NBA Team Ends Partnership With Company That Supplies Rifle Optics To Israeli Army

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Written by Dana Sanchez
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Anti-Israel boycott activists claimed victory but a Portland NBA team denies it was pressured to cut ties with a company that sells rifle scopes to Israel. Maccabi Haifa forward Brandon Bowman, right, passes the ball Portland Trail Blazers forward Caleb Swanigan in an Oct. 13, 2017 NBA exhibition basketball game in Portland. The Trail Blazers won 129-81. (AP Photo/Steve Dipaola)

A Portland basketball team denies that it was pressured to cut ties with an Oregon company that sells rifle scopes to the Israeli and U.S. military, but anti-Israel boycott activists are claiming a victory.

The Portland Trail Blazers pro basketball team has been under pressure for a year by the local Democratic Socialists of America to end a sponsorship agreement with Leupold & Stevens — a family-owned firm based in Beaverton, Oregon, New York Post reported. The company makes binoculars, telescopic sights, red-dot sights and other firearm optics and has been in business since 1907.

Chris McGowan, president and CEO of the NBA team, initially did not say why the team had cut its ties to Leupold. Then the Trail Blazers issued a statement saying the partnership was severed by Leupold & Stevens and was not motivated by protests from BDS activists, as some websites sympathetic to the movement have claimed.

A statement posted to the team’s Twitter feed said, “The Trail Blazers had a partnership with Leupold & Stevens in support of the ‘Hometown Hero’ program. The program, which will continue on despite the end of the Leupold partnership, honors the brave men and women of our nation’s armed forces, first responders, and other everyday heroes who put service before self. 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. Leupold & Stevens was a great partner and we wish them success for the future.”

The BDS movement tweeted “Congratulations to @PortlandDSA, and community groups, activists, Blazers fans, and veterans who helped end the Portland Trailblazers ‘completely unnecessary partnership with a company that has provided sniper scopes to a brutal occupying force.'”

In 2017, the Israeli army bought 800 Leupold Mark-6 sniper rifle telescopes, a deal worth an estimated $2.9 million, Nora Barrows-Friedman wrote for the Electronic Intifada. The Blazers were under pressure to cut ties with the company over Israel’s use of its equipment while killing and maiming unarmed Palestinian protesters in Gaza, Barrows-Friedman wrote.

The optics manufacturer also supplies equipment to the U.S.

“We are relieved that the Blazers have done the right thing and finally ended this completely unnecessary partnership with a company that has provided sniper scopes to a brutal occupying force,” said Olivia Katbi Smith, co-chair of Portland chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, in a statement. “Apartheid has no business in Portland, including in our sports and entertainment.”

The group called for the Blazers to cancel an Oct. 10 game with the Israeli basketball team Maccabi Haifa.

“Sport is a political tool for the occupation,” Democratic Socialists of America said.

The game was not canceled and the Trail Blazers defeated Maccabi Haifa in a preseason game in Portland on Thursday.

#NoLeupold campaigners disrupted games and were active on social media, claiming the company “actively profits from war crimes,” New York Post reported.

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“Israel doesn’t commit war crimes — indeed, takes enormous care to avoid them, quite unlike the terrorist groups now festering on its borders,” according to a New York Post editorial.

The editorial accused the NBA team of hypocrisy “when the league has been eagerly pursuing ties with the Chinese government — whose human rights abuses are vast and ongoing, from its concentration camps for Muslims to its harvesting of organs from political prisoners.”

Committed to the security of Israel, the B’nai B’rith Jewish organization accused the Trail Blazers of “bowing to pressure from BDS activists.”