NBA Apologizes for Listing 'Palestine' and 'Occupied Territory' on Official Website After Israeli Backlash

The NBA has apologized for including the term "Palestine—occupied territory" in a list of countries on its official website after protests by a number of leading Israeli politicians. 

The apology came soon after Israel's Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev wrote a letter condemning the basketball league for the terminology on Thursday, addressed to Adam Silver, the NBA's commissioner.

The terminology used on the NBA website is the internationally recognized legal status of the territories. Both the U.N. and the International Court of Justice refer to the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem as occupied territories. Regev requested that the wording be removed from the website, and it was.

“I view the inclusion of ‘occupied Palestine’ in the list of countries appearing on your official website as legitimizing the division of the State of Israel and as gross and blatant interference, in contrast to the official position of the American administration and the declarations of President Donald Trump, who has just recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” she wrote, according to a statement from her office.

The league said it was not responsible for the wording of the listing, blaming a third party.

“We apologize for the errant listing. We do not produce the country listings for NBA.com and as soon as we became aware of it, the site was updated,” NBA spokesman Michael Bass said, according to The Times of Israel.

Israel has occupied the territories since the War of 1967 and annexed East Jerusalem in 1980. The incumbent right-wing Israeli government considers the entire city to be the country's undivided capital. The international community does not recognize Israel's control of the territory as legal under international law, stating that the city's status must be decided through negotiations. President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem's status as Israel's capital pointedly avoided the question of sovereignty.  

East Jerusalem is the location of the Haram al-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, for Muslims, and is the third-holiest site in Islam. It is a place contested by both Muslims and Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount, one of the holiest sites in Judaism.

12_29_Miri_Regev Israeli Minister of Sports and Culture Miri Regev attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on June 21, 2015. Dan Balilty/AFP/Getty

Regev thanked Silver on Friday for the removal. "Israel’s lands are not occupied; therefore what was written was false and should have been deleted," she said.

Other ministers called on the NBA to respect the views of the Trump administration, particularly U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman, who has close ties to Israel's settlement enterprise and the Israeli far right.

Friedman reportedly asked the State Department last week to stop referring to the West Bank as "occupied," a request the department allegedly refused, according to Israeli broadcaster Kan. A State Department official told Newsweek the report about Friedman was "misleading," but Israeli ministers still used it to criticize the NBA.

“This week, U.S. ambassador Friedman called for the cessation of the use of the term ‘occupied’ in regard to Judea and Samaria, and an important sports league such as the NBA should respect this view,” Israeli deputy minister of foreign affairs Tzipi Hotovely said.

Palestinians, pro-Palestine activists militant groups such as Gaza-based Hamas, and Islamic Jihad regularly use the terminology "Palestine" or "occupied Palestine," inclusive of the area that is now modern-day Israel. The U.N. member known as the State of Palestine refers to a different area—that of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip—which the international recognized leadership of the Palestinians seeks for a future state. 

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