NFL player Michael Bennett has made headlines by cancelling his planned trip to Israel with several other professional football players. Bennett made his announcement in a showy public display by tweeting a picture of Martin Luther King Jr., with the caption “I’m not going to Israel.”
It was a strange choice of images given that Dr. King was an ardent supporter of Israel who famously said, “Israel is one of the great outposts of democracy in the world, and a marvelous example of what can be done, how desert land can be transformed into an oasis of brotherhood and democracy. Peace for Israel means security, and that security must be a reality.”
Perhaps Bennett realized his error, because he subsequently tweeted a letter, in which he explained his decision not to travel to Israel. In it, he writes that one of his heroes was Muhammad Ali who always stood strongly with the Palestinian people.
At least Muhammed Ali bothered to visit the region.
Truth be told, Ali’s visits to the Middle East served only to entrench his prejudices. In 1974, he toured Palestinian refugee camps in southern Lebanon. Rather than denounce the Lebanese government for forcing Palestinians to live in squalor or for the institutionalized discrimination that prohibited — and still prohibits — Palestinians from entering certain professions and owning land, Ali declared, “In my name and the name of all Muslims in America, I declare support for the Palestinian struggle to liberate their homeland and oust the Zionist invaders.”
In an interview with an Indian newspaper six years later, Ali said, “You know the entire power structure is Zionist. They control America; they control the world. They are really against the Islam religion. So whenever a Muslim does something wrong, they blame the religion.”
Suffice it to say, Muhammed Ali is not the champion of tolerance and equality that Bennett believes him to be.
Bennett asserts that he will not allow himself to be used by those who wish to see him become an ambassador of goodwill for Israel. Instead, Bennett has allowed himself to be used by proponents of the BDS movement — a movement whose leaders fundamentally deny the very legitimacy of the Jewish state.
Founding member Omar Barghouti has been clear in his views, writing, “The two-state solution for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is really dead. Good riddance!…We are witnessing the rapid demise of Zionism, and nothing can be done to save it, for Zionism is intent on killing itself. I, for one, support euthanasia”
The founders of the BDS movement have no interest in realizing a two-state solution. Rather their goals bear a troubling resemblance to those of Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Iranian ayatollah.
Bennett has not taken a principled stance based on thoughtful consideration of the issues. He has succumbed to soundbites and anti-Israel smears from those who evince contempt and bigotry.
Bennett cancelled his trip after an open letter was published by The Nation urging NFL players not to participate on the grounds that Israel abuses human rights. The letter draws parallels between the struggles faced by Black and Brown communities in America and Palestinians in Israel.
It’s most likely that Bennett acted out of ignorance rather than malice. After all, the BDS movement is the du jour social justice movement. Its activists don’t see the great irony in fixating on the only country in the Middle East that guarantees equality for every citizen regardless of gender, race, religion or sexual orientation.
These would-be champions of justice and equality have been deceived by false parallels made between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the struggle against racial disparities in the United States. The conflation confuses a civil rights movement with the struggle between two peoples with national aspirations, the latter of which can only be resolved through direct negotiation between the parties.
Israel is not perfect. Like any country, it contends with illegal immigration, religious conflicts, racial tensions and myriad other challenges. We do no favors by stifling debate or denying Israel’s flaws. At the same time, it must be understood that Israel is situated in one of the most volatile and complex regions on earth. It is impossible to understand the conflict from 6,000 thousand miles away, never mind presume which party is primarily to blame.
If Bennett is committed to an honest understanding of the issues, he must free himself from his presuppositions and travel to the region with an open mind.
Bennett concluded his letter by quoting Olympian John Carlos, “’There is no partial commitment to justice. You are either in or you are out.’ Well I’m in.” In fact, Bennett is out, completely out — of touch.