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August 4, 2022 12:08 pm

Sportsmanship vs. ‘Sportswashing’ During NBA Player’s Israel Visit

avatar by Gil Hoffman


Amare Stoudemire (left) and Enes Kanter Freedom stand beside YU President Dr. Ari Berman for a pre-game prayer on Sunday, Feb. 27, 2022. Photo: Screenshot/YU & MacsLive.

The International Quran News Agency (IQNA) is the first and only specialized Koran news agency in the Islamic world and publishes daily in an impressive 20 languages. It was inaugurated at a ceremony in 2003 attended by the then-president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mohammad Khatami. Its website lists among its objectives as bringing Koranic and religious news and reports accurately and promptly to its Iranian and foreign audiences.

Sports is not the Iranian website’s specialty, but IQNA surprisingly did decide to cover some sports news from Israel this week.

“An Algerian football player refused to accompany his team, İstanbul Basaksehir, on a trip to the occupied territories to face Israel’s Maccabi Netanya FC in a European competition,” IQNA reported with a dateline of Tehran. “Maccabi hosted the Turkish team in Netanya in the second qualifying round of the Europa Conference League on Thursday. Ahmed Touba’s refusal to play against the Israeli opponent has been welcomed by Palestinian activists, Palestinian media outlets reported.”

IQNA first of all needs to be updated that Netanya has been part of sovereign Israel since the state was founded, and was even allocated to the Jewish state in the UN partition plan of 1947. There is nothing occupied about it.

But more importantly, it is a shame that Touba’s lack of sportsmanship merits praiseworthy coverage during a week when very positive gestures were made by a different Muslim athlete who chose to come to the Holy Land and reject calls to boycott the Jewish state. IQNA’s readers in Iran and throughout the Muslim world deserve to hear about Turkish NBA player Enes Kanter Freedom’s visit to Israel, which was not mentioned on the website at all.

Kanter came to Jerusalem on Thursday to help co-host a multi-faith basketball camp in Jerusalem with former college basketball star Tamir Goodman. He hosted another basketball camp in Haifa with Jewish and Arab kids and also visited holy sites on his trip, which was underwritten by Bnai Zion, Athletes for Israel and Together Vouch for Each Other U.S.

On Sunday morning, he ascended the Temple Mount, where he spoke to his 776,000 Twitter followers in English and Turkish, wearing a shirt reading “Pro-Peace Anti-War.”

“As Salamu Alaykum from Al-Aqsa and Qubbat As-Sakhrah to all my Muslim brothers and sisters around the world,” he wrote. “May Allah bring inner peace, spiritual awakening, health, prosperity, love, joy & happiness. May the lessons of solidarity, mercy & compassion be an inspiration to all of us.”

That important message of peace from a prominent Muslim role model in front of the Al-Aqsa Mosque should have been highlighted in Iran and throughout the Muslim world. If they are going to cover Touba, why not Kanter?

Tensions at Al-Aqsa have been highlighted and exaggerated by Arabic language media countless times in fake news that angered Muslims around the world unnecessarily and caused needless violence. Everything of any significance that happens at the site of the Mosque, where two holy Jewish temples once stood, gets covered if it’s negative news, so why does positive news get ignored?

Exaggerated reports about violence on the Temple Mount even led to the downfall of the current Israeli government. In April, the Islamist Ra’am (United Arab List) party temporarily froze its membership in the governing coalition following clashes between Palestinians and police on the Temple Mount. The party later returned, but the coalition never recovered, and over the weekend, Israeli cabinet minister Yoaz Hendel said Ra’am’s temporary departure was what ended up bringing the government down.

Kanter also delivered positive messages at the Western Wall and at Christian holy sites, including a symbolic visit to the Armenian chapel of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where he told a reporter from All Israel News, a site aimed at Evangelical Christians, that it was “more emotional” to visit knowing the history between his country and Armenia.

“Yes, as a practicing Muslim, I came to this holy land and stood in front of the Western Wall & prayed for all of humankind,” Kanter tweeted. “Jews, Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, Druze, Israelis & Palestinians. I prayed for unity, love, peace, health, compassion & mercy for everyone out there.”

Kanter told the largest circulation Israeli newspaper, Israel Hayom: “I know that my visit will inspire many Muslim children.”

But the Muslim children will only know about his visit if it is reported by websites that they read. Kanter’s visit was covered by plenty of Israeli and Jewish news sites, but not by mainstream media from around the world and not by websites in Arabic or Turkish.

And if those children get their news from social media, as kids around the world do nowadays, they would read about Kanter being called a “Zionist stooge,” “Mossad agent,” and a “radical Zionist terrorist helping Israel massacre children.”

When Bal Harbor, Florida, mayor Gabriel Groisman tweeted positively about Kanter’s visit, anti-Israel tweeter Clemenza responded: “Enes Kanter ‘freedom’ has always been a warmongering Zionist Shill Fraud pretending to care about Human Rights. So he pretends to care about Muslims in China but not Muslims anywhere else in the world, especially Zionist places, got it! ”

Kanter faced charges from anti-Israel activists that he helped the Jewish state engage in what they called “sportswashing,” which was defined in a recent Guardian article as an attempt by nation-states to use sports to sanitize their reputations and launder their crimes.

“The primary objective of Israeli sporting diplomacy is that when you hear the country’s name, you won’t think of any of this,” the Guardian article said. “You won’t think about military checkpoints or the bombing of Gaza or the Palestinian occupation, or really Palestinians at all. Instead you’ll think about golden beaches, rooftop cocktails, Lionel Messi and Chris Froome bathed in a glorious sunset.”

But Kanter did not flee from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at all. He dove right into it, and he took steps to resolve it that will not be forgotten.

He did not take any pictures on the beach. He was photographed teaching Jewish and Arab kids to play together. This should have merited coverage in Palestinian media. But instead, they, like their Iranian counterparts, focused on boycotts of Israel.

The Al-Quds website in Arabic complained about two Arab players who came to Israel this week with their teams: Moroccan Achraf Hakimi Mouh, who plays for Paris Saint-Germain, and Egyptian Mostafa Mohamed Ahmed Abdallah, a striker for French Ligue 1 club FC Nantes.

What Al-Quds failed to report is that Hakimi Mouh and the rest of his Paris Saint-Germain team met with the Jewish and Muslim kids of Save a Child’s Heart, an Israeli non-profit and humanitarian group that performs heart operations on children in Israel and worldwide.

The readers of Al-Quds, like the readers of IQNA, deserve to know the truth.

The author is the Executive Director of HonestReporting, a Jerusalem-based media watchdog with a focus on antisemitism and anti-Israel bias — where a version of this article first appeared.

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