In mid-February, eleven NFL players were expected to be a part of a delegation to Israel. Only five showed up. Why this happened is worth understanding, because it is a window into the realignment of our country's politics that will not stop at our borders.
The delegation of athletes was going to visit religious sites and hold an exhibition game together with players from the Israeli Football Association on February 18 in Jerusalem. It was a very tightly scripted itinerary. The goal, according to Gilad Erdan, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's minister of strategic affairs and public diplomacy, was to create "ambassadors of good will" who would be enlisted in the "intensive fight against the delegitimization campaigns" against Israel.
Seattle Seahawk defensive end Michael Bennett, who was supposed to be a part of this delegation, read about the itinerary and goals in the Times of Israel, and wrote the following response:
I was scheduled to make a visit to Israel with fellow NFL players. 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.
One of my heroes has always been Muhammad Ali. I know that Ali always stood strongly with the Palestinian people, visiting refugee camps, going to rallies, and always willing to be a "voice for the voiceless." I want to be a "voice for the voiceless," and I cannot do that by going on this kind of trip to Israel.
I know that this will anger some people and inspire others. But please know that I did this not for you, but to be in accord with my own values and my own conscience. 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.