Immediately after contributing to his team’s Super Bowl victory on February, Martellus Bennett of the New England Patriots was asked what he thought about an upcoming visit to Mexico to represent the National Football League (NFL).
“Tear down the wall! Tear down the wall! That’s what I think about going to Mexico,” he cried.
Bennett then became the first of a number of Patriots players to confirm they would skip a visit with President Donald Trump at the White House.
But it was reported Bennett would be taking a different trip. Along with 11 other NFL players, he would be “heading to Israel after the team’s historic win on a hasbara, or Israeli public relations tour for American football players”.
Palestinians living under a system Human Rights Watch has labelled “separate and unequal” would surely wonder how Bennett could oppose Trump’s plans to extend the wall on the US-Mexico border, but be unconcerned about the impact of Israel’s wall on occupied Palestinian land. Trump has explicitly praised Israel’s wall-building as his model.
But in a week of sudden reversals, Dave Zirin reported for The Nation that despite media reports that Bennett would go to Israel, he had “confirmed that this is not the case”.
Zirin noted that other players named in a Times of Israel report on the planned junket “are reevaluating whether they will attend.”
By February 10, three of the players named as potential participants — Martellus Bennett, his brother Michael Bennett of the Seattle Seahawks and Kenny Stills of the Miami Dolphins — had repudiated the trip.
In an open letter published by The Nation on February 9, activists, writers and athletes appealed to the NFL players to reconsider participation in the trip.
They urged the players not to allow themselves to be used as part of a propaganda campaign “to help the Israeli government normalize and whitewash its ongoing denial of Palestinian rights”.
In a statement released on Twitter and Instagram on February 10, Michael Bennett said he would “not be used” by Israel’s government. He recalled that the late Muhammad Ali, one of his heroes, “always stood strongly with the Palestinian people”.
“I want to be a ‘voice for the voiceless,’” Bennett added, “and I cannot do that by going on this kind of trip to Israel.”
Stills retweeted Bennett’s statement, adding, “Couldn’t have said it better myself. I’m in!”
The Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) national committee, which launched the BDS campaign against Israel in 2005, thanked Michael Bennett “for standing on the right side of history, for justice and equality”.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who has been in the public eye due to his decision not to stand for the national anthem in support of Black Lives Matter activists, tweeted to his 1 million followers that anyone protesting Trump’s Muslim ban would surely also have to be “livid about the apartheid tactics Israel forces on Palestinian Muslims”.
Denver Broncos running back Justin Forsett also announced on February 11 that he would not be going on the trip, and shared Michael Bennett’s statement. However, at least eight other NFL players will take part in the junket.
BDS activists will be encouraged by another victory. BDS campaigners have been urging Australian singer Natalie Imbruglia to cancel a March 1 concert in Israel. JPost.com reported on February 12 that Imbruglia had cancelled the event, with organisers citing “logistic constraints”.
[Abridged from Electronic Intifada.]