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In response, 22-year-old Shahar Peer insists politics have nothing to do with her match on the court.
There have been rare sports boycotts aimed at countries regarded as international pariahs, most notably the decades-long coalition against the apartheid regime in South Africa. But they require rare international consensus and cooperation to be effective, something clearly lacking in Israel’s case. Regardless, they have never been aimed at individual athletes who aren’t competing under the flag.
Even as the boycott against South Africa expanded, individual South African stars, like golfer Gary Player and tennis player Cliff Drysdale, were allowed to compete in tournaments. Similarly, when Yugoslavia was dubbed an outlaw nation and banned from international sports competitions, Serbian stars continued to play without incident.
Peer, a counter-puncher on the court, has used a similar tactic off it. She insists there is no place for politics in sports and that the hostile treatment of her is misguided. “It’s unfair because I have nothing to do with politics,” she told reporters in New Zealand. “I’m only a tennis player who wants to enjoy the tour like other players.”
I find myself only halfway there with her. The intersection of politics and sports is not only inevitable, but has proved an effective weapon against injustice in far bigger arenas than those that host sports competitions. The isolation of sports-crazy South Africa played a critical role in the fall of the all-white government in the early 1990s. And the politics of sports was instrumental in helping forge a new South African nation under Nelson Mandela. (See the recent movie “Invictus.”)
What is strange, however, is that peace groups with all their sanctimonious pronouncements should be so single-minded. The tournament in New Zealand provided far broader opportunities to rail against human rights abuses in the world. Peer is certainly less prominent than some of the players from China and Russia — two more proximate and powerful nations with poor records on human rights. And the American players, with all the controversy surrounding the United States’ long war on terror, might also seem an inviting target.
So why is the lone Israeli singled out for harassment? Some suspect it stems from a current of anti-Semitism that runs through elements of the political left. More likely, it reflects a failure of both vision and nerve. It is always much easier to bully the little guy.