Keir Starmer’s decision to sack Rebecca Long-Bailey as shadow education secretary after she shared on Twitter an interview with the actor Maxine Peake has focused attention on links between US police forces and their Israeli counterparts – and how those connections have been reported by some media outlets in recent weeks.
In a wide-ranging interview with the Independent, Peake made the claim – which she later retracted – that the brutal US police tactics that left George Floyd unable to breathe in Minnesota, sparking global Black Lives Matter protests, were a direct result of Israeli training.
“Systemic racism is a global issue,” Peake told the Independent. “The tactics used by the police in America, kneeling on George Floyd’s neck, that was learnt from seminars with Israeli secret services.”
Long-Bailey retweeted the interview with Peake – which was headlined “People who couldn’t vote Labour because of Corbyn? They voted Tory as far as I’m concerned” – with the comment “Maxine Peake is an absolute diamond”. Starmer said he felt compelled to sack her because “I do not consider sharing that article furthered the course of rebuilding trust with the Jewish community”.
The Independent originally contextualised Peake’s comments with a denial from an Israeli police spokesperson that they would recommend kneeling on a suspect’s neck, before referencing a 2016 blog post by Amnesty International USA on how US police forces are regularly trained by Israeli officials.
Several hours later the interview was updated to include a stronger denial from an Israeli police spokesperson insisting “there is no tactic or protocol that calls to put pressure on the neck or airway”. An editor’s note was also attached, distancing the Independent from Peake’s claim: “This article has been amended to further clarify that the allegation that US police were taught tactics of ‘neck kneeling’ by Israeli secret services is unfounded.”
The connections between US police forces and the training offered by the Israeli state has come under increased media attention in the wake of Floyd’s death in Minneapolis. This has generated viral posts and media coverage that has sometimes extrapolated from known facts to make broader unsourced claims.
There is no doubt that there are many programmes involving Israeli officials offering training to US police forces. Some programmes are conducted on US soil in conjunction with the Israeli embassy, such as a 2012 event where 100 officers from Minnetonka – a city 8 miles from Minneapolis, where Floyd was killed – were trained on how to combat terrorists. Other programmes, often organised by pro-Israel organisations based in the US, involved flying small groups of officers to Israel for training programmes. Such police exchanges are not uncommon.
This recent interest has led to coverage in sites such as Middle East Eye focusing on which US forces have been involved in these exchange programmes, though most have not drawn any link between the Israeli training and the tactic used to kill Floyd.