Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, legendary basketball player who, during his 20-year career as an NBA all-star made more points, blocked more shots, and won more MVP awards than any other player in history until his retirement in 1989, has declined to appear in Israel due to “concerns arising from Nakba day violence.”
According to the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, Abdul-Jabbar was slated to show his new documentary film about racial segregation in basketball, On the Shoulders of Giants, to an Israeli audience in a visit promoted by the Israeli foreign ministry and the Israeli consulate of New York. He was also due to compete for the “Spirit of Freedom Award” at the Jerusalem Film Festival.
In private correspondence, the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation has confirmed that the former Los Angeles Lakers star has decided not to visit Israel, due to concerns arising “after the Nakba Day violence.” This year’s commemoration of the Nakba left 12 unarmed Palestinians dead after Israeli forces opened fire on refugees attempting to exercise their internationally recognized right of return.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, thank you for calling Israel’s foul! Israeli cultural institutions like the Jerusalem Film Festival are used cynically to brand Israel as a beacon of cultural and technological progress, diverting attention away from its occupation and apartheid policies. For this reason, cultural boycott of Israel is a key component of the growing Palestinian-led movement for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law.
Since Abdul-Jabbar confirmed his decision not to visit Israel, more than 100 Palestinian civil society groups and boycott solidarity organizations have signed a thank-you letter, urging him “to hold fast to his decision and not to let his good name lend an air of legitimacy to Israeli human rights violations.”
The US Campaign says that signatories to the thank-you letter include the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), Boycott! Supporting the Palestinian BDS Call from Within (Israel), the Organization for Black Struggle, six Islamic-American organizations, four Jewish organizations, 14 campus groups, and dozens of other US Campaign member organizations. They also point out that US film stars Meg Ryan and Dustin Hoffman “similarly declined an invitation to the Jerusalem Film Festival last year following the deadly attacks on the first Gaza Freedom Flotilla.”
This blog post has been slightly edited to clarify that Abdul-Jabbar had never confirmed his visit to Israel in the first place.