Iroquois Nationals to play in Israel, face controversy from Palestine supporters

An Iroquois National player helmet. Photo Vincent Schilling

Vincent Schilling

Iroquois Nationals have been invited to play at the 2018 FIL World Lacrosse Championships, some oppose, some support

The Iroquois Nationals have been invited to play at the 2018 FIL World Lacrosse Championships, which takes place this year in Netanya, Israel from July 12th to the 21st. It is the first time the championships will take place in Israel and the 13th competition will see close to 50 countries competing for the gold medal, which is awarded every four years.

An Israeli lacrosse player on the World Lacrosse 2018 website

The Iroquois Nationals are in a precarious situation as Israel has already stated they will recognize those players who have Haudenosaunee passports -- thus the team says they will be asserting their independence and sovereignty as indigenous people. The Nationals have also had to abstain from playing in previous years due to non-recognition of their passports.

Palestinian groups have come forward to the Iroquois Nationals in a plea that the team abstain from the games. On July 4, 2018 one group, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) have asked the Iroquois Nationals not to participate, stating in an open letter, “We have both seen our traditional lands colonized, our people ethnically cleansed and massacred by colonial settlers.”

Ansley Jemison, the Executive Director of the Iroquois Nationals says he has seen some of the requests to stay away from the championships in Israel, but said he and the team has to remain focused.

“I think we are going to keep it as much about the game and as much about us understanding what we bring. What we are taking to the game is our medicine. And that can be a healing for both sides. We are an indigenous representative on the world level. We are not choosing a side. It is non-binary,” he said.

Jemison also stated that he felt it was important to maintain a positive standing with the World Lacrosse organization in addition to avoiding significant fines if they abstain from the competition.

Jewish Attorney Stanley Cohen, who has worked for both the interests of Palestinians and the Mohawk people for decades, told Indian Country Today he is extremely upset that the Iroquois Nationals will be attending the World Lacrosse Championships in Israel.

Cohen recently tweeted: Urge the Iroquois Nationals not to go to Israel, with an uncaptioned image of a wall painting that read "To Palestine with Love! From the Mohawk People."

Cohen said, “There is nothing spiritually, historically, or anything otherwise that anyone can say to me that will justify this trip. There has been mass physical slaughter of over 1 million people and there are 7 million people outside of the country. This is genocide that is every bit as bad in many respects worst that has happened traditionally to the Iroquois Confederacy,”

"I know that Israel is going to use this and exploit this. The notion that somehow Israel is going to allow a team to show up and can be put on the front page of the newspaper, is not going to accelerate or grant world recognition to the Confederacy or change any absence of self-determination and sovereignty in the United States. This will break any claim internationally of the Confederacy being an indigenous people in terms of other indigenous struggles. There are so many people who are furious over this. This is subsidizing and supporting and putting a stamp of approval on genocide. In the past nine weeks there have been 15,000 unarmed men, women, and children peacefully demonstrating who have been shot at.”

Iroquois Nationals Executive Director Ansley Jemison acknowledged the struggles in Palestine, but mentioned as guests in a foreign country, he and his team, the Iroquois Nationals, needed to be mindful. “There is oppression that is happening in so many places in the world, particularly right in our own backyards, it is not our place to make comments about this, We are guests in this territory.”

The Iroquois Nationals at the World Indoor Lacrosse games in 2015. Photo Vincent Schilling

“We just want to be as positive as we can be. We want to stay focused on the task. There are sentiments on the Israeli side as well, and we want to be mindful that we are going as guests. We want to be respectful of a country that is going to have us as a guest and that is going to recognize our passports. This is a step forward. Everyone who is traveling will have passports. Those from Canada do have their documents. That is a huge leg up and a huge victory,” said Jemison.

Walter David, Mohawk, who told Indian Country Today he is a proud card-carrying member of the Iroquois Confederacy and fought at Oka, says he understands the importance of recognition, but felt concerns after learning about the history of the Palestinian people.

“I probably would not have done anything on this at all had I not been brought up to speed by a friend of mine who had passed away over a year ago. She was on a boat trying to get into Gaza and told me some of the stories. This peaked my interest on what was going on there. It always seem to come back to and land issue and the theft of land and human rights abuses.”

“There has already been a boycott of artists, actors etc that don't go there. When I heard about the lacrosse team going, it really didn't sit well with me. What really knocked at home for me was when snipers took out a Palestinian nurse who was trying to give aid to people.”

Positive support from Israel

According to the Jerusalem Post, this year’s lacrosse championship may be the biggest sporting event celebrated by Israel at the international level. David Lasday, the COO of Israel Lacrosse said he was “looking forward to this once-in-a-lifetime event.”

“There will be over 150 games during the 10 day competition which will allow for amazing exposure both domestically and internationally for Israel and lacrosse. ESPN will be broadcasting all of the games on their various platforms and the Israel sports channel, Sport5, will help us in terms of growing the sport and inspiring the next generation of young lacrosse players here.”

