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By Micah Halpern

Wednesday February 24, 2010


Mention Dubai and Israel in the same sentence and the first thing that comes to mind is the assassination of a Hamas terrorist leader ... in Dubai ... at the five star luxury Bustan Hotel ... by Israel's Mossad ... allegedly. Unless, of course, you are an avid tennis fan.

While much of the world has focused attention on Israel, Dubai and murder, the annual Dubai Invitational Tennis Championships has been under way.

Last year the Dubai Championships made big news for unceremoniously withdrawing the entry visa of Israeli tennis pro Shahar Peer. Dubai was fined $300,000 and informed that the next year, if Peer qualifies, she must be permitted entry. In protest over Dubai's discriminatory action and in support of a fellow tennis professional, tennis great Andy Roddick boycotted last year's event and Venus Williams, last year's winner, said she would not compete this year unless Shahar Peer competed as well.

Shahar Peer is ranked twenty-two in the world on the women's tour. This year she received her visa and participated in the games making it as far as the semi-finals where she was defeated by Williams. The fact that we, outside of Dubai, did not see or hear coverage of Peer's performance is one thing, but neither did the people in Dubai, neither did the people following the games.

The Israeli tennis star was allowed to participate in the Dubai Championships only against a backdrop of accusations and while shrouded in diplomatic smokescreens. Peer was blanketed by a team of twenty five personal security guards that included former members of the United States presidential secret service detail. Her matches were held on secluded, separate courts. She was confined to her hotel room and allowed out only to go to the matches.

That's how Israeli athletes, are treated in Dubai.

It's not how Israelis, especially Israeli athletes, are treated in the United States.

A horrible hatred of Israeli athletes has been festering in many parts of the world over the past few years. At the Australian Open Shahar Peer was greeted by very loud, very obnoxious, protests. But not in America, not in New York, not at Madison Square Garden.

Omri Casspi is the first Israeli in the NBA, playing for the Sacramento Chiefs. During his premier game at Madison Square Garden against the very popular NY Knicks, Casspi, # 18, was cheered and treated like a regular hometown player. The Garden can be daunting for any player, but the Israeli was welcomed with open arms. It didn't hurt that he was playing on Jewish Heritage Night, but according to a local Sacramento paper, even members of the Arab community in Sacramento have taken a liking to the new player on their team.

Why was Shahar Peer jeered and Omri Casspi cheered? It's not the difference between tennis and basketball, it's the difference between the United States of America and the rest of the world. The United States views the Middle East and the Palestinian/Israeli conflict very differently than does the rest of the world. In the United States, there are almost no traces of anti-Semitism, the same cannot be said for the rest of the world.

The United States is not completely free of prejudice, pre-disposition and venom. Ironically, one of the only places where Jews and Israelis are regularly taunted in the United States today is on college campuses. In colleges, there is a no-holds-barred attitude and faculty, as well as students, express attitudes more closely resembling Western European political sentiments than those that reflect mainstream US perspectives. The same age demographic that protests against Israelis on campus allows sporting events to be their great equalizer.

Today it happened in Dubai, tomorrow it will happen somewhere else. As long as there are people willing to take a stand, big name people like Andy Roddick and Venus Williams and boisterous people like New York basketball fans - there is still a chance.

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4 June 2017 12:13 PM in Columns

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