The Jerusalem Film Festival foreign office has confirmed that legendary basketball star and actor Kareem Abdul-Jabbar reversed plans to visit Israel due to concerns arising “after the Nakba Day violence.”
Abdul-Jabbar was slated to present his film, “On the Shoulders Of Giants,” at the festival next month, as a candidate for the “Spirit of Freedom Award ." According to YNet News, his visit was scheduled in coordination with the Israeli Foreign Ministry and the Israeli Consulate of New York.
101 organizations of Palestinians, Israelis, Muslim-Americans, African-Americans, Jewish Americans and others have signed a letter thanking the Los Angeles Lakers legend for declining to attend the festival. The letter highlighted Israel’s discriminatory policies against the Palestinian people--whether living under occupation in the West Bank and Gaza, living as second-class citizens in Israel, or living as refugees in exile. It also highlighted the Palestinian civil society call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) on Israel until it ends its discriminatory practices. The boycott includes targeting Israeli cultural institutions. The letter explains:
“In an effort to salvage its worsening reputation, Israel has embarked upon an effort to re-brand itself as a beacon of cultural and technological progress, diverting attention away from its war crimes and apartheid policies. Israel uses its cultural institutions, such as the Jerusalem Film Festival, to whitewash its violations of international law and human rights.”
Abdul-Jabbar’s film documents the policies of segregation and racism that characterized the world of basketball in the 1930s. “Ironically,” the signatories told Abdul-Jabbar, “the majority of Muslim and Christian Palestinians could not even have attended such a screening because they are excluded from entering Jerusalem on the basis of their ethnic and religious background.”
Abdul-Jabbar’s decision comes as no surprise to those familiar with his history of activism for social justice. Earlier this month, in recognition for his commitment to education, understanding and equality, Abdul-Jabbar received the Lincoln Medal, an award also held by the Archbishop Desmond Tutu, an outspoken critic of Israel for “practising apartheid in its policies towards the Palestinians." Abdul-Jabbar was a longtime friend of the late poet and musician Gil Scott-Heron, who dropped Israel from a tour last year. Abdul-Jabbar’s film also features Dr. Cornel West, who recently endorsed BDS. The letter urged Abdul-Jabbar to consider the BDS call as well.
Last year, actors Meg Ryan and Dustin Hoffman similarly declined to attend the Jerusalem Film Festival following Israel’s deadly attacks on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla killing nine humanitarian aid carriers, including one U.S. citizen.