December 16, 2018

NBA player Omri Casspi says Adelson-funded Israel trip not about politics

Although it might seem like a nice off-season vacation shared by Israel’s first NBA player, Omri Casspi, forward for the Sacramento Kings, with his teammates, the funding for the Israel trip was generously provided by casino tycoon and Republican super donor Sheldon Adelson, and that has caused some to suspect political motives.

Perhaps it is Birthright for Basketball, or simply Casspi’s desire to show his fellow teammates that Israel can be a fun, relaxing place, free from fears of terrorism and the enduring conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

Joining Casspi on a private jet were teammates DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay and Caron Butler, along with former team members Tyreke Evans, and Chandler Parsons. On the agenda were trips to the Dead Sea, Yad Vashem, the Western Wall, a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a basketball clinic for Israeli and Palestinian youth.

Sheldon Adelson, who helps fund the Birthright program, as well as Republican political candidates, is now also funding efforts to combat the BDS–the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction movement that intends to cripple Israel financially as a penalty for an impasse in the peace process with the Palestinians.

The fact that Adelson is bankrolling the trip is being taken as a sign that the main motive for Casspi’s trip was anti-BDS PR, but Casspi insists the motive was simply to show his fellow players his home. The forward who joined the Kings in 2009 said, “I always tell my teammates, ‘Come see my part of the world.’ I go to your house when we go to Washington. Come meet my parents, my brother, my sister. It is literally as simple as that. On CNN, all you see is war. My thought is, come and see for yourself. Sheldon … is a Republican. [Barack Obama] is a Democrat. Good, bad, whatever. It doesn’t matter. We have to work on our relationships.”

An objection to funding by right wing Adelson may be balanced by the fact that Casspi has run basketball clinics at a camp run by the Peres Center for Peace. The camp hosts Israeli and Palestinian kids and focuses on building tolerance and faith in co-existence through cooperation in sports.

“We’ll have DeMarcus play with a kid from Jerusalem, a kid from Gaza. That’s something that’s never been done before. These guys being here, seeing how beautiful it is, and nothing about politics,” Casspi insists.