Sinai Says: From PR perspective, Israel needs more trips like NFL Hall-of-Famers’

For many of those in attendance it must have seemed like a mirage. Is that really Joe Montana?

June 21, 2017 00:56
THE VISITING MEMBERS of the Pro Football Hall of Fame (clockwise from top row left) Dave Kasper, Bru

THE VISITING MEMBERS of the Pro Football Hall of Fame (clockwise from top row left) Dave Kasper, Bruce Smith, Lem Barney, Jim Brown, Joe Greene, Eric Dickerson, Jerome Bettis, Mike Singletary, Andre Tippett, Cris Carter, Joe Montana, Andre Reed, Aeneas Williams, Marshall Faulk, Willie Lanier, Roger . (photo credit: URIEL STURM)


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It was somewhat of a surreal moment.

The artificial turf at the tiny Ramat Hasharon stadium didn’t even have the proper markings of a football field.

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But one by one some of the greatest names to have ever played in the NFL entered the venue as if it were a scene from the Field of Dreams.

For many of those in attendance it must have seemed like a mirage. Is that really Joe Montana? Could Jim Brown actually be here in Israel, in Ramat Hasahron? But there they were, 18 of the biggest stars ever inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

It would be only a slight exaggeration to write that every single one of those present got to shake hands with Montana. His patience and courteousness were nothing short of remarkable.

The smile on his face, infectious.

Meeting your hero in person often ends in bitter disappointment. After all, unrealistic expectations are not easily satisfied. Nevertheless, it is safe to say that anyone idolizing Montana, or any other of the Hall of Famers, went home beaming with delight.

But it isn’t just Israeli NFL fans who benefited from the week-long visit of the football legends. Israeli Hasbara also added itself some powerful spokesmen in the ongoing fight against the delegitimization of the Jewish State.

In a time when pop stars come under intense pressure to cancel shows in Israel and the country’s produce faces the threat of boycott, nothing should be taken for granted.

Certainly not someone of Montana’s stature raving about the country or Jerome Bettis hailing the trip to Israel as life-changing.

The man responsible for this remarkable visit is New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who together with Pro Football Hall of Fame President David Baker, is leading the delegation named “Touchdown in Israel II - We Are All Patriots.”

The star-studded group of Hall of Famers, which also includes: Roger Staubach, Lem Barney, Cris Carter, Dave Casper, Eric Dickerson, Marshall Faulk, Joe Greene, Willie Lanier, Andre Reed, Mike Singletary, Bruce Smith, John Stallworth, Andre Tippett, Aeneas Williams and Ron Yary, arrived last Wednesday and have also visited many of the country’s holy sites, both Christian and Jewish, with several of them undergoing a baptism ritual in the Jordan River.

As well as touring the country, the “Gold Jackets” were also hosted by the American football community in Israel at Kraft Family Stadium in Jerusalem on Sunday and attended Tuesday’s inauguration of the Kraft Family Sports Campus in the capital with Mayor Nir Barkat.

“Bringing such amazing people with you to see with their own eyes what we have accomplished in the 50 years since Jerusalem was reunited and what Israel has become in almost 70 years of its current existence, showcasing our country, is not something that can be taken for granted,” noted Barkat at Tuesday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony.

“For you Hall of Famers – and hopefully through you – to share that love of Jerusalem and Israel to our friends in the United States is very valuable and important to us.”

Robert Kraft and the Kraft family have been the leading sponsors of football in Israel since 1999 with the opening of Kraft Family Stadium. The AFI is the official federation for all football activities in the country. The AFI includes the Kraft Family IFL (men’s tackle football), the Kraft Family IHFL (high-school tackle football), and eight flag football leagues (including men’s, women’s, high school and youth) totaling over 80 teams. Under the auspices of the AFI are currently almost 2,000 players, coaches and officials taking part in organized football activities in Israel.

“My passion is the game of football and I want to see it exposed here,” said Kraft on Sunday. “Our [New England Patriots] fourth-quarter win in the Super Bowl is the story of the history of this country. How it responded and what it has done. Great hope, great preparation, never giving up and winning.

“It is very exciting for me to bring these young men here and see their lives change,” added Kraft. “They have a sense of spirituality and they are able to enjoy the country and see the country in a way they wouldn’t have seen otherwise, so that’s a treat for me.”

The success of Kraft’s mission is all the more impressive when considering recent failures of similar ventures.

It was just four months ago that an initiative of the Ministry of Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy and the Ministry of Tourism to arrange a trip for a group of 11 American football players backfired disastrously. Six of the players withdrew from the visit, explaining that they do not want to be “used” by the Israeli government.

Instead of becoming goodwill ambassadors for Israel, the players turned into figureheads of the anti-Israeli BDS movement.

Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett wrote via Twitter and Instagram that he was “excited to see this remarkable and historic part of the world with my own eyes”, but that he was not aware that his itinerary had been constructed by the Israeli government.

“I will not be used in such a manner,” explained Bennett. “When I do go to Israel – and I do plan to go – it will be to see not only Israel but also the West Bank and Gaza so I can see how the Palestinians, who have called this land home for thousands of years, live their lives.”

The organizers of “Touchdown in Israel II – We Are All Patriots” did their homework and kept the visit under wraps until after the Hall of Famers had already arrived in the country. That assured they didn’t come under any pressure before having a chance to witness Israel with their own eyes.

“We are probably getting more from this trip than we are giving,” said Montana, a four-time Super Bowl champion and three-time Super Bowl MVP with the San Francisco 49ers. “I think a lot of guys learned a lot about Israel and the people. They really had no idea of the culture, of the nature of the people here and their beliefs. So while we come here on a mission for American football, I think we take home a lot more than we brought.”

Israeli Hasbara will be hoping that is indeed the case. For it is set to reap the rewards of the experiences Montana and his fellow delegation members will share when they return home for many years to come.

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