NYPD in Israel: Hannah Arendt on the Best Police Department in the World

In Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt famously argued that one of the hallmarks of Nazism was the supremacy of the police over the military, even in—especially in—occupied territories. Nothing quite signaled totalitarianism’s obliteration of the distinction between the domestic and the international, its aspiration to world rule, as this.

Above the state and behind the facades of ostensible power, in a maze of multiplied offices, underlying all shifts of authority and in a chaos of inefficiency, lies the power nucleus of the country, the super-efficient and super-competent services of the secret police. The emphasis on the police as the sole organ of power, and the corresponding neglect of the seemingly greater power arsenal of the army, which is characteristic of all totalitarian regimes, can still be partially explained by the totalitarian aspiration to world rule and its conscious abolition of the distinction between a foreign country and a home country, between foreign and domestic affairs….Since the totalitarian ruler conducts his policies on the assumption of an eventual world government, he treats the victims of his aggression as though they were rebels, guilty of high treason, and consequently prefers to rule occupied territories with police, and not with military forces.

So what, oh what, would she have made of this?

The New York Police Department opened its Israeli branch in the Sharon District Police headquarters in Kfar Saba. Charlie Ben-Naim,  a former Israeli and veteran NYPD detective, was sent on this mission.

You don’t have to fly to New York to meet members of the police department considered to be the best in the world — all you have to do is make the short trip to the Kfar Saba police station in the Sharon, where the NYPD opened a local branch.

Behind the opening of the branch in the Holy Land is the NYPD decision that the Israeli police is one of the major police forces with which it must maintain close work relations and daily contact.

Ben-Naim was chosen for the mission of opening the NYPD branch in Israel. He is a veteran detective of the NYPD and a former Israeli who went to study in New York, married a local city resident and then joined the local police force. Among the things he has dealt with in the line of duty are the extradition of criminals, the transmitting of intelligence information and assistance in the location of missing persons, both in the United States and in Israel.

It was decided, in coordination with the Israeli police, that the New York representative would not operate out of the United States embassy but from a building of the Sharon District Police headquarters, situated close to the Kfar Sava station. The NYPD sign was even hung at the entrance to the district headquarters, and Ben-Naim’s office is situated on the first floor of the building. One of the walls bears the sign: “New York Police Department, the best police department in the world.”

It’s true, as Nathan Newman has pointed out to me, that the FBI already has offices around the world. But in the US, it has always been state and local police that truly wield the coercive power of the state. Only ten percent of all prisoners in this country are in federal jails; the rest are in state and local cells.

“New York Police Department, the best police department in the world.” Oh, the field day Arendt would have had with that!


  1. Mark Roberts September 6, 2012 at 5:33 pm | #

    I am in fulll agreement with Hannah Arendt’s comment. The NYPD is indeed a brown shirt operation, sprading there influence and force well beyond the jurisdiction of a municipal police department. Not to mention a variey of brutal tactics, incuding the “concentration” of minorites wihin a designated area, i.e., the strict boudnaries of their neighborhoods.What, however, is not so clear about the NYPD operations is not only are they aiming at taking precedence over the military, but they are duplicating the egregious expenses that U.S. citizens pay for military expenditures–something like 700 billion a year, I believe. Setting up a para-military base in Israel is completely absurd in terms of wasteful expenses, charged, of course, to the people of New York City. The U.S. spends approximately 5 billion a year to secure Israel, some of which most likely goes into internal security. Another interesting economic feature of the NYPD’s expansion is their purchase of a battle equiped helicopter to shoot down possible terrorist attacks from the air. One thinks and hopes that the combined forces of the U.S. Navy, Marines and Air Force might be able to do this, particularly because we spend hundreds of billions a year on defensive aricraft.

  2. Bart September 6, 2012 at 6:02 pm | #

    What reciprocity might there be to this agreement?

    • Nate September 27, 2012 at 4:12 pm | #

      They agree not to bomb our ships at sea on purpose–oops I mean, by accident because they thought it was an Egyptian ship.

  3. BillW September 6, 2012 at 8:10 pm | #

    We’ll start seeing the same facial expression on the face of NYPD cops as we see on the face of this Israeli policeman in Hebron. And for those who like watching old videos, here’s one made in “a land without a people for a people without a land” just before the First Zionist Congress decided to “redeem” the supposed homeland of the Jewish people from 2,000 years ago.

    • Seth Edenbaum September 6, 2012 at 10:00 pm | #

      “the supposed homeland of the Jewish people”


      Palestine is the ancestral homeland of the Jews; that should not be in dispute. Just as the Palestinians are the descendants of Jews who never left.

      But even if they weren’t, the descendants of the Puritans or of German immigrants to Ohio have no right to kick the grandchildren of Jamaican or Turkish immigrants out of the UK or Germany. And it’s a bit late for the Algonquin to kick me out of my apartment.

  4. Glenn September 6, 2012 at 10:09 pm | #

    Multinational Corporation, meet Multinational State.

  5. Seth Edenbaum September 7, 2012 at 11:00 am | #

    It’s not an origin myth Bill, it’s the best science we have so far. The links are at Wikipedia on the page for Shlomo Sand.

    The Jewish people originate in Palestine, and there are a lot of Germans in Texas. If Mexico invades and drives them out, no one would claim that the refugees would have a right of return to Wiesbaden. Sand is unwilling or unable to divorce genetics from Zionism, at least as it’s most often defined.

  6. Lulu September 8, 2012 at 3:47 pm | #

    This is a pretty embarrassing post. Trotting out totalitarianism is like comparing people to Hitler – rhetoric instead of argument. It’s just sloppy thinking, polemically irresponsible, and, for a historically minded scholar, a bit of an embarrassment.

    • jonnybutter September 8, 2012 at 7:51 pm | #

      Where is *your* argument, Lulu? There is no word limit for comments that I’m aware of on this blog, so you had plenty of room to make your case. This post is, among other things, a strand of a larger theory CR has about local vs federal authority – and authoritarianism.

      ‘Polemically irresponsible’! That’s a nice one!

      • Lulu September 8, 2012 at 8:07 pm | #

        Argument? OK, I’ll try. You sir, are worse than Hitler. Oh wait, that’s not actually an argument.

        But it is a demonstration.

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