(Tribune News Service) - Local groups are asking the Portland Trail Blazers basketball team to cut ties with Leupold & Stevens, an Oregon company founded in 1907 that supplies sniper rifle scopes to the Israel Defense Forces' ground arm.
Leupold & Stevens sponsor a segment at Blazers' games called "Hometown Heroes."
"Whether it's the brave men and women of our armed forces, first responders, or everyday heroes who put service before self," the website about the program reads, "we're excited to honor a new hero during each regular season home game."
A coalition of groups, including Portland Democratic Socialists of America, Lutherans for Justice in the Holy Land, Portland's Resistance and Jewish Voice For Peace -- Portland Chapter, sent a letter to the Blazers earlier this week asking the team to "end their partnership with Leupold & Stevens in the upcoming season."
"Leupold & Stevens manufactures a variety of military and sporting equipment," the letter reads. "In May 2017 they concluded a contract to supply sniper rifle scopes to the Israel Defense Forces' Ground Arm. Some 800 of the scopes were in service by the end of 2017."
The coalition organized what they called a "press conference" at the Rip City 3-on-3 basketball tournament on Saturday, holding signs and giving speeches at the Rose Quarter.
Olivia Katbi Smith, the co-chairwoman of Portland's Democratic Socialists of America said over email Thursday that she estimates 30 to 40 people showed up.
"It wasn't really intended as a protest," she said. "This was really more of a press conference opportunity for us to detail our concerns to the public. We wanted to convey that we are Blazers fans and supporters --- pro-Blazers, but anti-Leupold, anti-war crimes, anti-sniper scopes, anti-violence."
In a press release sent out before the event, Katbi Smith said, "It is unacceptable for our hometown team to promote a company which provides sniper scopes to the IDF, a murderous death squad that upholds apartheid through continuous brutalization of Palestinians."
"As an NBA fan," she added, "I am relying on the team's front office to do the right thing by ending their partnership with Leupold and Stevens."
"Our agreement is primarily with the Leupold & Stevens consumer products division for sporting optics and binoculars," the Blazers said in a statement. "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."
The Blazers statement included a statement attributed to Leupold & Stevens which said the company "adheres to all International and U.S. export control laws, policies and treaties, which are strictly enforced by the U.S. State Department."
"We are not a military or political organization, nor are we a weapons manufacturer," the statement continued. "We are a fifth-generation, family-owned company that designs, machines, and assembles the world's best sporting optics and other optical accessories, while providing nearly 700 family wage jobs for hardworking Oregonians."
Katbi Smith said her group plans to "escalate this campaign with actions at future Blazers games and events."
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