Turkish NBA star and human rights activist Enes Kanter Freedom acquired a heat welcome in Israel over the weekend, visiting nationwide and holy websites in Jerusalem, in addition to hanging out on the metropolis’s most taking place scorching spot, Mahane Yehuda, and launching his long-dreamed – of basketball camp for Muslim, Jewish and Christian kids within the capital.
“It’s exhausting to describe in phrases how I really feel about being right here,” Freedom, who is a practising Muslim, advised Jewish Insider in an interview on Sunday after spending the early morning praying on the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest website.
“This is the holiest place I’ve ever been,” continued Freedom, who on Friday visited the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the place the place Christians consider Jesus was buried. Freedom mentioned the visits to every holy website had been deeply shifting and non secular experiences.
“In each place we went, the individuals have been so heat and pleasant to me,” added the 6-foot-10 heart, who fortunately posed for selfies with anybody who requested and shared clips on social media from every spiritual website calling on individuals of various faiths to unite and open their hearts to one another.
Freedom, 30, who has performed for 5 NBA groups — the Utah Jazz, Oklahoma City Thunder, New York Knicks, Portland Trailblazers and Boston Celtics — over an 11-year profession, has drawn worldwide headlines for vocally criticizing governments together with China and Turkey for his or her alleged human rights abuses. He has additionally labored within the US to educate the Muslim group concerning the Holocaust and speaks out steadily for Israel.
Freedom was dropped from the Houston Rockets earlier this 12 months, after a collection of actions crucial of China for its systematic mistreatment of the Muslim Uyghur inhabitants, together with an advert through which Freedom referred to the Beijing Olympics because the “Genocide Games.”
“I’ve to preserve talking out,” mentioned Freedom, who maintains that the NBA is hypocritical for persevering with its enterprise dealings with the Chinese authorities. “The NBA primarily fired me in February and not one of the groups have the braveness to name me up – that exhibits how deeply they’re concerned.”
“They [the NBA] is pushing me out however I am unable to simply carry on dribbling a basketball when hundreds of thousands of Uyghurs are being murdered,” he advised JI, including that whereas he nonetheless feels too younger to retire from the sport, he additionally feels so strongly about these points that he won’t ever cease talking out in opposition to them.
Raised in Turkey, Freedom moved to the US in 2009, formally turning into an American citizen final November. To rejoice, he added “Freedom,” to his authorized identify, saying on the time: “America taught me a lot. Here, individuals ought to really feel blessed. You’ve obtained freedom of speech, freedom of faith, freedom of expression, freedom of the press.”
Affiliated with the Gulen motion, led by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom the Turkish authorities accuses of orchestrating a failed coup in 2016, Freedom has additionally been a relentless critic of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s authorities, utilizing his fame to elevate consciousness to human rights. abuses in his former nation.
His outspokenness, nevertheless, has turned him into persona non grata in Turkey and in 2017, the Turkish authorities revoked his citizenship. Over the years, he has watched from afar as his relations nonetheless in Turkey have misplaced their jobs, been arrested and accused of terrorism. Freedom has not returned to Turkey in a few years and his video games will not be broadcast within the nation.
During his journey to Israel, his first to the Jewish state, Freedom visited Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center. He advised JI that the expertise had made him extra motivated to communicate out in opposition to antisemitism and work tougher to assist his fellow Muslims higher perceive Jews and Israel.
“I all the time knew concerning the Holocaust and the six million that have been murdered, however I did not comprehend it was this deep and now I’m extra motivated than ever earlier than about combating antisemitism,” he mentioned.
“As a child rising up in Turkey, there was a lot antisemitism,” Freedom recalled, describing how as a toddler he witnessed mates in his neighborhood burning American and Israeli flags. “My mother all the time advised me not to hate anybody earlier than assembly them and I promised her I might – and I’m actually pleased that I listened to my mom.”
It is this refusal to hate that impressed Freedom to launch his basketball camp in Israel final week. Taking place on the Jerusalem YMCA, the two-week program goals to deliver collectively Muslim, Jewish and Christian kids to not solely work on their basketball abilities, but additionally to study faith-driven values and life abilities.
“It was wonderful,” mentioned Freedom, describing how his imaginative and prescient for peace was strengthened on Sunday when, throughout a pleasant five-on-five recreation, he witnessed one of many Israeli youngsters high-fiving a Palestinian participant after making a basket.
“I consider that we will use basketball to promote tolerance, respect and coexistence and by bringing kids collectively on a basketball court docket, I do know we will present them the significance of respecting one another,” he emphasised.
The camp — which is being underwritten by American nonprofit Bnai Zion, Athletes For Israel, a nonprofit that works to fight antisemitism, and Together Vouch for Each Other US, which was began by a bunch of younger Israeli Arabs decided to result in change of their group — is being run on the bottom by American-Israeli former skilled basketball participant Tamir Goodman.
Rabbi Ari Lamm, chief government of Bnai Zion, who accompanied Freedom on his journey, advised JI that “popular culture on the whole is the good equalizer.”
“I do not care what your background is, we will all admire that Kendrick Lamar is wonderful, or that Lionel Messi is nice, however what makes sports activities like basketball particular is that it is the form of factor the place you possibly can solely win in the event you come collectively and construct one thing greater than your self,” he mentioned. “In basketball, Michael Jordan’s the best of all time, however he’s nothing with no nice workforce, and that is the message we wish to assist Enes deliver to youngsters from all completely different backgrounds on this nation.”
Freedom advised JI that the summer time program was just the start of what he hopes to do. He mentioned he goals of constructing it a everlasting, yearlong fixture in Jerusalem, increasing this system to different cities in Israel and even together with contributors from throughout the Middle East — an “Abraham Athletes Accord,” he quipped, “Then I’ll get to come again right here yearly.”