Harvey Araton used his New York Times sports column today to document the plight of Shahar Peer, an Israeli tennis player who was denied a visa by the United Arab Emirates that would have allowed her to compete in this week's Barclay's Dubai Tennis Championships – a $2 million tournament that is a part of the women's pro tour.
It's a good case. Peer's exclusion violates the spirit of international competition, which holds the promise of bringing together athletes from nations with severe political differences and setting a better example for the world.
Araton calls for the women's and men's tours to end their affiliation with Dubai. To ensure this, he seems to advocate a consumer boycott of the sport's sponsors, and he appeals to Jews to lead it:
For one thing, tennis does big business in American markets — think New York, Los Angeles and Miami — with large Jewish populations. The men, who follow the women to Dubai next week, may want to remember that, too, along with the companies that sponsor these events.
My problem with this column is that it's too easy. Araton writes for a newspaper that has a large audience of readers who are profoundly and reflexively sympathetic to Israel and conditioned to view the Arab and Islamic worlds with suspicion, if not hostility. This column caters to their biases; it's the same old enemy irrationally persecuting our friend the Israeli.
A more worthwhile column would have highlighted the Peer injustice-- as I said, she clearly should be allowed to compete-- but not just left things there. If it's wrong for the U.A.E. to deny an Israeli athlete the opportunity to compete, isn't it just as wrong that the Israeli government routinely refuses to allow Palestinian athletes to leave the Occupied Territories for international competition? Or that Israel's supporters have campaigned to deny Palestinian athletes the right to compete under a Palestinian flag at the Olympics? And if a boycott of professional tennis sponsors is in order if they don't cancel their future tournaments in Dubai, shouldn't a similar boycott of companies that do business with Israel be in order?
Araton is absolutely right that Peer is a victim of international politics. But so are hundreds of Palestinian athletes, year in and year out. Israel is guilty of exactly the behavior for which Araton rightly condemns the U.A.E. Araton had an opportunity to challenge his readers, to force them to confront some of their assumptions on a complicated subject. Instead, he reinforced their knee-jerk assumptions and gave them further license to view Israel as nothing but a victim.