Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Shahar Peer

...was once the next big thing in Israeli tennis, but is struggling through a bit of a bad patch at the moment. Anyway, she was supposed to participate in a tournament in Dubai this week. But the authorities in the United Arab Emirates had other ideas, and declined to issue her with a visa.

There's a thoughtful piece on the issue in today's Guardian (Yeah, I know, Boo, Hiss. Whatever. Richard Williams, the author of the piece, is an extremely well informed and perceptive writer about sports and, occasionally, film and music; which is to say, he sticks to his brief and discharges his duties well, something that I cannot really say about the Granuiad's political commentary, domestic and international. But that's neither here nor there...). (Note: I'm recommending the article, not the talkbacks. As ever, when it comes to the Middle East, dear readers of the Granuiad are off their meds again...)

The issue of boycotting Israel rears its head time and time again, usually in the academic and cultural fields, and usually in conjunction with the cultural and sporting boycotts of South Africa in the 1970s and 1980s.

This is not the place - and I'm not the person - to talk about the validity or effectiveness of boycotts. But I am always a little bemused about the arguments put forth in favour of banishing Israel - and, more importantly, Israelis - into the outer darkness.

For one thing, the academic and cultural boycotts of individuals are, at their root, an example of collective punishment - the same thing Israel's most strident critics accuse it of perpetuating in the Territories. Yes, I know that there is a significant - vast, even - difference between a man denied his right to assembly, movement and so on on the grounds of "security" and a lecturer denied the opportunity to advance ones career on the basis of ones ethnicity, but it is the same principle, isn't it? Should individuals be held responsible for the actions of their states? And if so, at what point? Can they be relieve themselves of this burden if they disavow the actions of their state? (This may sound bizarre, but I do remember reading about a magazine in the UK that refused to cover an Israeli dance troupe, but suggested that they would reconsider if the troupe publicly disavowed the actions of Mr Sharon. I'm a bit fuzzy on the details, but I'll go look it up later).

For another, the boycotts instigated as a result of South Africa's Apartheid policy - assuming, for the purposes of this argument, that it is accurate and correct to equate Israel's policies in the Territories as Apartheid

(and on this point, I am genuinely astonished by the intellectual sloppiness of the people that do this. There is much - much - that is awful about the situation next door. People who know about these things, whom have seen and understand the impact for themselves, use their own words to describe it. Those that haven't look for nice catchy slogans to attach to the situation. The problem with this is that it isn't terribly hard to distinguish between South Africa's official policies to the black majority population after 1949 or thereabouts, and Israel's behaviour towards the Palestinians. And once this happens, the arguments become muddled and degenerate into rhetorical slanging matches that fail to illuminate or educate)

...the boycotts never sought to penalise individual sportspersons. South African national teams were banned from international competition; this was because they were segregated, full stop. Individuals, generally did not encounter this fate.

Anyway, bottom line is that Ms Peer missed the tournament. Which is a shame. Of course, she may have been knocked out first round...

Right, back to work.

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