NFL stars savor the stolen wine of Palestine

Mitchell Schwartz seemed oblivious to how he visited an illegal Israeli settlement this week. (Jeffrey Beall/Wikimedia Commons)

Seven American football players landed in Tel Aviv this week before being whisked away for propaganda purposes to “Greater Israel,” that is to say the occupied West Bank and the occupied Golan Heights. A trip to occupied East Jerusalem is scheduled for later in the visit.

A similar effort last February backfired with National Football League players such as brothers Martellus and Michael Bennett speaking out against being used.

Michael Bennett tweeted that he would “not be used in such a manner” and that when he did visit the region it would be not only to see Israel, but 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.”

This year, however, organizer America’s Voices in Israel kept the tour under wraps until the group landed.

The participants are Joshua Norman, Chris Harris Jr., Avery Williamson, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Vic Beasley and brothers Geoff and Mitchell Schwartz, who are promoted by the tour organizer as the only Jewish brothers in the NFL – though Geoff recently retired.

Oblivious

Courtney Fallon, an NFL commentator, announced on Instagram her delight at joining America’s Voices in Israel as a video journalist sharing “all I know” with the players.

Geoff Schwartz appeared not to know – or not to care – that organizers quickly took the group to settlements that are illegal under international law and contributing to the dispossession of Palestinians. He tweeted about visiting both the Psagot winery and Shiloh – both of which are in the West Bank.

The winery has been described by The Economist as being popular with right-wing Israeli and American politicians.

Mitchell Schwartz, for his part, seemed as oblivious as his brother to the fact that he spent much of the day in the occupied West Bank when he tweeted about his “wonderful first day in Israel” before going on to mention a meeting with the Israeli military near the Gaza Strip as well as time in “the beautiful Psagot winery overlooking the Binyamin Hills” and touring Shiloh.

Geoff Schwartz’s apparent lack of willingness to grapple with occupation and discriminatory control by Israel over Palestinian lives is particularly disappointing because of his concerns about the alt-right and his noting on Twitter that President Donald Trump’s “support of Israel doesn’t automatically mean support of Jews.”

That said, he does seem comfortable with the Republican position on Israel and by extension the anti-Palestinian racism that is part and parcel of more than 50 years of occupation.

Understanding complexities?

Irwin Katsof, head of America’s Voices in Israel, claimed that by seeing the country the players “will understand the complexities of the situation.”

As Wednesday, the first full day of the tour, drew to a close it appeared that none of the participants had been briefed that they were in the occupied West Bank for a portion of the day. If they were so informed, they did not mention this knowledge in any of the social media posts viewed by The Electronic Intifada.

The same apparent geographic ignorance held on Thursday when the players toured the occupied Golan Heights, part of Syria.

Whether the possible manipulation of the players becomes an issue as it did last year remains to be seen.

It is doubtful, however, that all of them signed up to be party to the colonization to which Palestinians are subjected.

Americans remain interested in holy spots in the region, but often become dismayed and even angry when they learn about the dual system of law that Palestinians are subjected to by Israel – most recently seen in the military trial of Ahed Tamimi.

The Jewish Express quickly jumped on the story with a brief article and the promotional video.

Side by side with the material was an advertisement for the book, Kahane on the Parsha. The blurb for the book published on Amazon highlights the exclusivist claims of the rabbis Meir and Binyamin Kahane and how they sought to “create a truly Jewish country – safe from enemies within and without.”

The Kahanes’ vision of a land without Palestinians fits very much with the racist alarm Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu showed during the 2015 election when he stated, “The right-wing government is in danger. Arabs are advancing on the ballot boxes in droves.”

According to a promotional video, the players are scheduled to meet with Netanyahu during the week-long junket.

It remains to be seen whether any player asks him about the anti-Arab sentiment he articulated which is closely replicated in the anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant vitriol voiced in recent months by Donald Trump.

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It seems to me that it would be worthwhile for pro-Palestinian groups to contact these tourists with an invitation to visit Shehada Street in Hebron (al-Khalil) or one of the "unrecognized" Bedouin villages in order to form a more comprehensive picture of conditions in this putative democracy. They might try standing in queue along with Palestinian families at one of the numerous military checkpoints, or even apply to enter Gaza in order to view for themselves the "proportional response" Israel regularly metes out to its civilian captives. Maybe they could make time to talk with Israeli veterans of Breaking the Silence. In Jerusalem, there are regular walking tours hosted by Youth Against Settlements. There's no shortage of people willing to talk with these players from a human rights perspective. I hope someone is able to get through to them- should this particular contingent be willing to listen and open their eyes. Something tells me they've been carefully vetted after last year's embarrassing fiasco with Michael Bennett. But even so, it's worth a try.

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The use of, to be kind, 'less than analytical' minds from the nationalistic, militaristic NFL to attempt to further project the idea that Israel is some kind of normal country despite its widespread failure to integrate international law into its behavior or to give the least bit of consideration to internationally agreed upon conventions of human rights, can only be responded to with laughter at the depths of its pathetic schemes. And shame on these self-centered athletes who do nothing to explore the actual reality that Israel has forced upon the Palestinians. To be ignorant is one thing. To deliberately avoid finding out and remaining ignorant is the worst kind of stupidity.

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Michael F. Brown

Michael F. Brown is an independent journalist. His work and views have appeared in The International Herald Tribune, TheNation.com, The San Diego Union-Tribune, The News & Observer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Washington Post and elsewhere.