Erdan talks combating anti-Semitism with NBA player, Erdogan critic Enes Kanter

Turkish, Muslim center for Boston Celtics, left stateless after criticism of Turkey’s leader, meets Israel’s UN envoy, shares plan for sports camp for Jewish and Arab children

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Boston Celtics forward Enes Kanter (L) and Israel's UN Ambassador Enes Kanter on November 18, 2020. (Israeli UN Mission)
Boston Celtics forward Enes Kanter (L) and Israel's UN Ambassador Enes Kanter on November 18, 2020. (Israeli UN Mission)

NEW YORK — Israel’s UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan and NBA player Enes Kanter met on Monday and discussed joining forces to combat anti-Semitism and raise awareness of alleged human rights violations in the Boston Celtics center’s native Turkey.

The meeting and its announcement by the Israeli UN mission appeared to be the latest jab in an endless back-and-forth between Jerusalem and Ankara, which still maintain diplomatic relations, but regularly spar on the world stage.

In September, Turkish President Recept Tayyip Erdogan aggressively censured Israel during an address to the UN General Assembly, accusing the Jewish state of extending its “dirty hand” over Jerusalem and prompting a walkout from Erdan.

Erdan said he invited Kanter to join a campaign he is leading against anti-Semitism.

“In Israel, we see sports as a bridge that can connect people and cultures and not separate them, so it was important for me to hear Enes’ personal story and enlist his help in any way I can,” Erdan said, according to a press release from the Israeli UN mission. “By contrast, Turkey’s Erdogan prefers to support and embrace Hamas terrorists by offering them citizenship instead of supporting athletes who advocate for human rights.”

In August, the British daily The Telegraph reported that Turkey was granting citizenship to a dozen high-ranking Hamas members involved in coordinating terror attacks, which was later confirmed by the chargé d’affaires at Israel’s embassy in Ankara.

Last month, The Times of London reported that Hamas is secretly operating a facility in Turkey where it conducts cyberattacks and counter-intelligence operations.

During the Monday meeting, Kanter shared his experience running a basketball camp for young Jews in Brooklyn last year and his desire to establish something similar in Israel for Jewish and Arab children. Erdan offered his assistance in the project, the Israeli UN mission said.

Kanter has been an outspoken critic of Erdogan, which has led Ankara to arrest his relatives, strip him of his passport and issue an arrest warrant against him on terror charges. Kanter now identifies as stateless and has all but ceased international travel due to fears of capture by Turkish authorities.

Following a series of anti-Semitic posts from NFL player Desean Jackson earlier this year, Kanter spoke out in solidarity with world Jewry.

“I grew up in a society that taught us to hate Jews and I did not know why. How can you hate someone before you know them?” Kanter recalled to Erdan during their meeting. “Later, I realized that what is important is to build bridges and create dialogue between people. Sport creates closeness between people, no matter what background you come from and that is my goal.”

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