At every Portland Trail Blazers game, notable members of the Portland community — be they members of the armed forces, first responses, or “everyday people who put service before self” — are given complimentary tickets, gifts, and in-game recognition in a heavily promoted segment called “Leupold Hometown Heroes.”
These game breaks are prominently sponsored by Leupold and Stevens, the world’s largest rifle scope manufacturer in terms of sales, according to Oregon Live. The fifth-generation company — which was founded in Portland in 1907 — also has contracts with the U.S. military and a few other international armed forces.
One of those international groups happens to be the Israeli Defense Force. Last year, the IDF Ground Army selected Leupold telescopes as their “telescopic sight of choice for ground force snipers.” The contract, which was worth about $2.72 million, provided the IDF with 800 Leupold Mark-6 telescopes.
Since the weekly Great March of Return protests began on the Gaza Strip on March 30, the IDF has killed at least 135 Palestinians — including unarmed protesters, journalists, medics, and children — and injured over 14,000.
Nine organizations in the Portland community — including the Portland Democratic Socialists of America; Lutherans for Justice in the Holy Land; Veterans For Peace Chapter 72; Poor People’s Campaign, Oregon Chapter; and Jewish Voice For Peace, Portland Chapter — are calling for the Trail Blazers to end their partnership with the scope manufacturer.
“Portland claims to be a progressive city that cares about the rights of all people. And the Trail Blazers represent our city to the nation,” the groups said in a letter they sent to the Trail Blazers.
“The Trail Blazers Foundation has supported many causes in our community dedicated to supporting children and families. However, your partnership with weapons manufacturer Leupold and Stevens, which sponsors your “Hometown Hero” segment at Trail Blazers games, directly contradicts this mission by disregarding the suffering of children and families across the globe and enabling a company that may be complicit in crimes against humanity to present a positive public image.”
You can see the Leupold logo adorning a scope on an IDF rifle in a photo provided by the IDF.
Last Sunday, before the Rip City 3-on-3 basketball tournament at the Moda Center in Portland, the DSA held a press conference and rally in front of the arena, trying to raise awareness about the team’s connection with Leupold, and their link to alleged war crimes in Gaza.
“Blazers fans don’t want their team connected to shady corps that enable atrocities,” Olivia Katbi Smith, the co-chair of the Portland chapter of DSA, told ThinkProgress. “Leupold is benefiting from the good name of the Blazers. There’s no need for the Blazers to lower their standards in order to prop up a corporation that’s related to massacres in the Middle East.”
The Blazers, however, have no plans to alter their partnership.
“We acknowledge DSA’s right to free speech, and their opinion of Leupold & Stevens,” the Blazers said in a statement provided to ThinkProgress, which was released by the team the day of the protest. “Regarding our partnership with Leupold & Stevens, we welcome their continued support of our nightly in-game salute to the bravery, sacrifice and heroism of our military, retired military and first responders.”
Leupold & Stevens also released a statement, stressing that it “adheres to all International and U.S. export control laws, policies and treaties” and that it is “not a military or political organization” or “a weapons manufacturer.”
“We are proud to honor the brave men and women of our nation’s armed forces, first responders and other everyday heroes who put service before self through our ‘Hometown Heroes’ partnership with the Portland Trail Blazers,” the statement concluded.
But Katbi Smith and other protesters — including several veterans who signed the letter — are not going to stop applying pressure.
“There are many better ways for the Blazers to support veterans — such as supporting health care, mental health treatments, and programs to end homelessness among veterans,” Katbi Smith said. “Fans don’t want to see their team connected to human rights violations.”
Human Rights Watch has called the IDF’s killing of unarmed Gaza protesters both “unlawful” and “calculated.”
“Israeli soldiers were not merely using excessive force, but were apparently acting on orders that all but ensured a bloody military response to the Palestinian demonstrations,” said Eric Goldstein, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The result was foreseeable deaths and injuries of demonstrators on the other side of a border who posed no imminent threat to life.”
Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the United Nations human rights chief, has condemned Israel for using “excessive force,” and, despite objections from the United States, the U.N. has blamed Israel for the violence in Gaza and launched a war crimes investigation into Israeli forces’ “wholly disproportionate” response to Palestinian protesters.
Katbi Smith and other objectors in the Portland community just want the Blazers to be on the right side of history.
“The sporting world is an important center of public life. We urge the Trail Blazers to embrace human rights and the protection of children and families as a global issue,” their letter to the organization says. “We invite the Trail Blazers to join us in affirming the fundamental rights and dignity of the Palestinian people by ending the team’s partnership with Leupold and Stevens.”