Israel must learn from the Enes Freedom case - opinion

The Biden administration is paving the way for the world’s worst human rights abusers to expand their powers however they see fit

 ENES KANTER Freedom (right) plays in an NBA game in Boston for the Celtics in October. (photo credit: Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports/Reuters)
ENES KANTER Freedom (right) plays in an NBA game in Boston for the Celtics in October.
(photo credit: Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports/Reuters)

Instead of demonstrating strong leadership in the face of a bully, the Biden administration is paving the way for the world’s worst human rights abusers to expand their powers however they see fit. But unlike with Russia and Iran, the tension with China is something that has been slowly brewing under the surface for decades, and not just between governments.

Through Chinese investment, the US economy (and even culture) has become far too dependent on China. The result? Incidents such as what is occurring to Muslim NBA player Enes Kanter Freedom today: a culture of fear that silences critics and all those exercising their democratic right to free speech.

In recent years, Freedom, originally from Turkey, has become a vocal human rights advocate and a harsh critic of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). His path to advocacy was forced on him when he was targeted by Erdogan’s government for criticizing Erdogan’s treatment of journalists and dissenters – despite Freedom living in the US and playing for the Boston Celtics.

The Turkish government canceled his passport while he was abroad in Indonesia and reported him as a “security threat,” creating a diplomatic incident as Freedom was not yet a US citizen.

Freedom responded by doubling down and using his voice as a professional athlete to unapologetically draw attention to the importance of free speech, and standing up to human rights-abusing regimes like Turkey, Venezuela and of course, China. In 2021, he spoke out about Chinese leader Xi Jinping, calling him a “brutal dictator.”

Chinese president Xi Jinping speaks at a meeting marking the 110th anniversary of the Xinhai Revolution, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, earlier this month. (credit: CARLOS GARCIA RAWLINS/REUTERS)Chinese president Xi Jinping speaks at a meeting marking the 110th anniversary of the Xinhai Revolution, at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, earlier this month. (credit: CARLOS GARCIA RAWLINS/REUTERS)

As China increased its brazen violations of free speech and shut down democracy in Hong Kong, Freedom used his game shoes to show solidarity with Tibet, Taiwan, Hong Kong, the Uighur Muslim population, and to speak out against the CCP.

He also led rallies in the US, encouraging Congress to pass the Uighur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which limits imports from areas where China is oppressing minority groups. At the end of 2021, shortly after he obtained his US citizenship and legally changed his name from Enes Kanter to Enes Freedom, he called for boycotting the Olympic Games in Beijing due to their atrocious human rights violations.

China responded in typical fashion for the CCP by banning Celtics games from being broadcast in China – a move that didn’t seem to disturb Freedom one bit. Freedom continued to call out not only the CCP, but the corporate hypocrisy of companies like Nike which profit off of slave labor in China, yet promote social justice messaging in the US.

Freedom wrote, “Nike remains vocal about injustice here in America, but when it comes to China, Nike remains silent.”

THE IMPORTANCE of Freedom’s fearlessness cannot be understated, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t paid a price. At the end of his contract with the Boston Celtics this year, he was slated to be traded to the Houston Rockets. But instead of accepting the trade, the Rockets passed on the trade.

Since then, not a single NBA team is willing to take Freedom. Because of the NBA’s cowardice and Chinese interference, an American citizen who is an accomplished professional athlete is being blacklisted, simply for exercising his constitutional right to criticize a foreign regime that actively acts against the interests of the US and allies around the world (not to mention its own people).

This is abhorrent, unconscionable, and a harsh example of what occurs when China has far too much power over the American economy. Such action should serve as a warning to Israel of what can occur in the future should our country not be extremely cautious with Chinese investments.

When China becomes an integral part of the economy, society, and even culture, the consequence is a limitation on the most precious freedoms we hold dear. Though Freedom has been nominated for a much deserved Nobel Peace Prize for his incredible courage, prizes won’t be enough to stop China’s incursions on the basic freedoms of American citizens who speak the truth.

The NBA, Nike, and many American corporations have a lot to answer for when it comes to the case of Enes Kanter Freedom, and the US government and the public should demand accountability for that.

May this disturbing series of events serve as a wake-up call for all Americans or Israelis who are blindly ignoring the silent erosion of our democratic principles by China.

The writer is the CEO of Social Lite Creative LLC.