The controversy comes courtesy of a list of nations tucked deep in the NBA website.
On the site, fans can nominate their favorite players for the all-star team. Afterward, voters are invited to fill out a form with their name, email and home country. Included in that drop-down menu was “Palestine — occupied territory.”
The offending form. (NBA website)
The NBA’s terminology echoed the United Nations and the International Court of Justice, which refer to the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem as “occupied.”
But top Israeli officials decried the language as provocative and inaccurate. In a letter to the professional basketball league, Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev wrote the term legitimized “the division of the State of Israel and as gross and blatant interference, in contrast to the official position of the American administration and the declarations of President Donald Trump, who has just recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.”
Earlier this month, President Trump announced that the U.S. Embassy would be moving to Jerusalem, a recognition that the city is Israel’s capital.
Trump’s decision has drawn sharp international rebuke. Even so, Israeli ministers argued that the NBA must follow the Trump administration’s lead. “This week, U.S. Ambassador Friedman called for the cessation of the use of the term occupied in regard to Judea and Samaria, and an important sports league such as the NBA should respect this view,” Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said in a statement.
The NBA altered its list and apologized, blaming a third party for the listing. “We do not produce the country listings for NBA.com and as soon as we became aware of it, the site was updated,” NBA spokesman Michael Bass said, according to The Times of Israel.
The NBA is just the latest group ensnared by the region’s politics.
Several musicians, including Lorde, Elvis Costello and Lauryn Hill have refused to play in Israel, thanks to a powerful campaign by pro-Palestinian activists. In an open letter imploring Lorde not to play Tel Aviv, New Zealanders Nadia Abu-Shanab and Justine Sachs, Palestinian and Jewish respectively, wrote that Lorde’s scheduled performance in Israel “sends the wrong message.”
“Playing in Tel Aviv will be seen as giving support to the policies of the Israeli government, even if you make no comment on the political situation,” they wrote.
Regev called on Lorde to be a “true heroine” and reconsider.
On Friday, Regev thanked the NBA for the removal. “Israel’s lands are not occupied; therefore what was written was false and should have been deleted,” she said, according to Newsweek.