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Trail Blazers deny BDS pressure ended relationship with IDF-linked company

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Last month, the Portland Trail Blazers announced that they would no longer partner with an Oregon-based company that supplies the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) with rifle scopes. The move came after a campaign by local activists and organizations (including the Democratic Socialists of America and Jewish Voice for Peace) which lasted for over a year. Now the NBA team claims that this activism had nothing to do with their decision.

Leupold & Stevens is based in Beaverton, Oregon and up until recently it sponsored a segment during Blazers’ home games at the Moda Center where military members were honored. The sponsorship had been the target of multiple protests over Israel’s repressive policies and occupation of Palestine. In July 2018, the team put out a statement welcoming the protesters’ right to free speech, but making it clear the relationship would not end. That November, a Marine veteran named Josuee Hernandez was honored during the sponsored segment. While the crowd focused on Hernandez, he revealed that he was wearing a shirt that read, “END THIS SPONSORSHIP – #NoLeupold.”

After the Blazers severed ties with Leupold and Stevens, Hernandez (who is now a DSA member) tweeted in support of the decision: “IT’S DONE. I’m especially proud of the work my comrades in Portland DSA put in last year and this year, as well as all the other various organizations involved in making this possible. FROM PALESTINE TO MEXICO, ALL THE WALLS HAVE GOT TO GO.”

However, now the Blazers are denying that Hernandez or the wider campaign had anything to do with their decision and that it was actually Leupold & Stevens who decided to end the partnership. “Leupold’s sponsorship contract officially expired at the end of last season and Leupold & Stevens made the decision not to renew,” it reads. “Their decision was business-related and not influenced by external pressure as being misreported by certain media outlets. Leupold & Stevens was a great partner and we wish them success in the future.”

The explanation comes ten days after the original announcement was made, and it was released on the same day that the Blazers hosted Israeli Basketball League team Maccabi Haifa in a preseason game. Protesters showed up at the arena and Portland DSA put out a statement calling on fans to boycott. “Sport plays its role in maintaining the occupation and reflects the racist characteristics of the Israeli state,” the group said in a statement, “Palestinian players are subject to the same restrictions and degradations as all Palestinians; they cannot get to games due to checkpoints, they are banned from training facilities, etc. Further Israel has explicitly targeted Palestinian sports personalities.”

 

Portland DSA’s co-chair Olivia Katbi Smith is Mondoweiss’ Individual Giving Manager

Michael Arria

Michael Arria is the U.S. correspondent for Mondoweiss.

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