Auburn men’s basketball coach Bruce Pearl chose to stick to sports on Friday when a reporter asked him about 24 hours after a Muslim rights group asked the Tigers to cancel their trip to Israel for the inaugural “Birthright for College Basketball” from July 31 to Aug. 10.
“This is a sports trip,” Pearl said. “This is not a political trip. We’re not going to let a political action group define what we’re doing.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations criticized the trip.
“This propaganda junket is clearly designed to normalize Israeli apartheid and racial segregation while ignoring Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights and international law,” CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper said in a statement.
Related: Muslim rights group calls on Auburn basketball to cancel team trip to Israel
‘Don’t fart in the Dead Sea’: Pearl on trip to Israel
Canceling the tour less than 48 hours from departure would’ve been difficult. CAIR, the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, offered an alternative.
“If this trip is not canceled,” Hooper said, “we urge members of the Auburn basketball team to meet with ordinary Palestinians without the presence of Israeli handlers so they can learn the realities of Israeli occupation and apartheid.”
Pearl replied to that with a question: “Would you like us to meet with normal Jews too?” Pearl, who is Jewish, said to reporters at Neville Arena, as the Tigers finished their final practice before heading to Israel for the 10-day tour and three basketball games.
The Tigers are expected to have lunch at the home of Palestinian national basketball coach Paul Coghter and visit historic and tourist sites in Israel.
Pearl said that he regularly enjoys discussing politics and religion. He declined to address the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian unrest in the region.
Pearl also noted these questions didn’t arise when the Tigers visited Italy during the summer of 2017 leading into the 2017-18 season.
“Did anybody ask us this about Italy?” Pearl said. “When we went to Italy, we didn’t get that question. Why should we get it about Israel?”
Auburn will play the Israel U-20 National Team on Tuesday, Aug. 2, at Malha Arena in Jerusalem and back-to-back games against the Israel All-Star Select Team on Sunday, Aug. 7, and Israel National Team on Monday, Aug. 8, at Sport Palace Tel Aviv Yafo in Tel Aviv. The Tigers will play four quarters in each contest using FIBA rules.
All of the games will air on the SEC Network.
Nubyjas Wilborn covers Auburn for Alabama Media Group.