What The NFL Players Refusing A Trip To Israel Can Learn From Muhammad Ali

On February 5, 2017 the Times of Israel published a piece discussing an upcoming “Stars of the NFL trip” to Israel, organized apparently by Israel’s Ministry of Tourism, to include a number of NFL stars, among them, Michael Bennett, a star defensive end for the Seattle Seahawks.

Shortly after the publication of this article, the usual suspects in the anti-Israel BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) choir (including such mendacious Israel haters as Danny Glover, Alice Walker and the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel) published an open letter to the NFL athletes slated to go on this trip, urging them to boycott Israel.

The open BDS letter itself was filled with so many lies and misstatements about the Arab-Israeli conflict that practically the only thing accurate in it— besides the date — were the names of the people and organizations which believe it is somehow equitable and just to boycott the only country in the Middle East— where (a) women have equal rights; (b) Gays don’t have to live in constant fear (or far worse, get thrown off buildings or hung from cranes); (c) there is freedom of speech, assembly, and religion; (d) people vote in real elections; and (e) an oft colonized, persecuted and oppressed people— for the first time in the history of the world— regained their sovereignty in their indigenous homeland.

Sadly, this mendacious, hate-filled diatribe calling for these NFL athletes to boycott the world’s only Jewish state worked on at least some of the athletes. One of them, Michael Bennett, took to Twitter on February 9, 2017 to announce his decision to support the Israel-haters boycott rallying cry; and (ironically) under a picture of a truly great human rights activist and Zionist, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mr. Bennett tweeted: “Im not going to Israel.”

Perhaps because he quickly received dozens of responses to his announcement detailing the indisputable fact that MLK was a Zionist, a great friend of the Jewish people and the State of Israel, Bennett decided to write a more detailed statement regarding his reasons for succumbing to the boycott call.

In his explanatory statement, Bennett cited to a number of the relatively recent lies employed by the anti-Israel crowd. He also claimed to be joining in the boycott of Israel in the name of “justice,” so he can follow in the footsteps of one of his heroes, Muhammad Ali, in order to be a “voice for the voiceless” Palestinians; who Bennett incredibly claimed have somehow called the land of Israel “home for thousands of years.”

Bennett has probably spent most of his life working hard to become one of the great defensive ends in the history of the NFL. It seems, however, that he has yet not found the time to learn the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict, let alone to learn how remarkably unjust is the cause of Israel’s enemies, nor the many reasons why MLK was a Zionist and a strong supporter of Israel. If Bennett had gone on this trip, with an open mind, he could have learned a lot of this history, which seems to be precisely what the Israel-haters want to prevent.

If Bennett had gone on this trip, he might have learned that the only people in the world who have lived in the land of Israel for “thousands of years” are the Jewish people. He could have learned that Jews are from Judea and that Arabs are from Arabia, and that before the Arabs conquered and colonized Judea in the 7th Century (and subsequently embarked on colonizing, enslaving and persecuting indigenous Africans, Jews, Berbers, Copts and many other indigenous people throughout the Middle East and Africa) that very few Arabs ever lived outside of the Arabian Peninsula.

Had Bennett gone on this trip, he might have visited the Israel Museum and seen two 2,700 year old silver amulets, which were found right outside the Old City of Jerusalem, inscribed in Hebrew with the priestly benediction bestowed by Aaron and his sons upon the children of Israel, as recorded in the Bible (Numbers chapter 6, verses 24 through 26), which benediction has continued to be recited by Aaron’s descendants (the “Kohanim”) in synagogues for literally thousands of years.

Had Bennett gone on this trip, he might have seen ancient coins that were minted by the Jewish people during the Bar Kochba Revolt in the year 132 A.D., when the Jewish people rebelled against their European colonial masters from Rome. He might have learned that the price the Jewish people paid for once again rebelling against colonial Roman rule (after the first unsuccessful revolt in the year 70 A.D.) was over 500,000 dead Jews, and that many of the remaining Jews in Judea were sold into slavery and taken back to Rome in chains. Bennett might also have learned on this trip that it was only after the Bar Kochba Revolt that the Roman Empire, in an attempt to erase any memory of Judea, Ancient Israel or the Jewish people, essentially wiped those names off the map and renamed the region Syria-Palaestina (after Israel’s ancient Biblical enemies, the Assyrians and the Philistines, who were an Aegean sea-faring people with no connection whatsoever to the Arabs who conquered the region hundreds of years later during the 7th Century).

