Only five of 11 NFL players show up for Israel-sponsored trip

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Thursday, February 16, 2017

JERUSALEM -- Only five of 11 NFL players have arrived on a sponsored trip to Israel, tarnishing a program aimed at improving the country's image.

The ministry for strategic affairs and public diplomacy issued a news release after the Super Bowl boasting that the visit would bring "influencers" who would serve as "goodwill ambassadors" when they returned home.

The announcement led Seattle Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett to pull out. He accused the government of trying to use him for PR purposes and cited sympathy for the Palestinians:

Several other players followed suit, including Bennett's brother, New England Patriots tight end Martellus Bennett, who retweeted his brother's letter.

Rambam Health Care Campus spokesman David Ratner said Wednesday that only five players arrived for a planned visit to the hospital. The ministry declined to comment.

According to the Times of Israel, the five players who went on the trip wereArizona Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell, Oakland Raiders defensive tackle Dan Williams, New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan, Tennessee Titans tight end Delanie Walker and Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Mychal Kendricks.

In addition to Michael and Martellus Bennett, the players who were scheduled to appear but didn't make the trip were Seattle Seahawks defensive end Cliff Avril, Miami Dolphins wide receiver Kenny Stills, San Francisco 49ers running back Carlos Hyde and Denver Broncos running back Justin Forsett. Retired NFL linebacker Kirk Morrison also was originally scheduled to appear.

Kendricks and Jordan have posted pictures and video on social media from their visit.

The visit will include stops at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial center and a meeting with the Black Hebrews, a community of African-Americans who live in southern Israel.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.