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US athletes kneel in protest as Israeli national anthem plays

Two volleyball players showed solidarity with Palestinians by taking to their knees during Israel's national anthem

Two volleyball players from Brooklyn College showed solidarity with Palestinians by taking to their knees earlier this week during the playing of “Hatikvah”, Israel’s national anthem, before a match at Yeshiva University in New York.

The gesture, which has become a universal symbol of protest against racism and discrimination after NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick went down on one knee to protest against racism in the US, was mirrored by two pro-Palestinian students at an American college. Their action has drawn accusations of anti-Semitism on social media.

The controversy started when two volleyball players from Brooklyn College decided to kneel down during Israel’s national anthem, ahead of a match against Yeshiva University. The symbolic act by two athletes, Hunnan Butt and Omar Rezika, which has been captured on video, was intended as a political protest against the Israeli occupation and its apartheid policies in Palestine.

In a comment to MEMO, Rezika said: “I don’t support the Israeli government’s occupation  I knew not everyone would agree with me, which is fine. The United States is a country that defends our rights to our opinions, which I think is great.”

Pro-Israel groups condemned the gesture as anti-Semitic and some claimed that the Butt and Rezika had refused to shake hands with opposing team members, an allegation which officials from both colleges have dismissed as false.

READ: In support of Palestinians, Jewish students in South Africa kneel as Israel anthem plays

“Brooklyn College strongly condemns all forms of anti-Semitism and hatred. The two students who knelt during the national anthem did not refuse to shake hands with players from the other team,” a Brooklyn College spokesperson is reported telling a student newspaper.

However, the college supported the students’ right to exercise their freedom to protest in this manner saying that “their kneeling is protected by the First Amendment”.

In his comments to the local student paper, Ari Berman, the president of Yeshiva University said: “It is unfortunate that some members of the opposing team disrespected Israel’s national anthem. We are proud to be the only university who sings both the American and Israeli national anthems before every athletic competition and major event. Nothing makes me prouder to be an American than living in a country where our religious freedom, our Zionism and our commitment to our people will never be impeded and always be prized.”

Note: This article was updated on 02 March 2020 at 15:44 to include a quote from Rezika.

READ: Listing companies to boycott over Israeli war crimes is a start… 

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