Earlier this year it was announced that a delegation of NFL players would be taking a trip to Israel as part of a joint initiative launched by the Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy Ministry and Tourism Ministry. The group of players were to arrive in Israel to do a week long tour of Israel which included visits to Jerusalem and the Dead Sea. The delegation also participated in an exhibition game against Israel’s national team in Jerusalem.
“There is great importance to the visit of a delegation of NFL stars to Israel,” stated Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, “I’m sure that this visit will be a great experience for them and that it will give them a balanced picture of Israel opposite the deceptive campaign being waged against Israel across the world. The players will show their tens of millions of fans the true face of Israel. We are leading a campaign against the delegitimization of Israel and part of this campaign is to arrange visits of celebrities in different fields, including sports.”
One of the NFL players on this delegation was Michael Bennett, who announced in a tweet that he would be boycotting the trip. He then went on to release an open letter on Twitter explaining why he refused to participate.
He went on to say that he refused to “be used in such a manner,” and that when he does decide to visit the Holy Land, it will not only be to see Israel but also to visit the West Bank and Gaza so that he may see how “the Palestinians, who have called this land home for thousands of years, live their lives.”
Bennett told readers that one of his personal heroes was Muhammad Ali, who always stood with the Palestinian people, often visiting refugee camps and attending rallies in solidarity with Palestine.
Read the full text below.
Michael Bennett’s words appear to have also influenced fellow NFL player Kenny Stills, who retweeted Bennett’s post soon after with the caption, “Couldn’t have said it any better. I’m in!”
This news came in light of an open letter that was released by a coalition of athlete-activists which urged the NFL players to boycott the trip to Israel, published by The Nation.
It also came in the wake of a recent Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip, which killed 2 civilians and injured at least 8 others. These airstrikes were said to have been in response to attempted rocket fire in the southern city of Sderot, which failed to harm anyone.
The actions taken my Michael Bennett and his peer are an important and necessary form of nonviolent resistance. This kind of direct action puts further pressure on Israel, an apartheid state which has become a pariah and a consistent violator of human rights, to end its brutal occupation of Palestine. It is comparable to the economic and social boycott of South Africa, which took the necessary steps to end the abhorrent and oppressive practice of apartheid that had become commonplace in the region. For these reasons, we at The Peace Report commend Bennett for his courage and resolve.