(October 11, 2019 / JNS) The Portland Trail Blazers have severed ties with one of its sponsors, a U.S. contractor of the Israel Defense Forces, caving to pressure from activists supporting the anti-Israel BDS movement.
The basketball team cut ties with Beaverton, Oregon-based manufacturer Leupold, which provides sniper rifle scopes to the IDF. In 2017, the firm signed a $2.72 million contract with the IDF to give 800 of the company’s Mark-6 telescopes.
“Leupold is no longer a partner of the organization,” said Trail Blazers president and CEO Chris McGowan on Sept. 30. “I thank them for many years of supporting our organization. They were a great partner when they were a sponsor, but for various reasons … they’ve decided to go in a different direction.”
In a statement on Thursday, the organization denied it followed outside influence: “Leupold’s sponsorship contract officially expired at the end of last season, and Leupold & Stevens made the decision not to renew. Their decision was business-related and not influenced by external pressure as being misreported by certain media outlets.”
Statement by Portland Trail Blazers regarding Leupold & Stevens partnership pic.twitter.com/ToTHMZ1idb
— Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) October 11, 2019
The pro-BDS groups that called for the end of the “Hometown Hero” partnership included the Portland chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, Portland Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), Lutherans for Justice in the Holy Land and Portland’s Resistance.
At a Trail Blazers home game in November 2018, U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Josuee Hernandez was featured on the Moda Center jumbotron and on television when the team recognized him for his service in which he unzipped his sweatshirt to display a T-Shirt that read “END THIS SPONSORSHIP” along with the “#NoLeupold” hashtag activists used in their campaign calling on the team to cut its relationship with the manufacturer.
— Olivia Katbi Smith????أوليفيا كاتبي (@livkittykat) November 7, 2018
On Thursday, the Portland DSA protested outside the Moda Center, where the Trail Blazers played a preseason game against Maccabi Haifa. Activists held a banner that read “Don’t Play Apartheid.”
The Trail Blazers won 104-68.
— Portland DSA (@PortlandDSA) October 11, 2019
B’nai B’rith International said it was “outraged” over the move.
“A group of radical activists, including the Portland Democratic Socialists of America and Jewish Voice for Peace, protested the Blazers for its ties to Leupold & Stevens because the company provided equipment to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in 2017,” said the organization’s president, Charles Kaufman, and CEO, Dan Mariaschin, in a statement.
“The meager attendance at their protest rally, which the co-chairwoman of the Portland Democratic Socialists of America says drew between 30 and 40 people, shows the movement’s disorganization and lack of support,” they continued. “We are disappointed that the Portland Trail Blazers did not ignore this attempt at bullying the team into cutting ties with Leupold & Stevens because of its relationship with one of America’s allies.”
The Trail Blazers announcement came a few days before Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey posted a now-deleted tweet in support of the pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong—a social-media post that elicited a firestorm from the Chinese and caused the Rockets and the NBA to apologize, as the league has a lucrative relationship with China.
Peaceful pro-Hong Kong protesters have had their signs confiscated and NBA posters have been removed from stadiums there.
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