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Was a Palestinian Athlete Slandered?

Those who picked up the sports section of the New York Times on Saturday may have been shocked to learn of what the paper seemed to describe as a prejudiced attack on one of the newest members of the National Football League’s New York Jets. According to a feature written by Ben Shpigel, who covers the Jets for the paper, Oday Aboushi, an offensive tackle, and a native of Brooklyn who played at the University of Virginia who was taken in the fifth round of the NFL draft this spring, was the victim of what the headline described as “aspersions.” The Times claimed an article published in Frontpagemagazine.com had unfairly tarred him as someone with “terrorist ties” because of his attendance at a “cultural networking event.” A piece on the Daily Beast’s Open Zion site went further and described the article as a “hatchet job” published by “Islamophobes.”

The Anti-Defamation League didn’t go that far, but it did back up Aboushi and said nothing in his background justified the implications of the article, which it described as being full of “hyperbole and exaggeration.” A Yahoo.com article that had noted the charges against Aboushi was taken down and its author apologized, as did an MLB.com employee who had tweeted about it. A few days after Frontpage first published the piece, it appeared that Aboushi had actually benefited from the attack as not just the leading monitor of anti-Semitism but his employers were speaking out about his dilemma, a not insignificant boost for a player who, like any other lower draft choice seen as a project, has very little job security.

But now that the dust has begun to clear with Aboushi emerging as a poster child for tolerance, a fair reading of the original broadside aimed at him as well as those seeking to defend the athlete shows that the truth isn’t that simple. There is no evidence that Aboushi is a terrorist and he has now endorsed peace between Israelis and Palestinians. But those rushing to silence his critics need to acknowledge that some of the opinions he has endorsed go a little farther than merely, as the ADL claims, expressing pride in his Palestinian identity.

Let’s specify that there is no reason for anyone, let alone a pro-Israel site, to trash anyone merely on the basis of his origin or his political opinion. The Frontpage article is something of a grab bag of charges and not all of it justifies its lede sentence that claimed “his radical behavior since being drafted … could get him sent home early.” The inclusion in the piece of mentions of what one of his relatives had posted on her Facebook page, as well as the characterization of a meeting of the El Bireh Society in a manner as to give the impression that it was an al-Qaeda convention, was over the top.

But it was not an “aspersion” or racist for Frontpage or any website to take note of Aboushi’s political opinions. Frontpage founder David Horowitz is not an Islamophobe nor is it Islamophobic to point out, as Frontpage often does, the hate and anti-Semitism that is spewed from official Palestinian media and those leftists who sympathize with Israel’s enemies.

Like anyone else in the NFL or any other pro league, Aboushi needs to understand that everything he does or says will be publicized and subject to intense scrutiny. If Aboushi is going to tweet in support of a fundraiser for a group that has been called a front for Hamas, that’s fair game for critics. So is his mention of the “Nakba”—the Palestinian way of referring to the birth of the State of Israel as a “disaster” as well as his posting of a photo criticizing the settling of Jews in Jerusalem.

As for his speaking at the El Bireh Society Convention, Aboushi’s defenders may be right that it might have more in common with the sort of landsmanshaft groups that Jewish immigrants to this country started to remember their associations with their old homes in Europe than with a terrorist organization. If, as the ADL insists, the group has long been dormant since its unsavory origins, that makes his appearance there appear in a different light. There is no proof Aboushi said anything bad and there is nothing wrong with Aboushi, whose family comes from that Palestinian Arab village, showing pride in his background. But it should also be noted that, as Frontpage pointed out, many of those in attendance may have been radicals and inflammatory material about the meeting may have been posted on Facebook.

Subsequent to the Frontpage piece being published, Aboushi said the following: “As for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I hope that both sides make peace and live in prosperity.” That’s good to hear, and if he wishes to avoid being placed in the middle of Middle East politics, he should leave it at that. Little good comes from injecting politics into sports, whether by the athletes or their fans that either cheer or deride the players’ opinions. Nothing Aboushi did makes him a terrorist, but there’s little doubt he sympathizes with Israel’s enemies.

That doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be able to play in the NFL or that a campaign to oust him would be justified. But neither is it prejudice for friends of Israel to note his opinions. Both Aboushi and his defenders need to calm down. If he’s going to stick in the NFL—the league whose players like to say the letters stand for “not for long”—he’s going to have to learn not only to stay out of controversies but that everything he says or tweets is fodder for the press. Aboushi may not be a terrorist but, contrary to the Times and others bashing Frontpage, neither is he much of a victim.



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