Miri Regev is the Israeli sports minister, a former brigadier general with the IDF, and somebody who is probably best known as the person who called African migrants “a cancer” in Israeli society. She is also the Israeli minister who has sparked a bizarre PR campaign, enlisting the National Basketball Association without their consent.
The Associated Press put out a story the morning of December 29 with the headline “Israeli minister gets ‘Palestine’ removed from NBA site”. In the piece, Regev claims that a letter she sent to the NBA compelled them to change their All-Star site, removing “Palestine—occupied territory” as a location option. In the letter, Regev calls Palestine “an imaginary ‘state’,” and she claims that the change was, in the words of the AP, justified because “the listing was not in line with President Donald Trump’s recent recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.”
Regev also thanked NBA commissioner Adam Silver personally for his—in her mind—agreement that there is no occupation taking place. There is only one problem. Much of this narrative is simply not true. First and foremost according to my own sources in the NBA offices, there was no letter sent to the NBA. I don’t know where Regev thinks she sent her missive, but it wasn’t there. No one knew about it until the AP story.
Second, the site in question was not an “NBA site” but a site subcontracted by the NBA that used the phrase “occupied territory.” Finally, it is untrue that “Palestine” was removed from an NBA site. “Palestinian Territories” is still an option. (It’s also worth noting that both PT and occupied Palestinian territories are standard nomenclature.)
The NBA in fact was shocked by Regev’s PR offensive. It may have been particularly disturbing for the league offices because Regev is best known for whipping up hatred against African migrants, calling them “a cancer” in 2012. She has also been accused of whipping up violence against these impoverished refugees. The NBA not only does a great deal of work in Africa, and it not only has several star players from the African continent, but their brightest young star is arguably Giannis Antetokounmpo, who was born to Nigerian migrants in Greece, where African immigrants have become the targets of Greek fascists exploiting the global refugee crisis—like Regev and Trump—to achieve political power.
The question now, clearly, is why Regev chose to drive this narrative.
Ramah Kudaimi, director of grassroots organizing for the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, made the following point to me that helps explain it: “Miri Regev’s job is to spread propaganda to whitewash Israel’s continued denial of Palestinian rights.” “As more and more people of conscience take action in support of the Palestinian struggle for freedom, justice, and equality, including artists like Lorde and athletes like Michael Bennett, Israel feels the pressure to combat its growing isolation due to boycott, divestment, and sanction campaigns,” she said.
In other words, we cannot separate this push by Regev from Israel’s isolation, which has only increased dramatically since Trump’s call to move the embassy to Jerusalem, the international rebuke in the United Nations, and the Palestinian National Authority saying that the United States has renounced its position as a peace broker.
Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the US Campaign, told me: “This is the latest in a series of efforts aimed at using sports and culture as a rubber stamp for Israeli policies and as part of an effort to whitewash Israeli violations before the massive audiences these sports leagues reach.”
Erasing the existence of Palestinians, calling their national existence “fictitious,” and attempting to draw the sports leagues into this effort against their will should all be thoroughly resisted. The sports world must not allow itself to become an unwilling foot soldier in a propaganda effort to normalize an agenda at odds with justice, equality, and the life experiences of many of their own players.