The Goldstein Standard: Interview with NBA player, activist Enes Kanter

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John Raoux/AP

Boston Celtics' Enes Kanter (11) looks to pass the ball Orlando Magic's Mo Bamba during the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game, Friday, Oct. 11, 2019, in Orlando, Fla.

Q: You’ve been an advocate for human rights and democracy in Turkey for more than half a decade, what drew you into this advocacy and how, if it all, as your advocacy changed over time?

EK: “When you consider what’s going on in Turkey, the sheer immensity of human rights violations, I just don’t know how I couldn’t be an advocate. Especially when you have such a platform that I have, being a spectator wouldn’t be in line with my character. Being the voice of those who suffer is who I am — this is what I stand for. As I started speaking out, the Turkish government came down on me harder. They increase the pressure every day, trying to cow me into submission. It only increases my resolve to speak even louder.” 

Q: You wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post with recommendations on what President Donald Trump should say to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. What did you make of the warm welcome he received from the president, and what would you say to Trump now if you had his undivided attention?

EK: “In the past century, the U.S. has always been the voice of and inspiration for pro-freedom people across the globe. History shows that countries with consolidated democracies are reliable allies for the U.S. and less threatening for peace in their region. This shouldn’t be an exception when it comes to Turkey. Trump should know that pressing Erdogan to stop cracking down on the opposition is in the best interest of the U.S. and makes Turkey a more reliable ally. And this is exactly what I would expect Trump to say to his Turkish counterpart.” 

Q: You’ve faced serious safety concerns in the past for being so outspoken — how have you dealt with those threats?

EK: “We are constantly talking to U.S. authorities about threats I receive and the law enforcement has been very helpful so far. I have been harassed on the streets of Boston by pro-Erdogan people, at the encouragement of Turkish ministers here in New York, but I don’t think there is any other country that is safer than the U.S. for me at the moment.” 

Q: It’s not everyday that professional athletes are simultaneously balancing their game schedule with trips to Capitol Hill to advocate on foreign affairs. How do you balance it all, and what do your teammates make of it?

EK: “It is true that I have a busy schedule between games, travel and workouts. But whenever I get a chance, I do what I feel is my duty to help out oppressed people in my home country. My teammates in every club I played have always been supportive of me. I recently started an online petition, hoping to collect signatures from around the world to raise awareness for gross human rights violations in Turkey.” 

Q: Can you describe your experience building relationships in Washington D.C.? Have you found Members of Congress to be receptive? Have any not been receptive? 

EK: “I can’t be more thankful for their welcoming attitude. I met with dozens of U.S. lawmakers this month alone and all of them extended their support. They have been very generous in [hearing] me out… and we exchanged views on how to make a difference to improve the rights situation in Turkey.” 

Q: Now the hard-hitting stuff. What’s your favorite Jewish food? Have you had a chance to try any in Boston? Matzoh ball soup from Zaftigs in Brookline? A bagel from Rosenfelds? Rugelach from Tatte?

EK: “Thank you for these suggestions [laughs]. I will make sure to try them while I am here. My favorite restaurant in NYC is a kosher one. They have the best hummus. I always tried to keep it kosher. It’s very similar to Halal food. So I always look for the [kosher hechsher] symbols.”

Q: And most importantly, can you confirm that Boston is the greatest city you’ve ever played in?

EK: “Every city has its own unique attractions and beauty and Boston is no exception. It is an absolutely terrific city. I loved and enjoyed playing in every city in the NBA and Boston will remain one of the best experiences I have. I already have good memories — I love the food, the city vibe and of course, most importantly, our fantastic fans.”

Alex Goldstein is a contributor at Jewish Insider, interviewing change-makers you’ve heard of — and some you haven’t — who are making an impact. He is the founder and CEO of strategic communications firm 90 West.

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