By Marion Kawas
On June 13, 2019, the Toronto Raptors won the NBA (National Basketball Association) Championship. A few days earlier, news had broken in the Israeli media that one of the team’s billionaire co-owners, Larry Tannenbaum, had made an announcement in April of this year, that if the team won, he would take them on a trip to Israel.
Tannenbaum is also one of the founders of the leading pro-Israel advocacy group in Canada, CIJA Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (note how the Zionist lobby seamlessly merges Israel and Jewish!).
Urge @Raptors players to skip their team owner’s celebratory propaganda trip to Apartheid Israel!
Owner Larry Tanenbaum’s planned trip is a blatant attempt to sportswash the criminal occupation of Palestine.
— CODEPINK (@codepink) June 18, 2019
The reaction to this proposed trip was, initially, shock by progressive fans and then a commitment to push back on such a blatant attempt to sports-wash Israel’s war crimes. The Canadian BDS Coalition started a petition on June 14, calling on team members to not be part of such infamy, a petition that has already gathered over 3000 signatures to date.
An open letter was also sent the following day to the Raptors by BDS Vancouver-Coast Salish’s coordinator, asking them to use their stature and influence to stand with Palestinians in their struggle for freedom and liberation.
… by contrast Raptors’ co-owner just announced that if they win, they’ll take a trip to Israel despite the country's widely criticized apartheid policies.https://t.co/AhcPFsVfSR
— JewishVoiceForPeace (@jvplive) June 13, 2019
There is precedent here, as the previous NBA champs have declined the traditional White House visit for the last 2 years in opposition to the policies of Donald Trump. There have also been tensions between Trump and National Football League NFL players that have negatively impacted visits to the White House, especially over Trump’s antagonistic reaction to the “Take a Knee” protest.
And in February 2017, over half of a delegation of NFL players pulled out of an all-expense paid trip to Israel, following comments by the Israeli tourism minister claiming they would become “ambassadors of goodwill for Israel”. Michael Bennett, the first player to withdraw, noted in a public statement:
“I will not be used in such a matter. When I do go to Israel—and I do plan to go—it will be to see not only Israel but also the West Bank and Gaza so I can see how the Palestinians who have called this land home for thousands of years, live their lives. One of my heroes has always been Muhammad Ali. I know that Ali always stood strongly with the Palestinian people, visiting refugee camps, going to rallies, and always willing to be a ‘voice for the voiceless.’ I want to be a ‘voice for the voiceless,’ and I cannot do that by going on this kind of trip to Israel.”
I’m a huge NBA fan (& rooted for the Raps in the finals), but was angry when I heard the team’s owner is a Zionist who wants to take the team on a trip to Israel. Urge Raptors players to use their platforms to support justice for Palestine! #RaptorsDontGo https://t.co/NVeZqPurdC
— ryan (@queeralamode) June 17, 2019
All of this is happening in an atmosphere of increased repression of Palestinian activism and condemnation and even criminalization of BDS support, both in Canada and the U.S. A recent article in Canada’s National Post even went so far as to suggest the BDS movement represented a “national security threat”; one can only imagine the trajectory from “security threat” to further punitive actions for those who dare to call out Israel’s brutal policies against Palestinians.
Such heavy-handed tactics will not stem the global movement to reject Israel’s violations of international law and will not stop grassroots campaigns from speaking up. Toronto Raptors fans and activists are asking the new NBA champs to #SkipTheTrip to Israel, be on the side of history and social change, and take a stand for not just Palestinian rights, but the rights of oppressed people all over the world.
Open Letter to Toronto Raptors
We are writing to you as long-time fans to urge you to uphold Palestinian human rights and not to travel to Israel. Since 2004 Palestinian civil society organizations have called for the academic and cultural boycott of Israel until such a time as Israel recognizes the Right of Return of over 5 million Palestinian refugees and their descendants displaced in the process of Israeli colonization and occupation of Palestine; ends its occupation and colonization of the West Bank and its siege of Gaza; and dismantles the Apartheid system of racial discrimination and segregation for Palestinian citizens of Israel.
— Quds News Network (@QudsNen) June 18, 2019
Around the world, poor and oppressed people have embraced basketball as a sport of the people, and basketball players, many of whom come from poor and struggling backgrounds, have an important history of taking progressive positions and giving back to their communities. From Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Bill Russel’s stand with Mohammed Ali against the draft and the Vietnam War to public and collective statements against police brutality against Black people in America, NBA players have stood on the side of social and racial justice.
— Quds News Network (@QudsNen) June 18, 2019
Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, its settlements and its Apartheid Wall are a war crime. The siege of Gaza and the death and misery meted out on an effectively jailed civilian population is a crime against humanity. And its system of racial discrimination and segregation is a form of Apartheid, as articulated by survivors of South African Apartheid including Desmond Tutu and Mandla Mandela (grandson of the great freedom fighter Nelson Mandela).
As NBA Champions, you have the opportunity to use your stature and influence to make the world a better place for young people all over the world who admire you. Please take this opportunity to stand with Palestinians in their struggle for freedom and liberation, and do not travel to Israel.
Coordinator, BDS Vancouver-Coast Salish Territories”
– Marion Kawas is a member of the Canada Palestine Association and co-host of Voice of Palestine. She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Visit: www.cpavancouver.org.