Lasday continued, “Netanya was the perfect place to host this type of event. With the amount of fields at our disposal at Wingate, which has become our Olympic center for sports excellence, it was the perfect location. The Netanya Stadium will provide the tournament with a top level facility for the grand opening which will also see two marquee matchups between Israel and Jamaica followed by the United States and the Iroquois Nation.”

The open letter from the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel

Here is the letter as posted in its entirety from the PACBI.

Dear Iroquois Nationals,

We are writing from occupied Palestine to urge your team to withdraw from the 2018 World Lacrosse Championships in Israel. We know what an important role this sport plays in Iroquois culture, Please allow us to explain our appeal.

As indigenous peoples, we have both seen our traditional lands colonized, our people ethnically cleansed and massacred by colonial settlers. This year marks 70 years of Israeli dispossession of Palestinians, which began with what we call the Nakba, or catastrophe. In the years surrounding Israel’s establishment on our homeland in 1948, pre and post-state Israeli forces premeditatively drove out the majority of the indigenous people of Palestine and destroyed more than 500 of our villages and towns.

For 70 years, Israel’s regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid has deniedour refugees, who constitute about two thirds of the Palestinian people worldwide, their inherent and UN-stipulated right to return to their homes of origin and lands.

The two Israeli venues hosting the World Lacrosse Championships stand on the ruins of ethnically cleansed Palestinian villages.

The Wingate Institute was built on the lands of Khirbat al-Zababida, ethnically cleansed of its Palestinian inhabitants in 1948 as part of the attacks focused on clearing indigenous villages along the coast north of Tel Aviv. The ruins of the Palestinian village Bayyarat Hannun, which met the same fate, literally stand in the shadows of Netanya Stadium.

Like the Iroquois Confederacy and the indigenous peoples of Turtle Island, we struggle daily for self-determination and against ongoing dispossession and colonization.

For decades, the Israeli government, which is sponsoring the Lacrosse championships, has worked tirelessly to expand its settlements in a deliberate plan to rob indigenous Palestinians of our lands and natural resources. It regularly and quite deliberately uses major sporting events to divert the world’s attention from its entrenched oppression of Palestinians.

Like you, our people have been divided geographically by artificial boundaries, and colonial controls over travel, residence and ownership of homes and lands. Israel’s apartheid wall and military checkpoints, its brutal siege of Palestinians in Gaza, its denial of the right to return for Palestinian refugees separate families and limit our ability to travel to, from and within our traditional lands.

Like you, we have seen settler-colonialism limit and attempt to erase or appropriate our traditions, culture, heritage and identity. Israel has stolen precious artifacts from occupied Palestinian lands and carried out systematic attacks on Palestinian culture, shutting down Palestinian cinemas and theatres, raiding and banning Palestinian cultural events.

Israel has also attacked, imprisoned and killed Palestinian athletes and bombed and destroyed Palestinian stadiums. Earlier this year, Israel’s sports minister posted a videoof herself with fans of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team, known for its vile racism, as they incited violence against Palestinians, chanting “May your village be burned” to the rival Palestinian team.

Like you, we have limited rights to oversee our own laws, rules, regulations and practices among our communities. Palestinians living under occupation in the West Bank and Gaza are subject to Israeli military rule, while Palestinians within Israel are faced with more than 60 racist laws that racially discriminate against them in all areas of life.

Like you, foreign police and military forces invade and occupy our communities, and we have both seen members of our communities detained, jailed and killed because of their refusal to surrender to the demands of external state policies and procedures. Currently, nearly 6000 Palestinian political prisoners, including close to 300 children, many arrested during terrifying night raids, are being held in Israeli prisons where torture is rampant.

But our resistance against colonial powers for our rights, like yours, knows no limits and will not be stopped by the violence and intimidation tactics of our oppressors.

Palestinians have long looked to the resistance over generations of the indigenous people of Turtle Island as an inspiration for our struggle, as we stood in solidarity with yours. From publications to solidarity statements, financial contributions and participation in demonstrations, including standoffs at Oka, Akwesasne and Ganienkeh, and indigenous struggles at Wounded Knee, Alcatraz and most recently Standing Rock, we have stood united with your struggles against state and corporate colonialism.

As part of our ongoing struggle for freedom, justice and equality, in 2005 Palestinian national and local community organizations issued a call to people of conscience throughout the world to engage in boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaigns to isolate Israel until it respects the rights of indigenous Palestinians. This call has grown into the global, Palestinian-led BDS movement, and urges cutting academic, cultural, sports, military and economic ties of complicity with Israel’s regime of oppression as the most effective means of standing in solidarity with the Palestinian people.

We recall actor Marlon Brando’s 1973 boycott of the Academy Awards, refusing the award for Best Actor in protest of Hollywood’s treatment of indigenous peoples and that year’s struggle at Wounded Knee. Brando later said it was possibly “unkind” of him to refuse the award, but he knew there was a larger issue at hand and that the powers that be would change only if forced to.

We are asking you to respect our nonviolent picket line by withdrawing from the 2018 World Lacrosse Championships, denying Israel the opportunity to use the national sport of the Iroquois to cover up its escalating, violent ethnic cleansing of Palestinians throughout our ancestral lands.

