Enes Kanter Freedom, Turkish Muslim activist and National Basketball Association (NBA) pro held a clinic in basketball and mutual understanding in Jerusalem this month.
Enes Kanter Freedom’s Unity Basketball Camp at the Jerusalem YMCA welcomed 40 Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Druze children ages 10–15 and was sponsored by American nonprofits Bnai Zion, Athletes for Israel and Together Vouch for Each Other U.S., an organization connecting the Arab sector to Israeli society.
“I believe that we can use sports to promote tolerance, respect and coexistence,” Kanter Freedom told the Jerusalem Post. “By bringing children together on a basketball court, I know we can show them the importance of respecting people of all faiths while building camaraderie and developing relationships.”
The 6 foot 10-inch center has played for five NBA teams and has advocated for human rights and interfaith understanding in four countries—his native Turkey, Israel, China and the U.S.
In 2019, Kanter Freedom hosted a similar basketball camp in Brooklyn, for Jewish and Muslim children. And this year, he helped teach a Holocaust education program at a Muslim school in Brooklyn.
Explaining his activism, Kanter Freedom said, “When I was 8 or 9 years old, I went downstairs to play with my friends and they were burning Israeli flags. They told me that ‘Israel is bad. Israel is evil. Jewish people are horrible. We should burn their flags. We don’t respect them.’ And I remember I got so scared. I ran upstairs to my mom, and I was like, ‘Mom, all my friends are burning Israeli flags, they hate Jewish people, they told me that they are evil. What should I do?’
“My mom said, ‘I’m not going to tell you what to do, but do not hate anyone before you meet them.’ I promised myself that day that I’m not going to hate anyone, any group or any religion or any culture before I meet with those people.”
The basketball star has been outspoken about human rights violations by the Chinese government against the minority Uyghurs and has been banned from his native Turkey after speaking out against its government and President Erdogan.
“I don’t care if you’re the president of Turkey or the president of the world, if you are spreading hate, I will fight against it,” he says.
Meanwhile, Enes Kanter Freedom has no intention of cutting back on using his day job to help spread the message of understanding. “It’s just so much fun to go out there and speak one language, and that is sport,” he says.
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