MINNEAPOLIS — A delegation of eight professional basketball players visited Israel earlier this month. Yet this was no simple sightseeing visit: Multiple reports suggest the trip was part of a renewed, multimillion dollar effort to oppose the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
Organized by Omri Casspi, an Israeli player for the NBA’s Sacramento Kings, the first reports appeared on JNS.org, a global Jewish news service, which claimed the trip was sponsored by “a foundation [Omri] Casspi has formed, which seeks to fight anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement initiatives.” Casspi, along with eight teammates, flew aboard a private jet on a tour of his home country. Later, Casspi insisted the trip was “nothing about politics,” forcing JNS.org to add a correction to the story.
However, the private jet on which players flew to Israel is owned by Sheldon Adelson, a billionaire casino magnate known for pouring millions of dollars into opposing the BDS movement. Further, Casspi is known to sponsor an anti-BDS foundation in his own name, and the trip also featured “charity” events designed to build goodwill for Israel, sponsored by the basketball nonprofit NBA Cares.
Anne Robbins, writing Wednesday at Mondoweiss, speculated that the event was “likely cooked up during Adelson’s secret anti-BDS mega-donors summit in Las Vegas last month, condemned by human rights organizations as ‘the moral equivalent of fundraising to preserve apartheid in South Africa, or Jim Crow in the United States.’” Adelson is also known for funding Birthright, an organization that encourages Western Jews to move Israel’s illegal settlements, to the tune of over $180 million dollars.
Dave Zirin, a respected sports journalist for The Nation, was not fooled by Casspi’s denials about the trip’s connection to anti-BDS causes. He penned a fiery “Open Letter to the NBA Players Traveling to Israel” on Monday. Initially addressed to Kings player Rudy Gay, who apparently chose not to travel with the group at the last moment, Zirin criticizes the Kings for supporting the Black Lives Matter movement while simultaneously lending their star power to condone Israel’s illegal expansion and war crimes. In December, several members of the team publicly wore «I Can’t Breathe» T-shirts during pre-game warm-ups, a reminder of the death of Eric Garner at the hands of police in New York.
“Since 9/11, Israel has turned its repressive capabilities into an exportable commodity. It instructs on surveillance, crowd control tactics, and psychological operations like keeping lights on police cars at all times. It’s these kinds of tactics that provoked thousands of Ethiopian Jews to protest police brutality in Israel this year under the banner of #BlackLivesMatter, only to be met with tear gas.
The direct connection between the Israeli military and American police repression has birthed a new solidarity between #BlackLivesMatter activists and those fighting for Palestinian rights. Earlier this month a ‘Black Solidarity Statement with Palestine’ was issued and signed by people like Angela Davis and my personal hero, professor Robin Kelley, among many others.”
“Out of the terror directed against us—from numerous attacks on Black life to Israel’s brutal war on Gaza and chokehold on the West Bank—strengthened resilience and joint-struggle have emerged between our movements.”
On the same day Zirin published his letter, he also appeared in an audio podcast with Nora Barrows-Friedman, a staff writer and associate editor for The Electronic Intifada, a Palestinian news and advocacy site. In the interview, Zirin said while the NBA was making efforts to hide its involvement with the trip, Casspi’s tweets and public statements made the mindset behind the event perfectly clear:
“Omri Casspi has shown himself to be absolutely forthright in his beliefs of Israel not just as a state, but its right to dominate and control the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.”
Listen to Nora Barrows-Friedman speak about NBA players on anti-BDS propaganda tour to Israel: