In recent years, there’s been a marked rise in athletes from all sports being willing to speak publicly about controversial political and social issues, with NBA stars in many ways being at the forefront.
However, the ongoing bloody conflict between Israel and Palestine is apparently still too scorching a hot-button issue to touch.
Earlier this morning, Amar’e Stoudemire, the New York Knicks oft-injured power forward, posted a photo on his Instagram account. It has since been deleted, but here’s the original image:
The photo came to the attention of Becky Griffin, an Israeli-born columnist for the site Calcalist, former model and MTV Europe presenter and, according to her Twitter bio, “A Basketball Princess.”
She claims that Stoudemire followed her this morning with the express purpose of “threatening her.” Griffin screen-capped a series of direct messages that are allegedly from him. This is the one that sparked the kerfuffle.
For the next four hours, she repeatedly retweeted the image, cc’ing Stoudemire’s agent, Happy Walters, Deadspin, TMZ, The New York Times, the organizers of Stoudemire’s basketball camp in Israel (more on this in a bit), and the New York Knicks. She’s since softened her stance of whether it constituted an actual threat, calling Stoudemire a “hypocrite” and a “bully” instead.
The Daily Beast contacted Griffin via email and she explained that the reason for her ire is that, “He should have prayed for both sides, as I tweeted,” she said, “Especially a dude who does business in Israel, owns a basketball club, and holds a camp. So hundreds of rockets that target Israeli civilians every day is not worth praying for?”
“He accused me for not wanting peace, which is nonsense as I asked him to support both sides. Also, he gave a lame excuse: ‘I couldn't find a pic that expresses both sides.’ And then he wrote that he never apologizes.”
The Daily Beast also reached out to Amar’e Stoudemire’s representatives but they did not respond to a request for a comment.
To Griffin, Stoudemire had sided against his adopted country, an egregious offense, especially at this very contentious (to say the least) moment in time.
Oh right, that. You see, Amar’e Stoudemire has a particular relationship with the State of Israel. There’s some question of whether his mother was actually partly Jewish, but in recent years, he’s traveled frequently to Israel, telling the Jerusalem Post that “The Holy Land has always been high on my list of places to visit, and when this opportunity arose, I wasn’t going to push it off any longer,” and that he was “so excited to be here, see all the important historical sites, learn Hebrew and to get a better understanding of my heritage.”
Since then, he’s applied for Israeli citizenship, become part-owner of a team in the Israeli Basketball Super League, discussed playing there once his contract with the Knicks expires in 2015, and met with President Shimon Peres, who stated that “It is an honor to have you in Israel.”
He’s also kvelled about Kosher food and Sabbath dinners, and while never formally beginning the process of conversion, it’s fairly evident that Stoudemire’s study of Judaism is part of a spiritual inquiry on his part.
As previously mentioned, he’s also run a basketball camp in Jerusalem, an act that Griffin did not take too kindly to. It’s in Hebrew and I’m trying to parse it using the limited tools of Google Translate, but on May 22, she accused Stoudemire of exploiting his interest in Judaism to rip off the kids at his camp, comparing the price of attendance to those run by other NBA stars.
I asked whether she considers Stoudemire’s interest in Judaism authentic and Griffin wrote: “I think he’s a hypocrite. I lost all respect for him today. He would never talk to an American journalist in such a way, but to me he allows himself to act like a bully. I’m entitled to my own opinion whether he can handle it or not.
“He also indicated he knows exactly who I am, so his response wasn’t just about the initial tweet about his photo. He targeted me specifically because I wrote about him in May.”
This isn’t the first time Griffin has gotten royally peeved with an NBA star voicing his opinion about Palestine. This Saturday, Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard, after reading about the civilians that have been killed in Israel’s bombing campaign, asked how he could help and tweeted the hashtag #FreePalestine.
It was quickly deleted, with Howard swearing never ever again to give voice to his thoughts on international politics.
Not only did Griffin dislike Howard’s original statement, she took serious umbrage with Deadspin for labeling it “not particularly controversial,” screeching about media bias due to the fact that the article’s author is of Muslim descent.
Howard’s tweet was evidently the original focus of her story, prior to her contact with Stoudemire.
Whether you want to take Stoudemire’s fairly stern comments as a threat or not is open to interpretation. Regardless, they were crass at best, and showed remarkably poor judgment, especially if he does “know” Griffin and realizes that they may not agree on certain political issues. And for Griffin, there is no middle ground here--even if that means willfully ignoring Stoudemire’s intent and using it as a cheap cudgel to score political points.
But like Howard’s tweet, it would be hard to see Stoudemire’s photo as anything but a fairly tame, well-meaning attempt to take the least controversial political stance possible. That is, that hopefully both sides might stop killing each other in the near future.