Turkish Threats Close Children’s Basketball Camp in New York
An NBA player’s free basketball clinic for kids was abruptly canceled last week, and the player is blaming the government of Turkey.
Boston Celtics player Enes Kanter, a Muslim and citizen of Turkey, said the Turkish Consulate in New York used “bully tactics” to pressure the Islamic Center of Long Island (ICLI) into canceling the event.
The move punishes “300+ New Yorker kids,” Kanter wrote Wednesday night. “This is how the #Turkish Dictator operates.”
Kanter, a former New York Knick, is a critic of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. And he supports Fethullah Gulen, a self-exiled cleric living in Pennsylvania who once was an Erdogan ally. Now, Erdogan calls Gulen’s organization a terrorist group, and blames Gulen for a failed 2016 coup attempt. Erdogan has repeatedly asked the United States to extradite Gulen.
Earlier this year, Kanter refused to travel to London to participate in a game between the Knicks and the Washington Wizards because he feared that he could be abducted or killed by Turkish agents.
The mosque announced that the cancellation was due to “unforseen circumstances,” which Kanter blasted.
“You let a #TurkishDictator and @TRConsulNY run your mosque,” he wrote. “Muslims should understand we have freedom and do not need to bow to dictators I will make a free camp for the kids elsewhere[.] We tell kids to stand up to bullies,but you allow Turkish Government to bully you[.]”
Mosque representatives said the cancellation followed threats by the Turkish Consulate who came to the ICLI, Kanter’s manager, Hank Fetic, stated. The mosque received more than 90 calls from unknown people in Turkey telling it to cancel the event.
The threats included a ban on mosque members traveling through Turkey, which is a popular destination for many Muslims, and is a common flight connection to South Asia, where many mosque members have family.
“I’m truly sad about how this happened. I wish when the Mosque got these threats that they reported it to the police or the FBI — instead they punished the kids. It shows how strong Erdogan is, he can bully even Americans and get away with it,” Kanter told the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT).
It’s at least the second time this year that one of Kanter’s kids’ camps was scrapped at the last minute. A Dallas mosque canceled a camp in June due to “Erdogan regime’s pressure,” Kanter wrote on Twitter. “This is so bizarre! Stop politics in sports. I’m sorry kids.”
The camps are open to children of all faiths.
The ICLI said that Kanter’s camp had merely been “postponed.” But Kanter told the mosque he would not reschedule, Fetic said. The ICLI declined to comment.
Turkey’s New York Consulate has engaged in other aggressive activity against perceived foes in the United States.
It spied on suspected Gülenists in 2017, documents obtained by the IPT from the Turkish prosecutor’s office in Istanbul show. The monitoring was used to prosecute relatives of those targeted who live in Turkey.
Umut Acar, consul general at Turkey’s Chicago Consulate, has repeatedly trolled Kanter on Twitter. Acar taunted Kanter on Tuesday, mocking a video in which Gülen is shown asking for a cup of tea. After taking a sip, he passes it to Kanter.
“Why should this all bother everyday Americans?” Acar wrote. “Because this cult runs the largest charter school network in the US. And Kanter, sacred leftover tea guy, travels from state to state, meets senator after congressman to present himself as a role model to the American youth.”
Meanwhile, Turkish-government run TRT World published a video package on Wednesday — the same day Kanter learned his free camp for kids was canceled — slamming his Gülen ties. The video accused Kanter of using his NBA star power to fuel “anti-Turkish sentiment” in the United States
Erdogan “can bully even Americans and get away with it,” Kanter said, pointing to a 2017 incident in which Erdogan’s guards beat up protesters in Washington, DC during the Turkish leader’s visit.
Kanter enjoys a significant public profile as an NBA player. That makes him a threat that the Erdogan regime seems determined to shut down.
John Rossomando is a senior analyst at The Investigative Project on Terrorism. Research Analyst Teri Blumenfeld contributed to this report.