Had Bennett gone on this trip, he might have learned that the entire region (including what is today referred to as Jordan, the West Bank [Judea and Samaria], Gaza and Israel), had been for hundreds of years (since 1517) largely neglected and forgotten provinces of the Ottoman Empire. He could have learned that before the 1890’s, when Jews started returning to the region in large numbers— in order to redeem their homeland and to escape the persecution and second-class citizenship they were suffering in both European and Arab lands— most of Ottoman controlled Palestine (including what is today Jordan and Israel) was barren wasteland that could not support even 2 million people and that its population was barely 500,000 people, including 43,000 Jews and 57,000 Christians.

As a result, had Bennett gone on this trip, he would have learned what a “flat-Earth” lie it is when the leaders and supporters of the people, who first began referring to themselves as “Palestinians” after 1950, make claims such as “Jesus was a Palestinian” or that “Palestinians have lived in the West Bank [Judea and Samaria] or Gaza for thousands of years.” Mr. Bennett would have also likely learned on this trip that it was because of the ingenuity and hard work of the indigenous Jews (in particular with water and agriculture) that a barren wasteland with barely enough water for 2 million people (including Jordan) was converted into a region that now supports over 16 million people, many of whose Arab ancestors only moved to the area during the 20th Century; from places like Saudi Arabia and Egypt (such as Yasser Arafat, the “Palestinian Leader” who was born in Egypt in 1929).

Had Bennett gone on this trip, he might have learned that the reason the Arabs have repeatedly rejected every opportunity given to them (in 1937, 1948, 1967, 2001, 2008, and 2009) to create a (23rd) independent Arab state, the 2nd Arab State in the Palestine Mandate (with the first one being Jordan), is because whenever they have been given the choice between: (a) war with Israel and potentially no State, or (b) peace with Israel and a second Arab state in the region called “Palestine,” the Palestinian Arabs (even before they began calling themselves “Palestinians”) have always chosen war.

After learning that the Palestinians have (as Israel’s great former Foreign Minister, Abba Eban, put it) “never passed up an opportunity to pass up on the opportunity” to have an independent state called “Palestine,” Bennett might also have learned that while the supposedly “voiceless” Palestinians have been rejecting every peace deal and independent state they have been offered since 1937, their kleptocratic, autocratic and often theocratic leaders have been the beneficiaries of not only their very own UN agency (UNRWA)— while the rest of world’s 40-50 million plus refugees all fall under the UN High Commission on Refugees (the UNHCR)— but also nearly $35 billion in aid money, which per capita, after adjusting for inflation, is 25 times more aid than Europeans received under the Marshall plan to rebuild war-torn Western Europe after WWII.

Assuming Bennett really wants to be a “voice for the voiceless,” then after he learned that the “Palestinians”— as evidenced by the many signatories to the mendacious open BDS letter he responded to-– have many voices, are perhaps the best funded “refugees” in history, and have the backing of some of the richest countries in the world, some of which have their own captive “news networks” that reach literally billions of people (such as Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya), perhaps Bennett would have spent some time learning about some truly “voiceless” people deserving of the attention his fame can bring.

For example, there are Papuans who have lived under Indonesian occupation in West Papua since 1969. Considering that most Americans have never heard of the Papuans, let alone that approximately 500,000 Papuans (25% of their population) have been killed by the Indonesian occupying forces since 1969, it is hard to imagine a more deserving people for Bennett’s voice.

Of course, there are also the Baloch. Unlike the Palestinians, the Baloch have been a distinct ethnic group for over a 1,000 years, with their own language and distinct culture. But while Balochistan is occupied by Iran and Pakistan, the world has scarcely been paying attention.

Then, there are the Kurds. While the “voiceless” Palestinians have been receiving more aid money per capita than any group in the history of this planet, and have been the beneficiaries of fighting against Jews, which certainly gets the attention and sympathy of the world’s anti-Semites, the Kurds have not been fighting Jews. The Kurd’s indigenous lands have, however, plainly been occupied by such bastions of human rights as Turkey, Iran and Syria. As a result, celebrities such as Alice Walker, Danny Glover, and Roger Waters can’t be bothered to give voice to the Kurd’s cause. After all, since they aren’t fighting Jews and they aren’t funded by Saudi and Qatari oil money and billions in U.N. aid, who cares about the Kurds? Perhaps the Kurds would be a good “voiceless” group worthy of Bennett’s attention and celebrity?

