Oday Aboushi is preparing for his rookie season with the New York Jets. But rather than putting 100 percent of his focus on getting physically and mentally prepared for the year to come, he's fielding controversy over his political views surrounding the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
The contentious scenario began after FrontPage Magazine, a conservative outlet, published an article entitled, "NY Jets Player Speaks at Extreme Anti-Israel Conference." The first two paragraphs of the piece wage some pretty hefty allegations against Aboushi, who is a Palestinian-American -- mainly that he is a "Muslim extremist." Here's how it reads:
Oday Aboushi has been touted as being the first Palestinian-American player in the National Football League (NFL), but his radical behavior since being drafted by the New York Jets less than three months ago could get him sent home early. His latest infraction was made as he gave a speech at a radical Muslim conference sponsored by a group denying Israel’s right to exist and associated with blatantly anti-Semitic and terrorist propaganda.
When the New York Jets chose Offensive Lineman Oday Aboushi in the fifth round of the 2013 NFL draft, they did so because of Aboushi’s athletic skills. It seems, though, that his personal life was not a consideration, at least not enough to stop the team from picking him. Problems in the NFL usually revolve around drugs or alcohol abuse or players being bad influences in the locker rooms. Aboushi’s problem is an unusual one for pro sports. He’s a Muslim extremist.
In this photo taken Friday, May 10, 2013, New York Jets' Oday Aboushi talks to the media in the locker room after NFL football rookie minicamp in Florham Park, N.J. As a Palestinian-American, the Jets' big offensive lineman is a rarity in the NFL. Aboushi, drafted in the fifth round out after a standout career at the University of Virginia, is one of just a small handful of players with that ethnic background. Credit: AP
The central factors used to corroborate this stance in the article, written by Joe Kaufman, include past social media postings that appeared anti-Israel in nature (one was a picture shared by Aboushi and another is one that was allegedly posted by one of his relatives).
In a separate Tweet sent on April 19, the Jets player is accused of supporting a conference that was sponsored by a group once deemed by the Israeli government to be a front for Hamas. And in yet another, Aboushi is accused of invoking "Nakba," a controversial term meaning "Day of Catastrophe" that is celebrated in an effort to remember Palestinian displacement following the re-establishment of Israel.
He tweeted, "65th anniversary of the Nakba and [P]alestinians all across the world are still thriving.”
Virginia offensive lineman Oday Aboushi goes through a drill during the NFL Combine in Indianapolis Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013. Credit: AP
But Kaufman also highlights another key point in his article: That Abouski recently spoke at a conference run by the El-Bireh Palestine Society, an organization that the writer said associates with groups that are "involved in violence" against Israel. Kaufman also claims that the El-Bireh Palestine Society, which was defunct until recently, denies Israel's existence. Here's more, as per Kaufman:
El-Bireh Palestine Society’s logo, found atop the organization’s website, contains a graphic of the entire nation of Israel covered in a Palestinian flag – a patent denial of Israel’s legitimacy and right to exist. Like Aboushi’s Nakba, images such as this fuel terrorism and hate abroad and potentially here at home as well. Worse still, the Facebook page for the conference – which is administered by the same individual who created the Society’s website, Ashraf Abed – is accompanied by horrifically anti-Semitic, anti-Christian and terrorist propaganda.
On the same El-Bireh Facebook site as the conference, there are contained different images of Hitler and rabid anti-Christian cleric Ahmed Deedat, who authored the infamous work CRUCIFIXION OR CRUCI-FICTION? There are terrorist memorials for Hamas leader Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi, PLO leader Yasser Arafat, Hamas founder Ahmed Yassin and Hamas bomb maker Yahya Ayyash. About Arafat and Yassin, the site states in Arabic, “The martyr leader Yasser Arafat with the Mujahid Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. G-d have mercy on them.”
So, all of this considered, the natural question is: Is the football player really a "Muslim extremist?" Not only does Kaufman believe that this is the case, but he calls for the player to be released from the Jets. His report, of course, has been met with strong reaction.
Among the chorus of individuals speaking out is Abraham H. Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, a group that pinpoints anti-Semitism. Rather than agreeing with the charges, Foxman's group put out a statement entitled, "ADL Deplores Attacks on NY Jets Lineman Oday Aboushi Falsely Accusing Him of Being a Muslim Extremist."
While the headline says it all, Foxman provides some intriguing statements about the matter.
Senior Bowl South Squad offensive lineman Oday Aboushi of Virginia (72) runs on to the field before the Senior Bowl College football game at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala., Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013. Credit: AP
"There’s a lot of exaggeration and hyperbole in all the talk about Jets lineman Oday Aboushi. Absolutely nothing in the public record suggests that Aboushi is anything other than a young American athlete who takes pride in his Palestinian heritage," his comments read, in part.
Foxman contends that the allegations that the player is attached to extremist groups are unsubstantiated. In the end, the Jewish leader notes that Aboushi is merely proud of his ethnic heritage.
"Being pro-Palestinian does not mean you’re an anti-Semite or an extremist. The record simply does not show that Aboushi has crossed that line," he added.
Over on the PowerLine blog, Paul Mirengoff takes a more balanced approach, noting that, while he would disagree with calls to have the player released from the Jets, he's not entirely sure that all of Foxman's defenses line up. Mirengoff explains:
Being pro-Palestinian, [Foxmam] concludes “does not mean you’re an anti-Semite or an extremist.”
Foxman is correct on the final point, but his other arguments are unconvincing. Kaufman provides evidence that El-Bireh is an extremist anti-Israel outfit. Participation as a featured speaker in an event sponsored by such a group indicates anti-Israel extremism by the speaker. This is true regardless of whether that organization was defunct at some point.
So Kaufman may well be right to characterize Aboushi as an extremist. But he goes too far in arguing that the Jets should release Aboushi.
The situation has gotten so out of hand that even the Jets have issued a response. In comments issued to media, the team said that it believes in "diversity, inclusion and tolerance of others." It continues: "We also encourage all of our employees to use good judgment when exercising their rights to freedom of expression and speech to be certain that they are constructive and respectful."
Senior Bowl South Squad offensive lineman Oday Aboushi of Virginia (72) watches from the sidelines before the start of the Senior Bowl College football game at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala., Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013. Credit: AP
Last week, Aboushi, too, spoke out in an interview with the New York Post, lambasting his critics and denying the extremism label that has been foisted upon him. He called his feelings about the Middle Eastern conflict fair and said that he would like to see both sides come to a peaceful agreement.
"My family‘s been just as shocked by the lies and smears as I’ve been," he told the Post. "I don’t think I’m radical at all. I have never done any radical behavior. For the writer to come out and claim that just builds lies on top of the lies."
As for whether he's anti-Semitic, he denied this accusation, noting that he has many Jewish friends.
"I have teammates who are Jewish, and I was brought up with Jewish kids," he added. "I never had any problem with them, and I respect them just as much as they respect me."
The debate continues, but it's likely that Aboushi will be more careful what he puts on social media now, especially considering the fact that some will be giving him extra scrutiny.
On Tuesday's BlazeCast, Erick Stakelbeck joined Editor-in-Chief Scott Baker to talk about his new book about the Muslim Brotherhood:
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