By: Elisheva Kohn  | 

Brooklyn College Volleyball Athletes Kneel During Israeli Anthem at YU Home Game

Two Brooklyn College athletes kneeled during the recital of the Israeli national anthem at a game against the Yeshiva University men’s volleyball team on Feb. 23 in the Max Stern Athletic Center (MSAC) on the Wilf Campus. 

Later identified in social media posts as Omar Rezika and Hunnan Butt, the two Brooklyn College athletes can be seen kneeling during “Hatikvah,” the Israeli national anthem, in a video that was posted online by a YU student who was in the crowd. Rezika and Butt did not kneel during the U.S. national anthem. Traditionally, the U.S. anthem is followed by the Israeli national anthem at major events at YU, including sports games. 

“Brooklyn College strongly condemns all forms of Anti-Semitism and hatred. The two students who knelt during the national anthem did not refuse to shake hands with players from the other team,” said a spokesman for Brooklyn College. “Their kneeling is protected by the First Amendment.” 

In 2016, NFL player Colin Kaepernick protested against racial injustice in the United States by kneeling during the U.S. national anthem. Since then, taking a knee during a national anthem has been widely regarded as a gesture of protest. 

In response to a tweet by Chovevei Zion, a conservative Jewish organization, that claimed Brooklyn College’s basketball team had “displayed unsportsmanlike behavior at game” and “refused to shake hands after game, began cursing the Jewish players, & tried picking fights,” YU Athletics’ official Twitter account commented, “Your tweet is not accurate. Please rest assured that if anything like that should ever occur we would handle it through the proper channels.” Chovevei Zion later clarified that they were referring to the volleyball team, not the basketball team, but did not address the rest of the tweet.

According to a member of the YU men’s volleyball team who wished to remain anonymous, Brooklyn athletes neither cursed at YU students nor did they pick a fight. The YU volleyball athlete told The Commentator that he was troubled that the video was being spread online, “especially with the inaccuracy that the posts had. Pages were retweeting it with captions that were wrong and made YU look bad for not sticking up for its students.”

The incident at the volleyball game sparked controversy among YU students and the greater Jewish community. The initial video of the incident posted on Facebook has been shared over 100 times. Facebook users who commented on the video called the incident “disappointing” and “appalling.” Video footage of the incident was also shared by numerous pro-Israel social media pages such as StandWithUs, United With Israel and StopAntisemitism. The incident was first covered by the YU Observer, and later reports were published in various news outlets such as the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, the New York Post and The Guardian.

In response to The Commentator’s inquiries about the incident at the volleyball game, President Ari Berman remarked that it was “unfortunate that some members of the opposing team disrespected Israel’s national anthem.” He noted that YU is the “only university” that recites “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,” added Berman.

Two days after the incident occurred, the Israeli national anthem was played prior to the U.S. national anthem at the quarterfinal basketball game of the Skyline Conference Championships in the MSAC. Akiva Poppers (SSSB ‘22), chief content officer of MacsLive, told The Commentator that this was the first time he had witnessed this order of the national anthems at a YU sporting event. The anthems were also played in this order at the Skyline Conference semifinals and finals games.

The Commentator reached out to eight members of the YU men’s volleyball team to comment on the incident, all but one of whom declined to comment. One of the athletes maintained that they were “told not to speak to anyone about the matter” and another explained that “the school has it handled on their take of the incident.” When asked about the matter, YU Athletics Director Joe Bednarsh declined to comment, adding that he doubted anybody would be willing to speak to The Commentator about the incident.

As of the time of publication, the YU Athletics Department, YU Volleyball Head Coach Dennis Mente, Brooklyn College Volleyball Head Coach Lia Briffa, Rezika and Butt did not return a request for comment.

Photo Caption: Two Brooklyn College students kneeling during the Israeli national
Photo Credit: Facebook