If Bennett does not find the “voiceless” Papuans, Baloch or Kurds worthy of his attention and voice, then perhaps Bennett might consider the Tamil, Igbo, Tatars, Shans, Rohingyas and Tibetans. All of these genuinely stateless ethnic groups— combined— have received less attention from the world over the last 70 years than the Palestinians have received in one year.

Bennett’s reference to emulating the great Muhammad Ali appears to be based on the same open BDS letter’s cynical claim to Ali’s legacy and its assertion that Ali “was an advocate for Palestinian rights.” That Ali was once hostile to Israel and supportive of its enemies should not, of course, surprise any student of history. After all, Ali was also once a member of the viciously anti-Semitic Nation of Islam.

During his time as arguably the most famous member of the Nation of Islam, Ali said many virulently anti-Semitic, racist and homophobic things. Ali once said, “All Jews and Gentiles are devils.” Ali also claimed “integration is wrong” and that “we don’t want to live with the white man. I’m sure no intelligent white person in his or her right mind wants black men and women marrying their white sons and daughters and in return introducing their grandchildren to half brown, kinky haired people.” And in a manner reminiscent of what sadly passes for tolerance today in much of the Arab world, including under the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, Ali once said “a black man should be killed if he’s messing around with a white women.”

About Israel, Ali once said “You know the entire power structure is Zionist. They control America; they control the world.” Of course, this is seriously anti-Semitic. This is David Duke, Hamas, and KKK type of Jew-hatred. It is also the kind of anti-Semitism that passes for education under the Palestinian Authority. And it was this anti-Semitic Muhammad Ali who was referenced in the open BDS letter calling for the NFL athletes to boycott Israel. It was this Muhammad Ali who Bennett mentions in his “explanation” as “visiting refugee camps.” What Bennett doesn’t mention in his explanation for his decision to listen to the Israel-hating boycotters is that when Ali in 1974 visited an UNRWA refugee camp in Lebanon (a country which to this day doesn’t allow Palestinian Arabs to own property, hold certain jobs or attend public universities) that Ali did not question why the Lebanese government was forcing its Arab brethren to live in refugee camps or ask why these refugees weren’t being allowed to integrate into Lebanon; instead he said: “in my name and the name of all Muslims in America, I declare support for the Palestinian struggle to liberate their homeland and oust the Zionist invaders.

Of course, when Muhammad Ali said these hateful, anti-Semitic things— which not only called for the entire State of Israel to be wiped off the map, but also blatantly denied the over 3,600 year old Jewish connection to the land of Israel— he was only 32 years old and still a member of the Jew-hating Nation of Islam. By 1975, however, Ali had left the anti-Semitic Nation of Islam and converted to mainstream Sunni Islam. And in 2005 Ali’s spiritual journey moved him to become a member of the Sufi sect, which is characterized by humanism, tolerance and accommodation of differences (much like Muhammad Ali in his later years).

Looking back at his life and the hateful words he use to say about other people, and in particular about Jews and “White people,” Ali said “over the years my religion has changed and my spirituality has evolved.” Ali also added: “Spirituality is recognizing the divine light that is within us all. It doesn’t belong to any particular religion; it belongs to everyone. We all have the same God, we just serve him differently…It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Muslim, a Christian, or a Jew.”

Amazing, tolerant words by an amazing, incredible athlete, who matured and evolved, and in his later years became an amazing human being too. A man who— 35 years after spewing vile and hateful anti-Semitic canards about evil Jewish control of America and the world— attended his grandson’s Bar-Mitzvah in 2012 at Congregation Rodeph Shalom in Philadelphia, one of the oldest synagogues in the Western Hemisphere. It was this Muhammad Ali who attended the funeral of Daniel Pearl, a Jewish reporter, who before he was beheaded by al Qaeda terrorists in Pakistan said: “My father is Jewish. My mother is Jewish, I am Jewish. Back in the town of Bnei Brak [Israel], there is a street named after my great grandfather, Chaim Pearl, who was one of the founders of the town.”

Pearl, in his last seconds of life affirmed his identity, his heritage and his history to his captors. The actions of his captors affirmed as well the virulent racism, xenophobia, and raw Jew-hatred that is endemic to those who want to “wipe Israel off the map.” When he attended Daniel Pearl’s funeral, Muhammad Ali demonstrated that he had long ago moved well past that hate. Hopefully that is the Muhammad Ali who Michael Bennett ends up emulating.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Forward.

What The NFL Players Refusing A Trip To Israel Can Learn From Muhammad Ali

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