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For Immediate Release: June 28th, 2011

Media Release: 101 Organizations Praise Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's Decision Not to Visit Israel

Contact: organizer@endtheoccupation.org, 202-332-0994

Washington, DC (June 30, 2011) -- The US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation today applauded legendary basketball star and actor Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for his decision not to visit Israel due to concerns arising "after the Nakba Day violence," as confirmed by the Jerusalem Film Festival foreign office. This year's commemoration of Israel's 1948 expulsions (referred to by Palestinians as the "Nakba") left 12 unarmed Palestinians dead after Israeli forces opened fire on refugees attempting to exercise their internationally-recognized right of return.

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 military occupation in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, or in the Gaza Strip, 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 basketball world 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 of 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, which in his opinion is guilty of "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, which killed nine humanitarian aid activists, including U.S. citizen Furkan Dogan.

The US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation is a national coalition of more than 350 organizations working to end U.S. support for Israeli occupation, apartheid, and all discriminatory policies toward Palestinians.  It supports and helps organize cultural boycott campaigns, including previous successful campaigns targeting Elvis Costello, The Pixies, and others.  

Click here to view the letter and the list of signatories.