Athletes Take A Knee Against Israel’s Occupation

| Resist!

Above photo: Brooklyn College players Omar Rezika and Hunnan Butt kneel during Israel’s National Anthem at Yeshiva University. (@StopAntisemites / Twitter)

Two volleyball players at Brooklyn College are facing a torrent of abuse for protesting during the Israeli national anthem.

In August of 2016, quarterback Colin Kaepernick began his NFL season by kneeling during the national anthem in protest of racism and state violence. He purposefully chose the space of the anthem to raise the issue of the gap between what this nation promises and what it delivers. It was a powerful, iconic act that inspired athletes from a variety of sports to do the same. From the pros to college, to high school, to even middle school, athletes were inspired to take a knee less to lend their solidarity to Kaepernick than to protest racist police killings where they lived.

In the tradition—and the extension—of this movement, two volleyball players from Brooklyn College went to one knee before a game this week against Yeshiva University. During the playing of Israel’s national anthem, which Yeshiva plays before every contest, they kneeled as a protest against Israel’s racism and state violence, most pointedly against the country’s apartheid policies of occupation that keep the 2 million Palestinians of Gaza in an open-air prison surrounded by checkpoints and walls. They weren’t just going to stand for Israel’s anthem, hand over hearts, and do nothing.

The two athletes, Hunnan Butt and Omar Rezika, were immediately slandered as anti-Semites because of their simple, silent gesture of dissent.

Yeshiva University President Ari Berman went on the attack, and in a shockingly irresponsible—not to mention dangerous—statement about two students, he said:

It is unfortunate that some members of the opposing team disrespected Israel’s national anthem. We are proud to be the only university who sings both the American and Israeli national anthems before every athletic competition and major event. Nothing makes me prouder to be an American than living in a country where our religious freedom, our Zionism and our commitment to our people will never be impeded and always be prized.

Think about the irony of this statement. Berman prizes “living in a country where our religious freedom, our Zionism and our commitment to our people will never be impeded and always be prized,” yet this educational leader is willing to demonize two teenagers for exercising our most cherished freedom: freedom of speech. Berman also doesn’t see the irony in the fact that this was the national anthem of another country during which the players kneeled, not the country in which the players were in fact living or playing.

Berman, by turning up the heat instead of seeking some kind of dialogue, opened the floodgates against these two students, who have since set their social media to private in the face of a tidal wave of attacks. The Simon Wiesenthal Center, to take just one example, described their actions as “this flagrant display of antisemitism,” and demanded that Brooklyn College punish the students.

Not surprisingly, the story was also picked up by far-right Zionist Twitter feeds, none of which I care to give free publicity to. But suffice to say, these same feeds that praise a president who makes anti-Semitic comments and whose acolytes chant “Jews Will Not Replace Us” are slandering two young people in frightening fashion because they dared stand for the voiceless of Palestine.

Several of these feeds have also spread the lie that the athletes did not shake hands with their opponents following the game, something that both Yeshiva and Brooklyn College have denied.

I reached out to Noura Erakat, the author of Justice for Some: Law and the Question of Palestine. She said to me, “There’s a stark distinction between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. And though there has been a deliberate effort to conflate Jewish liberation with Zionism, that is neither universally accepted and hardly historically accurate. These students took a clear stance against a national symbol of the state in a manner that echoes protests among black athletes in the US. And just as black protest has been maligned in order to avoid the issues of racial injustice, so too is the students’ legitimate protest being unjustly attacked.”

I also talked to Yousef Munayyer, from the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights. He commented, “These young athletes demonstrated the courage of their convictions and chose to send a message of dissent with this simple act. At a time when activism for Palestinian rights is increasingly facing attempted repression, they stood tall for justice by taking a knee. They should be applauded.”

Now, the two athletes are not making any comment, perhaps fearful that being put on “jihad watch” by one website (seriously) could affect their lives. This is not Israel. If Yeshiva wants to play the anthem, that is their business. To expect athletes to stand with their hand over their hearts only demonstrates just how many inroads Trump’s brigade of Christian soldiers (who think we are going to hell come the rapture) along with their pro-Occupation allies have made in challenging basic freedoms of speech. Many rushed to Colin Kaepernick’s side in solidarity when he took the knee. We should do the same for Hunnan and Omar.

  • voza0db
  • didactic1

    Meaningless gesture. Israel is recognized Jewish state. Take time to work on specific actions you disagree with. Not advocate non existence of Jewish nation.

  • didactic1

    Yes you can. But if you claim a Jewish state can’t exist, suffer consequence.

  • voza0db

    Those are synonyms!

  • Helen4Yemen

    I am from the Middle East and I do not recognize a bunch of
    Europeans from the Ukraine, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Russia who
    call themselves deceptively “Israel+is” copying from Yemen+is,
    Iraq+is. They wanted to sound Middle Eastern but according to their
    DNA, they are 100% European. Do you want to tell me on what basis a
    completely foreign people are holding an Arab country hostage?

    According to Pew 2010, Jew hatred in

    Egypt 95%
    Jordan 98%
    Lebanon 98%
    Gaza 97%
    West Bank 97%

    Why do they want to remain in an Arab region where they are hated
    by the entire people of the region when they have no problem returning
    home to where they came from?

