The Blazers should cut ties with apartheid

August 1, 2018

Michael Mullinax and Greg Fox report from a Portland, Oregon, protest calling on the Trail Blazers to cut ties with a company that manufactures sniper scopes used by Israel.

ACTIVISTS FROM around Portland, Oregon, gathered on a recent Saturday at the Moda Center, the city’s landmark venue for sporting events and concerts, to demand that the Portland Trail Blazers basketball team end its partnership with Leupold & Stevens, a sniper-scope manufacturer based in Beaverton, Oregon.

Leupold & Stevens currently sponsors “Hometown Hero” during Blazers games, a segment that celebrates members of the community in the U.S. military, first responders and other “everyday heroes who put service before self.”

Leupold & Stevens is also the company that furnishes sniper scopes to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), which recently murdered more than 140 unarmed Palestinians and wounded 14,000 others during the Great March of Return.

Activists demand that the Portland Trail Blazers sever their ties with the Israeli military
Activists demand that the Portland Trail Blazers sever their ties with the Israeli military (DSA Portland Oregon)

The Portland chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) was the lead organizer of the speakout. It partnered with other activist groups from the Portland community, including Jewish Voice for Peace, Jobs with Justice, Portland’s Resistance and others, to make their demands heard by the community at a time when the Moda Center was bustling with people: the Rip City 3-on-3 basketball tournament.

PORTLAND DSA co-chair Olivia Katbi Smith MC’d the speakout. She kicked off the speeches, speaking on why the Trail Blazers’ partnership with Leupold & Stevens is out of step with the team’s purported values:

The Portland Trail Blazers support a myriad of causes in our community dedicated to supporting children and families. We see kids of all ages and families participating in the Rip City 3-on-3 across the street, so it’s ironic that kids and families just like those have been shot to death, thanks to a company that the Portland Trail Blazers have chosen to enable.

Mohammed Nabil, a native of Gaza, gave a brief history of Palestine’s struggle, and made clear the ugliness of the basketball team’s partnership with the scope manufacturer:

[S]ince the first day I came to Portland, I knew that the Blazers are one of the teams that has a big popularity among friends, among people who love social justice issues, and supporting the good spirit of the city. But with this partnership with Leupold & Stevens, I see this team as a team that kills my people…

I really support this team withdrawing from this partnership, because this partnership brings death to my people and brings a lot of support to a military-industrial complex that basically treats us the people of Palestine…as test subjects for weapons for Israel.

Joel Beinin, from Jewish Voice for Peace and a professor of Middle East history at Stanford University, brought attention to the abominable living conditions of Palestinians in Gaza and the human rights violations of the Israeli state:

The campaign of demonstrations has made two demands: one, that Israel and Egypt lift the decade-long siege of the Gaza strip, and two, that Palestinians refugees be allowed to return to their homes. Over two-thirds of Gaza’s 1.9 million inhabitants are refugees from the 1948 Arab-Israeli War or their descendants.

Conditions in the Gaza strip are horrific: 97 percent of tap water is undrinkable because of sewage, pollution or high salinity levels. The unemployment rate is 44 percent. Forty percent of Gazan children suffer from anemia or malnutrition. Israel severely restricts food aid entering the territory. Israel has forbidden Gazans to access about 17 percent of their territory, including a third of the agricultural land. Entry and exit from Gaza is strictly controlled by Israel, with assistance from Egypt.

GREG McKELVEY, from Portland’s Resistance, tied the IDF killings to local police killings, pointing out how police officers from Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore were trained by the IDF in how to deal with riots or protests. He related this issue to disarming the police:

As we have seen in Portland, when police are armed with violent weapons, they use them. As local police tanks rolled through the streets of America, warrior costumes are handed out to fight against peaceful protest, and Leupold & Stevens sniper scopes are given to police officers in Ferguson…

The militarization of police across the country has gotten out of control. This correlates with increased murder at the hands of the police, as well as the continuance of the failed drug war, and disproportionate policing of marginalized communities…These are the types of actions that the Trail Blazers are quietly supporting in other cities across the nation and the globe.

The last speaker at the rally was Justin Norton-Kertson, a representative of the Portland chapter of Jobs with Justice, who highlighted the importance of internationalism in the struggle for justice:

The thing about justice is that it doesn’t stop at borders…And so we show up in solidarity with people around the world who are struggling for justice, who are struggling for freedom from colonialism and from imperialist oppression.

This company Leupold & Stevens, through its contract with the IDF, directly contributes to and participates in and profits from the murder and the oppression of the Palestinian people. Like Greg just said, the Trail Blazers are an institution here in Portland, and in that way, they’re a representative of this city. So every time this company’s name is featured at a Blazer’s game, it’s a shame on this city.

Olivia Katbi Smith concluded the speakout by urging attendees and others to contact the Portland Trail Blazers and demand that the team end its partnership with Leupold & Stevens.

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