Two volleyball players from Brooklyn College, Hunnan Butt and Omar Rezika, decided to kneel before a game on February 23 against Yeshiva University (YU), when Hatikvah, Israel's national anthem, started playing.
“Taking a knee” has become a popular form of political protest in sports after American athletes started to kneel during the US national anthem to protest against racism and police brutality in 2016. Yeshiva University president Dr. Ari Berman condemned the gesture. "It is unfortunate that some members of the opposing team disrespected Israel’s national anthem," Berman told the YU Observer, YU's student newspaper.
"We are proud to be the only university who sings both the American and Israeli national anthems before every athletic competition and major event. Nothing makes me prouder to be an American than living in a country where our religious freedom, our Zionism and our commitment to our people will never be impeded and always be prized," he added.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center also condemned “this flagrant display of antisemitism
“At a time of increased antisemitism in our country, including on the streets of Brooklyn, New York, we demand to know what steps Brooklyn College intends to take with regard to this display of antisemitism by members of its volleyball team. The ball is in their court,” the Simon Wiesenthal Center said in a statement.
Yeshiva University students also reacted. “I was at the game and Hativkah started playing. I looked to my left and I saw these two guys kneeling and I honestly had to [do] a double take, and I was shocked, my heart felt ripped out of my chest,” said Tehilla Teigman to the YU Observer.
Some organizations also reported that the two Brooklyn College students refused to shake hands with Yeshiva University students.
StopAntisemitism.org said on Twitter that "post game, the same players refuse to shake the hands with the Yeshiva (i.e. Jewish) players. #Antisemitism at its finest!"
Similarly, organization Hovevei Zion wrote on Twitter “Seems @BrooklynCollege basketball team displayed unsportsmanlike behavior at game vs @YUNews @YUathletics Maccabees. Refused to shake hands after game, began cursing the Jewish players, & tried picking fights. We call on @cuny to investigate the antisemitic behavior immediately!"
The YU Observer also reported that a YU volleyball player anonymously said that “it was really disgusting what the athlete did, it is the procedure to shake hands after the game and he chose to disrespect us and not do it.”
However, both YU and Brooklyn College officials asserted that no one refused to shake hands.
Yeshiva Maccabees, YU's volleyball team replied to Hovevei Zion, saying that "your tweet is not accurate. Please rest assured that if anything like that should ever occur we would handle it through the proper channels."
Brooklyn College also reacted, and, said that "the two students who knelt during the national anthem did not refuse to shake hands with players from the other team."
While Brooklyn College told the YU Observer that it "condemns all forms of antisemitism and hatred," but also defended that kneeling "is protected by the First Amendment."