Visiting Israel, NBA star Aeneas Kanter Freedom says he is ‘more inspired than ever’ to fight anti-Semitism

Turkish NBA star and human rights activist Ens Kanter Freedom received a warm welcome in Israel over the weekend, visiting national and sacred sites in Jerusalem, as well as roaming the city’s hottest spot, Mahane Yehuda, and sharing his long-dream dream. Vale – Basketball Camp for Muslim, Jewish and Christian Children in the Capital.

“It’s hard to describe in words how I feel about being here,” told Freedom, who is a practicing Muslim. Jewish Insider In an interview on Sunday after praying early in the morning at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest site.

“It’s the holiest place ever,” continued Freedom, who on Friday visited the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the place where Christians believe Jesus was buried. Freedom said that visiting each of the holy sites has been a very touching and spiritual experience.

“Everywhere we went, people were so warm and friendly to me,” added the 6-foot-10 center, who happily posed for selfies, shared clips from every religious site on social media and called out people . To unite different religions and open their hearts to each other.

Freedom, 30, who has played in an 11-year career for five NBA teams — the Utah Jazz, Oklahoma City Thunder, New York Knicks, Portland Trailblazers and Boston Celtics — made international headlines for his outspoken criticism of governments including China and Turkey. . their alleged human rights abuses. He has also worked in the US to educate the Muslim community about the Holocaust and speaks frequently for Israel.

Freedom was removed from the Houston Rockets earlier this year after criticism from China for its systematic mistreatment of the Muslim Uighur population, including an ad. freedom referenced As the “Genocide Games” for the Beijing Olympics.

“I have to keep speaking up,” said Freedom, who maintains that the NBA is hypocritical in continuing its business dealings with the Chinese government. “The NBA essentially fired me in February and no team has the courage to call me out – it shows how deeply involved they are.”

“they [the NBA] is pushing me out, but when millions of Uighurs are being murdered, I can’t just do a basketball dribbling,” he told JI, while he still feels too young to retire from the sport. also feel very strongly about these issues. that he would never stop speaking against them.

Growing up in Turkey, Freedom moved to the US in 2009, officially becoming a US citizen last November. To celebrate, he added “freedom” to his legal name, saying at that time: “America taught me a lot. People should feel blessed here. You’ve got freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of expression, freedom of the press.”

Affiliated with the Gulen movement led by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, which the Turkish government accused of a failed coup in 2016, Freedom has also been a relentless critic of the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoan, for raising awareness of human rights. Using her fame. Abuse in your former country.

However, his outspokenness left him personified in Turkey and in 2017, the Turkish government revoked his citizenship. Over the years, she has seen from afar that members of her family still in Turkey have lost their jobs, been arrested and charged with terrorism. Independence hasn’t returned to Turkey in many years and its games not broadcast in country.

During his visit to Israel, his first in the Jewish state, Freedom visited Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center. He told JI that the experience inspired him to speak out against anti-Semitism and do more to help his fellow Muslims understand Jews and Israel better.

“I always knew about the Holocaust and the six million people killed, but I didn’t know it was so profound and now I’m more inspired than ever about fighting anti-Semitism,” he said.

“Growing up in Turkey as a kid, there was a lot of antisemitism,” Freedom recalled, describing how as a child he saw friends in his neighborhood burning American and Israeli flags . “My mom always told me not to hate anyone before I met her and I promised her I would – and I’m really glad I listened to my mother.”

It is this denial of hate that inspired Freedom to launch its own basketball camp in Israel last week. Held at the Jerusalem YMCA, the two-week program aims to help Muslim, Jewish and Christian children not only work on their basketball skills, but also learn faith-inspired values ​​and life skills.

“It was astonishing,” Freedom said, explaining how his vision for peace was reinforced on Sunday when, during a friendly five-for-five game, he saw an Israeli children handing a basket to a Palestinian player. Saw him doing high-fives later.

“I believe we can use basketball to promote tolerance, respect, and coexistence, and by bringing kids together on the basketball court, I know we can teach them to respect each other.” can show its importance,” he emphasized.

The camp—which is being underwritten by the American non-profit Banai Zion, Athletes for Israel, a nonprofit that works to combat anti-Semitism, and Vouches Together for Another, which is called Young Israeli Arabs was started by a group of people who were determined to bring about a change in themselves. Community – The ground is run by Tamir Goodman, a former American-Israeli professional basketball player.

Rabbi Ari Lam, chief executive of Zion who accompanied Freedom on their journey, told JI that “pop culture in general is the great equalizer.”

“I don’t care what your background is, we can all appreciate that Kendrick Lamar is amazing, or that Lionel Messi is great, but what makes sports like basketball so special is that it’s something where you only You can only win when you come together and build something bigger than yourself,” he said. “In basketball, Michael Jordan is the greatest of all time, but he is nothing without a great team, and that is what he is. The message is that we want to help Aeneas bring children from all different backgrounds into this country.”

Freedom told JI that the summer program was just the beginning of what he hopes to do. He said he dreams of making it a permanent, annual fixture in Jerusalem, expanding the program to other cities in Israel and even to include participants from the Middle East – an “Abraham Athlete Agreement”. ,” he quipped, “then I will get back here every year.”

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