Civil rights group asks NBA to suspend minority owner of Cavaliers over threatening message to group supporting Palestinians

The NBA has been asked to suspend Gary Gilbert, a part-owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, over threatening social media messages he sent to an organization promoting a rally for a ceasefire in Gaza.

The American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) requested a meeting with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to discuss the messages sent from Gilbert’s social media accounts.

Gilbert is an Academy Award nominated film producer and minority-owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers. His brother, Dan, is majority owner of the team.

“We are requesting a meeting with you to discuss the ways that you and your team will ensure that hate and bigotry against our community finds no home in the NBA,” Abed Ayoub, executive director of the anti-discrimination organization, wrote in a letter to the commissioner and obtained by CNN.

“We demand that [Gary] Gilbert be immediately suspended from all NBA arenas for the safety of Arab, Palestinian, and Muslim fans.”

Last week, J-Town Action and Solidarity, a grassroots organization based in the Little Tokyo community of Los Angeles, shared screengrabs of direct messages sent from Gary Gilbert’s Instagram account.

The messages were in response to a post encouraging people to show up outside the November 8 screening of “Bearing Witness” – a film that features graphic footage of the deadly October 7 Hamas attack on Israel – at the Los Angeles Museum of Tolerance.

The footage has previously been released by Israel’s Defense Forces.

According to the screengrab, Gilbert wrote, “We will be armed and ready for you cowardly punks this Wednesday” and “We’re armed and ready for you punks. We don’t have an ounce of fear.”

He then added, “Please add this to your story, I would be honored!”

Gilbert did not attend the November 8 film screening and has since made his social media accounts private.

In a statement shared with CNN Monday, Gilbert acknowledged he wrote the messages.

“During a time of significant emotional distress, and fear over the rise in hate, I made a shorthand comment on social media that unfortunately was misconstrued. When I said we were “armed and ready” I meant we were ready in terms of having local police present to ensure everyone’s safety, following violent protests the day before that resulted in the death of Paul Kessler,” Gilbert wrote.

Paul Kessler, a 69-year-old Jewish man, died after falling backwards and hitting his head, following an “interaction” with a pro-Palestinian demonstrator during dueling rallies in Thousand Oaks, California, according to the Ventura County Sheriff’s office.

His death has been ruled a homicide, but no arrests have been made. Ventura County investigators have yet to determine whether the incident was a hate crime or other criminal offense, they say, in part because conflicting witness statements have made it difficult to determine the exact cause of Kessler’s fall. They have requested witnesses or anyone with information come forward.

The Cleveland Cavaliers said in statement to CNN that Gilbert is a “very small passive investor” in the team and his posts “do not represent the views of the team, ownership group or management.”

NBA spokesman Mike Bass told CNN the league has been in contact with both the Cavaliers and the ADC.

Gilbert told CNN he does not condone violence.

“Violence and hate in any form is abhorrent to me. Social media is too divisive, and not constructive for these conversations. What is most important to me is the safety and security of everyone in our community,” he said in the statement.

But Ayoub said his organization feels the NBA should address Gilbert’s comments in the same way it handled racist remarks made by Donald Sterling, the former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers.

In 2014, Sterling was banned from the league for life after recordings of him making racist remarks were made public.

“The NBA must initiate the process to force Mr. Gilbert to sell his stake of ownership in the Cleveland Cavaliers. Finally, we ask that the NBA releases a statement making it clear that there is no place in the League for anti-Arab, anti-Palestinian, Islamophobic hate,” Ayoub’s wrote in his letter to the NBA commissioner.

The anti-discrimination group also cited a sharp rise in reported anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bias incidents in the past month as part of the motivation behind its request for the NBA to address Gilbert’s messages.

“The staggering surge in hate crimes across the country has created an environment of unease, making Gilbert’s racist rhetoric a real threat that casts a dark shadow over the spirit of sport,” the organization said in a statement.

Ayoub said the NBA has acknowledged the ADC’s letter, but no substantial discussions have taken place.

In a statement, the Cavaliers said their organization remains “unwavering in our mission and commitment to a culture of diversity, inclusion and respect within our organization and community.”

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