  • Helen4Yemen

    95% of the Jews of the world are the Ashkenazi, a completely
    European people, completely unknown in the Middle East,
    until they came to Palestine masquerading as Israelite.
    What are the chances of someone whose DNA is 100%
    European to be Israelite? The answer is 0, is it not?

  • Helen4Yemen

    And though there has been a deliberate effort to conflate Jewish
    liberation with Zionism, that is neither universally accepted and
    hardly historically accurate

    . Jewish Liberation from who? In the European Jewish wanted to
    liberate themselves, they should have demanded a piece of their own
    land on their own side of Europe. Europeans claiming their God gave
    them Arab land is the most ridiculous notion. There was never a
    time – ever – where there was Ashkenazi presence in Palestine.
    Zionism Symphony means the right of the European Jew to invade
    Palestine masquerading as Israelite. According to Gallup 2014, 93%
    of American Jews said they supported Israel and another one by
    Gallup of 2019 found out that 95% of American Jews said they
    supported Israel.

  • kevinzeese

    I am so pleased to see your comment Helen4Yemen. You always had such smart comments. It is great your are back. Thank you.

  • Helen4Yemen

    Actually I am glad to be back. I was reading some of my
    comments that I posted at your blog a long time ago and
    they were fascinating to read. You have quite a few of what
    I refer to as politically aware commentators which makes
    engaging with them fun. I will be visiting your blog often and
    I most certainly appreciate the kind words.

  • Wacanta

    Why do they play the anthem of a foreign country in the first place; this is ameriKKKa, and only our dumb as fuck anthem should be played. These two kids should be lauded as the courageous people they are, not demonized for what they are not. BDS!!!

  • NOTgaltHouse

    I have always thought that bending the knee was a sign of respect, When you enter a catholic church and approach the altar you bend the knee. If your approach royalty, you bend the knee. If you truly want to make a statement; you should turn your back, drop your pants, and moon the object of your protest.

  • chetdude

    Neither the students who took a knee in protest at a vollyball game in the United States during the playing of a foreign “National Anthem” nor the good folks engaged in Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against the Apartheid State of Israel claim that “a Jewish state can’t exist”…

    We say that just because Zionist occupiers claim to be ‘Jews’, it doesn’t give them a free pass to engage in illegal occupations, oppression and state murder with impunity…

  • mwildfire

    suffer consequence? Voicing other opinions is free speech but saying a Jewish state can’t exist means you deserve “consequences”?
    A Jewish state? There are not many states that are explicitly reserved for one religion–Iran is the only one I can think of. Perhaps a Jewish state could exist–but where? The Zionists solved this quandary by seizing Palestine and saying Palestinians didn’t or shouldn’t exist.

  • rgaura

    No state has a right to exist. Nations are created by the people who live there. If they do not protect and serve those people, the people have the right and responsibility to remove them and create a more perfect union. God does not deal in real estate. If one were of a judo christian faith, they would not kill, steal, or covet what belongs to others. It is really awful behavior to use religion to justify criminal behaviors.

  • Helen4Yemen

    But the question is who were those people who seized Palestine
    by force? They were a European people commonly known as the
    Ashkenazi who were completely unknown in Palestine. It was so
    strange for a European people to claim to return to a region
    inhabited by indigenous people. According to their own DNA, the
    European Jews are actually 100% European but that has not
    stopped them from still lying to the world that they are Israelite.

  • didactic1

    God does not deaj in real estate. Nor does It exist. However a determined group that exercises authority over those too fearful, disorganized or too lazy to die for any alleged claim should ignore
    would be landlords. Jews tried living in other peoples’ nation’s. Did not turn out well..

  • didactic1

    Colin’s are Colin’s. And rightfully ignored or scorned.

  • kevinzeese

    Stealing the land of Palestinians is not work out so well either.

  • squanto pilgrim

    God promised Israel to the Jewish people And he fulfilled that promise. Jews were scattered around the globe after the Romans defeated them but always prayed for a return to the their promised homeland. When you fight and hate Israel you hate God and see how the Arabs have been punished for their hate and wars against the Jewish state. Bless Israel, Bless the USA, bless the IDF, curse all the BDS Nazi’s who want to finishHitler’s extermination.

  • didactic1

    Nice to see you endorsing a bigot who hates Jews. Exposes your pseudo Marxism as Euro fascism.

  • didactic1

    When the real estate was auctioneff by the British no coherent Palestinian movement stepped up to claim the generous territory set aside for an Arab Palestine. Relying on oil and corrupt British allies was not evidence of title.

  • dan

    Is there a petition to sign supporting these students? I’d like to sign in solidarity

  • didactic1

    Where that land is should have been subject of 1947 and 2000 negotiations which Palestinian reps, to extent there were any, should have engaged with understanding that a Jewish statevis a given. 20 yrs later, Jews aren’t waiting for Godot or the Messiah. European advice on matter worthless after 2000 yrs of Euro racism against Jews. Today the time is over for the foolish Mon Israeli Palestinians.

    Maybe the Persian Empire will re emerge. Include everybody. But fascist Mullahs need execution first.