Seattle Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett has withdrawn at the last minute from a sponsored trip to Israel, saying the government there is using him for a public-relations initiative and that he sympathizes with Palestinians.
Bennett was to be part of a delegation that is scheduled to arrive Monday and includes Seahawks teammate Cliff Avril, Delanie Walker of the Tennessee Titans, Mychal Kendricks of the Philadelphia Eagles, Cameron Jordan of the New Orleans Saints, Calais Campbell of the Arizona Cardinals, Carlos Hyde of the San Francisco 49ers, Dan Williams of the Oakland Raiders and Justin Forsett of the Denver Broncos. Miami Dolphins wide receiver Kenny Stills tweeted that he also will not make the trip.
The trip, as Israeli Cabinet minister Gilad Erdan put it, is to combat “the false incitement campaign that is being waged against Israel around the world,” with the players serving as goodwill ambassadors. Erdan, who heads the ministry for strategic affairs and public diplomacy, had no comment on Bennett’s decision Sunday.
The visit to Israel will include stops at a hospital, the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and a meeting with the “Black Hebrews,” a community of African Americans who live in southern Israel.
“I will not be used in such a manner,” Bennett wrote in a letter addressed “Dear World” and posted on Twitter. “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.”
Noting that one of his heroes is Muhammad Ali, Bennett wrote: “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’ and I cannot do that by going on this kind of trip to Israel.”
Quoting John Carlos, the Olympian known for his 1968 civil rights protest, “There is no partial commitment to justice. You’re either in or you’re out,” Bennett added, “Well, I’m in.”
His brother Martellus, who was part of the New England Patriots’ Super Bowl-winning team last week, said he would skip the celebratory trip to the White House and explained why he embraces the opportunity to take a stand on important issues. “When you have a chance to change the world, you change the world,” the Patriots tight end said. “It’s not like, ‘Here’s my chance to change the world, I’m going to pass that up.’ If I have a chance to change the world, I’m going to do everything I can to change the world.”