If Black NBA Players Can Fly to Israel on a Republican Billionaire’s 747, Can They Support #BlackLivesMatter at Home?

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Portland Trail Blazers wearing "I Can't Breathe" shirts. (Photo: Brace Hemmelgarn, Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sport)
Portland Trail Blazers wearing “I Can’t Breathe” shirts. (Photo: Brace Hemmelgarn, Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sport)

A billionaire has sent a group of NBA players to Israel on his private plane to fight the economic boycott against that country, even as Black NBA players were chastised for wearing “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts in support of #BlackLivesMatter.  Imagine if these players teamed up with Black philanthropists and entrepreneurs to support #BlackLivesMatter and other initiatives in their own community.

Sheldon Adelson–the casino magnate who is funding the right wing of the GOP as well as the Israeli right and its propaganda machine—seeks to shut down the growing global movement to boycott Israel, known as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS. The purpose of BDS is to pressure Israel to end the occupation and colonization of the Palestinians, end the human rights violations in the occupied territories, and bring full citizenship rights to Israeli citizens of Arab descent.

On July 23, Adelson flew a group of NBA players to Israel on his private 747 jet to fight the BDS movement. As Politico reported, a delegation of players was led and organized by Israeli Sacramento Kings’ forward Omri Casspi, and also included Israeli NBA player Gal Mekel, Kings players DeMarcus Cousins and Caron Butler, and other NBA notables including Chandler Parsons, Tyreke Evans, Iman Shumpert and newly signed Washington Wizard Alan Anderson. NBA player Rudy Gay, who was believed to be a member of the delegation, did not attend the trip.  NBA Commissioner Adam Silver approved the trip, which involved planned events with Israeli basketball teams Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Jerusalem, and philanthropic events, some of which were organized by the league-sponsored NBA Cares.

With a net worth of $28.7 billion according to Forbes, Adelson, the chairman and CEO of the Las Vegas Sands, is the 18th richest person in the world, and the 13th richest in the U.S.  He is a major donor for the Republican Party– spending $100 million on Republican candidates in 2012 and 2014 according to Salon–and the Likud Party, which is led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  Adelson also owns Israel’s largest circulation daily newspaper, Israel Hayom, which is dedicated to promoting Netanyahu’s hardline policies, and decries President Obama’s “socialist” policies.

Writing for The Nation magazine, Dave Zirin penned an open letter to the group of NBA players, some of whom have been involved in the #BlackLivesMatter protests.  Zirin noted to the players that Adelson “is best known for financially propping up the hard right wing of the Israeli government, and calling for the dropping of an atomic bomb on Iran.”  Zirin also noted in the letter that Casspi is entitled to his politics, as when he scolded NBA player Dwight Howard last year for tweeting “Free Palestine” as Israel bombed Gaza, killing over 2,100 people, mostly civilians.

While saying it would be insulting to assume the NBA players did not know what they were getting into when they signed onto this trip, or the money behind it, Zirin brought to the players’ attention some things he thought they should know.

Speaking of the epidemic of police violence in America leading to the emergence of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, Zirin noted that roughly 400 people were shot and killed during the first five months of 2015, mostly people of color, as police departments have militarized themselves with the help of Israel:

This epidemic of killings has been aggravated by the influence of Israeli police practices on US policing. Since 9/11, police chiefs and high-ranking officers from across the United States—from Ferguson to New York City—have traveled to Israel for training in the arts of suppression. As Ali Winston reported, “[a]t least 300” chiefs from across the country have gone to Israel for these workshops. Former US Capitol Police Chief Terrance W. Gainer called Israel “the Harvard of antiterrorism” after one all-expenses-paid trip. The NYPD, which took the life of Eric Garner and broke the leg of NBA player Thabo Sefolosha, now has an office in Tel Aviv.

Zirin wrote that since 9/11, Israel has turned its repressive policing into “an exportable commodity,” with tactics such as surveillance, psychological operations and crowd control, which have led thousands of Ethiopian Jews to protest Israeli police brutality under the banner of #BlackLivesMatter, to which they were met with tear gas.  The writer also connected the dots between the #BlackLivesMatter movement and those fighting for Palestinian rights, and the military and police repression in Israel and America that joined the two.  Angela Davis and other Black activists have signed a statement in solidarity with Palestinians, and a delegation of racial justice groups traveled to Palestine. A delegation of Palestinian students also visited Black organizers in cities across the U.S.

“Omri Casspi is by all accounts a great teammate and friend. But his country’s policing practices are going global and jeopardizing the safety of communities that you have pledged to defend,” Zirin added. “Here is hoping you read this and here is hoping you return home clear that everything you stand for, everything that compelled you to wear that shirt on December 12 for Eric Garner, puts you on the other side of the barricades of Sheldon Adelson.”

While Zirin makes a strong case as to why these Black players should not have flown to Israel on Sheldon Adelson’s 747 to do his and Casspi’s bidding, there is a larger issue begging for discussion.  While Omri Casspi used his network, including Adelson, to fight the BDS movement and make the trip to Israel a success–all with the blessings of the NBA top brass–the Black players who dared to wear “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts were chastised by fans and sportscasters.

Just to take it a step further, imagine what these players and other Black businesspeople could accomplish if they had greater allegiance to the Black Lives Matter movement, and put their money where their mouth is.

Black NBA players with multimillion dollar contracts who are scolded for speaking out on injustice, yet are given permission slips to fly to another country to serve someone else’s racist political agenda, are not free men.  They are high-priced slaves.  With over $1 trillion in buying power, Black America has far more power and potential than it realizes. If only these NBA stars, and by extension Black people in general, would open their eyes and connect the dots.

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