Michael Bennett’s refusal to go reportedly did not stop an NFL players’ tour of Israel.
The Times of Israel reported Monday the 11 NFL players who were supposed to arrive in Jerusalem on Monday was down to seven -- but that the visit was still on.
“The delegation is on its way to Israel, expected to land tonight,” Revital Yakin-Karkovsky, executive director for communications and strategy in Israel’s Ministry for Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy, told the Times of Israel. “They’ll begin their tour of Israel (Tuesday).”
On the agenda: stops including Rambam hospital in Haifa, the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem and a meet with representatives of the Black Hebrews in Dimona. The players’ tour will also include stops in Tel Aviv, the Dead Sea and Haifa, as well as Christian sites in the Galilee.
Bennett, the Seahawks’ Pro Bowl defensive end, wrote on social media this past weekend that he was pulling out of the trip because he felt the Israeli government was using him as a propaganda tool, and that he’d rather visit when he could also see Palestinian settlements.
Israel’s Tourism and Public Diplomacy ministries announced the trip on Feb. 5, the night of the Super Bowl.
Former Seahawks running back Justin Forsett, now with Denver, plus Miami wide receiver Kenny Stills tweeted support of Bennett’s stance and said they, too, were pulling out of the seven-day trip. Many have reported Bennett’s brother Martellus, who is just one week removed from winning the Super Bowl with the New England Patriots, has also backed out of going on the tour. That hasn’t been confirmed. Martellus retweeted his older brother’s message over the weekend.
The Times of Israel article to which Michael Bennett referred in his writing included these comments from Israel’s Tourism Minister Yariv Levin: “Football stars are a source of inspiration for all American citizens. I am sure that, after the experiences that the players will enjoy in Israel and after they have seen the unique tourist sites and the special atmosphere here, they will become ambassadors of good will for Israel.”
Bennett is not happy about being an ambassador for Israel.
He also posted on Twitter a picture of Martin Luther King Jr. and wrote “Im not going to Israel”
An international Jewish human rights organization, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, issued a statement after Bennett posted his.
“It is very unfortunate that Michael Bennett and three other NFL players have canceled their scheduled trip to Israel with other NFL players. Engagement, not boycotts are what help forge real peace,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper Associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
“The trip they would have taken, would have introduced them to the only democratic society in the Middle East; the only Middle East country where the number of Christians is increasing. And they would have met many young Israeli Arabs who comprise nearly one fifth of the Jewish State’s population. They have equal rights with their Jewish neighbors. Rather than being worried about “being used” by Israeli officials, their presence -as sports stars—would have served to inspire young Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike to aspire for greatness...
“Mr. Bennett and his colleagues should also want to look at recent headlines. This past Thursday alone there were two terrorist attacks targeting the Holy Land—rockets from ISIS in the South and a shooting and stabbing spree targeting Jewish shoppers in the heartland of Israel(.) (T)he culprit? A 19 year-old Palestinian man whose role models aren’t football players but terrorists.”
The seven remaining NFL players scheduled to be on the tour that The Times of Israel says was still on Monday were Seahawks defensive end Cliff Avril, Delanie Walker of the Tennessee Titans, Philadelphia Eagle Michael Kendricks, New Orleans Saint Cameron Jordan, Calais Campbell of the Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49er Carlos Hyde, Oakland Raider Dan Williams. ESPN football commentator Kirk Morrison, a former NFL linebacker, was also scheduled to be on the trip.
The Times of Israel reported “the trip was planned by Israel’s Ministry for Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy in cooperation with the Tourism Ministry and America’s Voices in Israel, an initiative of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, a non-partisan group.”
Bennett quoted John Carlos, Olympic medalist and Black Power salute protestor from the 1968 Mexico City Games: “There is no partial commitment to justice. You are either in or you are out.”
Bennett concluded: “Well, I’m in.”
The original press release from Israel’s public security minister and tourism minister for the trip said the NFL players would participate in an exhibition game while there.
“The players will also hold an exhibition match in Jerusalem with the Israeli Football team on Saturday evening (February 18),” the press release said. “It added: “Fans are invited!”
Not so, The Times of Israel said.
Steve Leibowitz, president and founder of the American Football League in Israel, said that erroneous claim also could have upset the Bennetts and other players.
“They’re not allowed to play a game here,” Leibowitz told The Times of Israel. “Nobody asked them to. I’ve had enough missions of football players here to know that the most they’ll do is throw the first pass.”