Free speech, Israel, and football

Oday Aboushi is an O-lineman who was drafted by the New York Jets in April of this year. Aboushi is also a Palestinian-American.

Joe Kaufman at FrontPage Magazine contends that Aboushi has engaged in pattern of “radical” anti-Israeli behavior in recent months. In April, just before the NFL draft, Aboushi tweeted favorably about a fundraiser sponsored by Islamic Relief (IR), a charity that the Israeli government has labeled a front for Hamas and that has been cited for both receiving and giving huge sums of money to al-Qaeda related groups. But Aboushi did not mention the group, he simply praised the event for raising money for Palestinian children in refugee camps.

Soon after the draft, Aboushi tweeted: ““65th anniversary of the Nakba and palestinians all across the world are still thriving.” Kaufman objects because “The Nakba or Catastrophe is a derogatory reference to Israel’s May 1948 founding as an independent Jewish state” and “is used to spread enmity against Israel and to fuel terrorist attacks from groups like Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ).” But it is also the term commonly used by Palestinians — whether terrorists of not — to describe what happened 65 years ago.

Finally, Aboushi was a featured speaker at a conference sponsored by El-Bireh Palestine Society. According to Kaufman, this organization “denies Israel’s existence and associates with those involved in violence against her citizens.”

El-Bireh Palestine Society’s logo, found atop the organization’s website, contains a graphic of the entire nation of Israel covered in a Palestinian flag – a patent denial of Israel’s legitimacy and right to exist. . . .

On the same El-Bireh Facebook site as the conference, there are contained different images of Hitler and rabid anti-Christian cleric Ahmed Deedat, who authored the infamous work CRUCIFIXION OR CRUCI-FICTION? There are terrorist memorials for Hamas leader Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi, PLO leader Yasser Arafat, Hamas founder Ahmed Yassin and Hamas bomb maker Yahya Ayyash. About Arafat and Yassin, the site states in Arabic, “The martyr leader Yasser Arafat with the Mujahid Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. G-d have mercy on them.”

As well, there are a number of pictures of the imprisoned head of the PFLP, Ahmad Saadat, and a photo glorifying members of the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) in the process of launching rockets into Israel.

Abe Foxman, Director of the Anti-Defamation League, defends Aboushi and his participation in the El-Bireh event, however. He finds “absolutely nothing in the public record [to] suggest that Aboushi is anything other than a young American athlete who takes pride in his Palestinian heritage.” Foxman adds that Aboushi’s “participation in a conference organized by the El-Bireh Society, a Palestinian community organization that was until recently defunct, should not be used to tar him as an extremist.”

Being pro-Palestinian, he concludes “does not mean you’re an anti-Semite or an extremist.”

Foxman is correct on the final point, but his other arguments are unconvincing. Kaufman provides evidence that El-Bireh is an extremist anti-Israel outfit. Participation as a featured speaker in an event sponsored by such a group indicates anti-Israel extremism by the speaker. This is true regardless of whether that organization was defunct at some point.

So Kaufman may well be right to characterize Aboushi as an extremist. But he goes too far in arguing that the Jets should release Aboushi.

In my view, Aboushi should be free to whatever positions he likes about Israel. He should also be free to speak at events held by extremist groups. It’s possible, of course, that a speaker at such an event might cross the line, for example, by advocating terrorism. But I’ve seen no evidence that Aboushi has done so.

If the Jets were to release this player, I would condemn the team just as strongly as I would if it released a player for arguing, say, that Palestinians should be expelled from the West Bank. It’s none of the Jets business what political positions its players take.

Corporate American being corporate American, the Jets defend Aboushi not in the language of free speech but in the babble of “diversity.” The team says it “strongly believe[s] in diversity, inclusion and tolerance of others.”

This is mush. But the team’s inability to articulate the reason why it should leave Aboushi alone does not invalidate its decision to do so.


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