By Joshua Marks
The drama was on the hard court on Wednesday evening of last week as the Washington Wizards defeated Maccabi Haifa 101-95 in a preseason matchup – a welcome contrast to the violence that occurred after a Brooklyn Nets-Maccabi Tel Aviv game at the Barclays Center on Oct. 7 when Jewish leader Leonard Petlakh was assaulted by a pro-Palestinian protester.
A small group of pro-Palestinian demonstrators gathered before the game outside the Verizon Center’s F Street entrance waving large Palestinian flags. One demonstrator told Washington Jewish Week that they were protesting the game because it is “promoting the IDF and promoting aggression and occupation against a defenseless people.” He also mentioned NBA fundraisers, which could have been a reference to the Nets hosting a Friends of the IDF fundraiser during their exhibition game as there was no promotion of the IDF or Friends of the IDF fundraiser inside the Verizon Center.
In fact, the only nationalistic displays that took place were the Israeli and American national anthems, some Israeli flags in the stands and a group seated in section 113 who with about six minutes left in the first half unfurled Palestinian flags and started chanting “Free Palestine.”
A group of teenagers held up an Israeli flag near the pro-Palestinian demonstration, saying they didn’t mind the protests as long as they weren’t violent. A 16-year-old male from Rockville whose family is from Israel said he was surprised to see the protests.
“The reason I brought the Israeli flag wasn’t for a reason like this. It was for inside the stadium. Once I saw them I decided to bring it out and show my national pride.”
Founded in 1953, Maccabi Haifa won its first-ever championship during the 2012-2013 Israeli Basketball Super League season and is considered one of the top international clubs. The “Greens” were on a four-team NBA tour that after Washington took them to the Portland Trail Blazers, Sacramento Kings and Toronto Raptors.
The Wizards open the regular season Oct. 29 at the Miami Heat.
“I came here because Maccabi Haifa is here and I’m from Israel and I wanted to cheer on my favorite team, the Wizards, while seeing a team from my home country,” said a 16-year-old from Potomac. “I’m rooting for Israel and the Wizards at the same time.”