TEL AVIV – Three NFL players have pulled out of a scheduled trip to Israel following an open letter published by pro-Palestinian activists urging them to distance themselves from Israel’s “brutal” and “apartheid” policies.
Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett was the first to pull out of the tour, saying he did not want to be “used” by the Israeli government.
The trip, organized in part by the Ministry of Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy, is slated to include visits to Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, the Dead Sea and Christian holy sites. Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said the tour will showcase “a balanced picture of Israel.”
Bennett first tweeted a picture of Martin Luther King and Stokely Carmichael alongside the caption: “I’m not going to Israel.” He later explained his motivation in boycotting the trip.
“I was excited to see this remarkable and historic part of the world with my own eyes. I was not aware until reading this article about the trip in the Times of Israel that my itinerary was being constructed by the Israeli government for the purposes of making me, in the words of a government official, an ‘influencer and opinion-former’ who would then be ‘an ambassador of good will.’ I will not be used in such a manner,” Bennett said.
“When I go to Israel — and I do plan to go — it will be to see not only Israel but also the West Bank and Gaza so I can see how the Palestinians, who have called this land home for thousands of years, live their lives.”
The Nation, which first published the open letter calling for the players to boycott the trip, said Bennett had read the letter and subsequently announced he would not be going on the trip. The claim somewhat contradicts Bennett’s own statement that the decision was the result of reading an article in the Times of Israel.
In his lengthier explanation, Bennett said that he wants to be a “voice for the voiceless” and that a longtime hero of his was Muhammad Ali, who “always stood strongly with the Palestinian people.”
The open letter published in The Nation also referenced Muhammed Ali.
“The power athletes have in contributing to the fight for justice is evidenced in the legacy of the late Muhammad Ali, who himself was an advocate for Palestinian rights,” the letter stated.
It also drew comparisons between President Donald Trump’s “racist” policies, South Africa during the apartheid era and Israel.
Your trip to Israel comes at a time of growing cooperation between the U.S. and Israeli governments, as evidenced by the close relationship between President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu, who both are eager to work together to continue implementing their right-wing, racist agendas.
The dehumanizing language U.S. politicians use against refugees fleeing to the United States and the decision to ban them is reminiscent of Israeli officials calling asylum seekers from Sudan and Eritrea “infiltrators” and detaining them in the desert. Your visit also comes at a time of growing public outcry against all oppressive policies. Palestinians are struggling today for their rights just like those who struggled in the U.S. Civil Rights and South African anti-Apartheid Movements, and just like brown and black communities are doing so across the United States now.
The petition further accused the U.S. of funding Israeli “war crimes.”
It was undersigned by various far-left organizations, including the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel and its U.S.-based counterpart, as well as Jewish Voice for Peace. Angela Davis, Danny Glover and Alice Walker were among the actors, writers and athletes who also signed the letter.
Bennett’s boycott prompted his brother Martellus, the New England Patriots’ tight end, and Miami Dolphins wide receiver Kenny Stills to follow suit.