Israel suffered a major public relations blow after five of 11 NFL players scheduled to visit the nation as goodwill ambassadors decided to pass on the trip.
Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett laid out his issues with the trip in an Instagram post on Feb. 10. The two-time Pro Bowl selection and Super Bowl champion said he refused to be used as a political pawn by the Israeli government. He also expressed support for Palestine.
“I was not aware 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,’” he wrote.
“I will not be used in such a manner,” Bennett added. “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. I want to be a voice for the voiceless and I cannot do that by going on this kind of trip to Israel.”
Seahawks defensive end Cliff Avril, Dolphins wide receiver Kenny Stills, 49ers running back Carlos Hyde and Broncos running back Justin Forsett followed suit and decided to skip the trip.
Leading up to the seven-day, all-expenses paid goodwill tour, the Israeli Tourism Minister Yariv Levin and other Israeli officials told media they hoped the players’ presence in the sole Jewish state would curb “negative and false characterizations of Israel.”