Seahawk defensive lineman Michael Bennett has decided not to make a planned trip of NFL players to Israel next week, apparently over concerns of human rights abuses in that country.
Seahawk defensive end Michael Bennett, who was scheduled to be one of 11 NFL players to visit Israel next week as part of a goodwill tour sponsored by the Israeli government, has decided not to make the trip, apparently over concerns that his involvement would be construed as approving the country’s policies, and in particular in regards to Palestine.
Bennett’s decision came on the heels of an open letter by renowned musicians, artists and social justice advocates released Thursday asking the NFL players “to consider withdrawing from the delegation given Israel’s track record of human rights abuses.’’
Bennett wrote via Twitter and Instagram Friday night that “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. When I do 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.’’
Bennett further cited boxing legend Muhammad Ali and that Ali “stood strongly with the Palestinian people’’ and wrote “I cannot do that by going on this kind of trip to Israel” and that he was making the decision “to be in accord with my own values and my own conscience.”
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Bennett’s brother Martellus has also reportedly pulled out of the trip.
The letter to NFL players Thursday urged them “to consider the political ramifications of attending the trip, drawing connections between the struggles faced by Black and Brown communities in the U.S., and Palestinian, Eritrean and Sudanese communities in Israel/Palestine.’’ The letter was signed by entertainer and activists Harry Belafonte, activist Angela Davis, actor Danny Glover and former sprinter John Carlos, among others, and co-signed by organizations that included the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights.
Seahawk Cliff Avril, a close friend of Michael and Martellus Bennett, is also among those listed as part of the NFL delegation to Israel. It’s unclear if Avril will still make the trip, which is sponsored by the country’s Ministry for Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy in cooperation with the Tourism Ministry.
In a statement announcing the trip, Israeli Minister for Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy Gilad Erdan said: “I see great importance in the arrival of this delegation of NFL stars to Israel. I have no doubt that their visit will be a powerful experience for them and I hope that, through their visit, they will get a balanced picture of Israel, the opposite from the false incitement campaign that is being waged against Israel around the world. I hope that the players will present the beautiful face of Israel to their tens of millions of fans in the United States.’’
The trip will reportedly include visits to the Rambam hospital in Haifa, the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem and the Black Hebrew community in the southern city of Dimona.
Other players listed as part of the delegation, which is scheduled to arrive on Monday, are Tennessee tight end Delanie Walker, Eagles linebacker Michael Kendricks, New Orleans defensive end Cameron Jordan, Miami receiver Kenny Stills, Arizona defensive lineman Calais Campbell, San Francisco running back Carlos Hyde, Oakland defensive tackle Dan Williams, Denver running back Justin Forsett, who began his career in Seattle and played for the Seahawks from 2008-11, and ESPN commentator and former linebacker Kirk Morrison (Stills on Friday night Tweeted support of Bennett’s stance).
The trip is also scheduled to include an exhibition game featuring the NFL delegation and players from the Israeli Football Association on Feb. 18 in Jerusalem.
Martellus Bennett also is one of six members of the New England Patriots who have announced they will not make the annual trip to the White House to honor the reigning Super Bowl champion.