~ Palestinian Campaign for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI)


Follow Indian Country Today’s associate editor and senior correspondent, Vincent Schilling (Akwesasne Mohawk) on Twitter - @VinceSchilling

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Comments (8)
No. 1-8

Thank you for Vince Schilling's exploration of the Iroquois National's dilemma re Israel and Palestine. I support the Palestinian struggle for survival -- and yet I can understand Iroquois National's interest in "staying focused", as the exec said. Still, I think it is weak reasoning and a retreat from responsibility to simply say, "There are sentiments on the Israeli side as well, and we want to be mindful that we are going as guests." Iroquois National might feel that they're guests, but the people hosting them stole the house from its rightful owners. The Iroquois players should at least make some effort to visit the former owners and learn more about what is really going on there.


I find it curious that it is usually discounted that the Jewish people were the indigenous people of Israel before the Palestinians. If the Cherokee people were suddenly given back their territory in the Southeast, would Indian Country be as sympathetic to those people who are presently indigenous to that area?


Palestinians will do anything to gain sympathy for their cause, like writing passive aggressive letters(example above). How about they do something for a change and work for it? Take Akwesasne, for example, It has T-1 broadband, is forcing the EPA to clean up nearby Superfund sites, reclaiming incorrectly conveyed tribal land (making the State of NY pay for it), building language and culture schools, making bank from the Casino, growing commerce and on and on and on. TRUE WARRIORS NEVER GIVE UP NO MATTER THE CIRCUMSTANCES, I believe the Palestinians lack the HEART OF A WARRIOR, possessed by our tribe. Pass the Kleenex box Palestine is crying again.


To Suckachsinheet, the Jewish people were one people among a number of other peoples including the Canaanites and the Philistines. Many have conquered that land, and if we are to take the Old Testament as truth, then the Israelites were invaders that came through Egypt and slaughtered every living thing including animals and children. You cannot compare present day Israel with the Cherokee people whatsoever for a number of reasons mainly because the people in present day Israel, excluding Arab Jews (since being Jewish is a religious affiliation), are European decedents who have brutally and violently invaded Palestine, while the Palestinians, like the Cherokee people of North America, had a continuous and constant presence on that land. Additionaly, when the Palestinians were made refugees, among the refugees there were Jews along with their Christian and Muslim brethren.

To PurpleReign, I fail to see how a people who confront snipers with chest open, and with absolutely no protection at all, are not WARRIORS. The Palestinians have been deprived of all their human rights and yet they still stand tall and have faced their oppressor straight in the eye for the last 70 years.

As a Palestinian who has been to Oka as part of a cultural sharing program and who is in love with the First Nation’s people and though I am saddened, disappointed and quite honestly hurt by Iroquois Nationals decision, my support for the people of the First Nation will not falter.


I am dismayed to see these lies about Israel. Since when Israel massacred and killed people in order to eradicate a people. A genocide? People forget what is the definition of genocide. It is the elimination of a people by any means possible. This is not what Israel has been doing since 1948 as stipulated by this false letter from this Palestinian group claiming for peace.

The Iroquois league has responded well. They are right to not mixe everything. There is a lot of manipulation and lies in these Palestinian groups who do not want peace but only portray bad image of Israel.

Indian Country Today thanks for your determination to publish the truth by publishing the letter by PACBI.

I hope people will see the absurdity of comparing what the Native People experienced with the current conflict in Israel. This is in no way comparable. Native people have experienced real atrophy and citing them to recover to their cause it's a try to manipulate people's opinion, it's a shame for PACBI.

Tina Falco
Tina Falco

Though I am saddened that the Iroquois Nationals did not change their mind, I am being optimistic.

Since they’re already in Israel, they should visit Palestinians in the West Bank and report back their findings. They cannot but see the connection of the oppressed indigenous peoples from both lands. Gaza unfortunately is not accessible (for this you should wonder why).

The Iroquois Nationals without even realizing it initially, and by going ahead with their plan, have brought the fight for indigenous peoples to the forefront where it should be.

As well, by reporting on this story and linking Indian Country Today, Electronic Intifada has highlighted the indigenous peoples’ plight and has literally linked the plight of each, together.

This is what is needed, strength in numbers and indigenous peoples everywhere will benefit.

In the meantime, I am rooting for the Iroquois Nationals to be victorious over Canada and the US in Israel. Their victory, what they stand for and undoubtedly what they will stand for, ie. the Palestinians - in this capacity simply cannot be more fitting.

Tina Falco
Tina Falco

Oh and BIFCO is what one would call a hasbara.

Don't let what they get paid to do fool you.


Tina Falco I look what Hasbara mean on wikipedia and I'm not a person working for putting a great picture of Israelite government.

But you you are a pro-palestinians and you don't fool me. You use the word hasbara again me and you are the one putting link to a pro-palestinians CHICAGO site putting new only on the side of palestinian, again my source wikipedia.

I'm not paid or working for anyone to use my brain and see what it's obvious that you are the one trying to drag down a simple lacrosse playing on a conflict.

I'm for the peace between people and peace can't be built on lies.

It's why the Iroquois National have the best answers "keep it as much about the game and as much about us understanding what we bring.".