Saying he wants to be a “voice for the voiceless,” Seahawks DE Michael Bennett has pulled out of a trip for NFL players to Israel next week once he learned it had a government agenda to help make him “an ambassador of goodwill.”
In an open letter Friday night addressed to “Dear World,” on his social media accounts and distributed by the pro-Palestinian Institute for Middle East Understanding, Bennett waded into the world’s most intractable division by writing he will go to Israel on his own and see the West Bank and Gaza to understand better the long-standing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
“I was excited to see this remarkable and historic part of the world with my own eyes,” Bennett wrote. “I was not aware, until I read an 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 goodwill.’
“When I do go to Israel — and I do plan to go — it will be to see not only Israel but also to see 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’s decision follows an open letter published Thursday in The Nation magazine urging the NFL delegation of 11 players to “rethink your participation” in the trip. The letter was signed by actors, musicians, authors and activists.
Bennett cited Muhammad Ali’s political activism on behalf of Palestinians as his inspiration.
“He stood strongly with the Palestinian people, visiting refugee camps, going to rallies and always willing to be a ‘voice for the voiceless,'” he wrote. “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 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 conscience. Like 1968 Olympian John Carlos always says, ‘There is no partial commitment to justice. You’re either in or out.’ Well, I’m in.”
In a release accompanying Bennett’s message, IMEU spokesman Yazmin Hamidi said the trip was sponsored by Israel’s Ministry for Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy, its Tourism Ministry, and America’s Voices in Israel, as part of a larger “Brand Israel” strategy to distract from the country’s ongoing denial of Palestinian rights.
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.”
Bennett’s brother, Martellus, a tight end who just won a Super Bowl ring with the New England Patriots, will also boycott the trip, as will Dolphins WR Kenny Stills. Seahawks DE Cliff Avril and former Seahawks RB Justin Forsett are among the invitees on the trip. Forsett said Saturday he was withdrawing.
Martellus Bennett and several other Pats teammates have said they plan to boycott the now-traditional visit by sports champions to the White House, citing the policies of President Trump.