Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett has often been a voice for social justice in the United States, and now, he’s taking his advocacy international.
Bennett was scheduled to be part of a group of NFL players traveling to Israel, and he initially thought it would be a good chance to see the country and soak in the history. Then he found out this trip was organized by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, essentially to function as propaganda to improve the perception of Israel around the world.
“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 of and opinion-former’ who would then be an ‘ambassador of good will,’” Bennett wrote in a letter on Twitter.
“I will not be used in such a way,” he said.
The day before Bennett decided to cancel his trip, Dave Zirin of The Nation published an open letter to the NFL players going on the trip, which was signed by the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, Jewish Voice for Peace, Dr. John Carlos, and Danny Glover, among many others. The letter urged the players on the trip to cancel their plans, noting that the players “now have an opportunity to speak out against the injustices facing Palestinians.”
Your trip to Israel comes at a time of growing cooperation between the U.S. and Israeli governments, as evidenced by the close relationship between President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu, who both are eager to work together to continue implementing their right-wing, racist agendas. The dehumanizing language U.S. politicians use against refugees fleeing to the United States and the decision to ban them is reminiscent of Israeli officials calling asylum seekers from Sudan and Eritrea “infiltrators” and detaining them in the desert. Your visit also comes at a time of growing public outcry against all oppressive policies. Palestinians are struggling today for their rights just like those who struggled in the U.S. Civil Rights and South African anti-Apartheid Movements, and just like brown and black communities are doing so across the United States now.
Well, it seems Bennett certainly took that open letter to heart.
“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 wrote in his own letter.
The Seahawk also tied his decision to the athlete activists who have come before him, most notably citing Muhammad Ali, who “always stood strongly with the Palestinian people, visiting refugee camps, going to rallies, and always willing to be a ‘voice for the voiceless.’”
Many more athletes have been speaking out against social injustices recently. WNBA Players had a Black Lives Matter media boycott last year, Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protest to raise awareness of racial injustices and police brutality have spread all over the country, and superstars such as Steph Curry and LeBron James have been speaking out against President Donald Trump.
Bennett’s brother, Martellus Bennett, is also an NFL player and is one of six players on the Super Bowl winning New England Patriots to announce that they will not be visiting the White House to celebrate their win.
“I know that this will anger some people and inspire others. But please know that I did not do this for you, but to be in accord with my own values and my own conscience,” Bennett said. “Like 1968 Olympian John Carlos always says, ‘There is no partial commitment to justice. You are either in or you’re out.’ Well, I’m in.”