to do so and recognize the diversity of views in our community. At the same time, I am proud of how the Jewish communal organizations who opposed the legislation did so without disparaging members of our community who supported it.
The Federation and the JCRC are committed to fostering an environment in which civil discourse and viewpoint diversity are respected, based on the core JCRC value of elu v’elu — recognizing there are multiple voices on an issue. Simultaneously, we will continue to raise our collective voice on those issues for which we believe there is a consensus view and a clear interest of the organized Jewish community as was the case here.
Director of JCRC and Government Affairs