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The Day in Israel: Sat Feb 21st, 2009

Click refresh to see new updates during the day.

It’s been raining cats and dogs here in Israel over the Jewish Sabbath (it is actually hailing as we speak). But in addition to the cats and dogs, we also had a Kutyusha rocket, which landed near a home in the western Galilee, wounding 3 and sending others into shock. In response, Israel fired 6 artillery shells. Hizbullah, for their part, invoked the Schultz defense.

In other news:

  • Hamas is not discounting the possibility that some of their arch terrorists will be expelled to Syria should they be released by Israel as part of an exchange for Gilad Shalit
  • The Flip-flopper met the Dorktator, because the Syrians are reasonable and not, for instance, the kind of government that would allow expelled Hamas terrorists to reside within its borders
  • Draft Durban II resolutions indicate nothing surprising at all.

Updates (Israel time; most recent at top)

10:15PM:Venus Williams has spoken of Israeli tennis player Shahar Peer during the trophy presentation of the event Peer was denied the opportunity to play in.

Venus Williams won her 40th singles title Saturday, defeating Virginie Razzano of France 6-4, 6-2 in the final of the Dubai Tennis Championship.

During the trophy presentation, Williams spoke about Shahar Peer, the Israeli player who was denied entry into the United Arab Emirates for the tournament because of what organizers called security concerns.

“I felt like I had to talk about her,” Williams said. “I thought it was brave of her to come here and try and play despite knowing that it is not going to be easy for her. My dad grew up in an area where if you spoke too much, it was your life. So I felt I had a small opportunity to say something where everyone will listen.”

Peer was denied entry into the country a week ago. The WTA fined organizers of the tournament a record $300,000 Friday, saying it will compensate Peer and ensure other Israeli players aren’t shut out of future events.

“I am not here to rock any boat or upset people, I am just here to do things that are right,” Williams said. “And I think right things are already happening next week and right things will happen next year.”

Israeli player Andy Ram was granted a visa Thursday for the upcoming men’s tournament in Dubai. On Saturday, organizers said Ram would have the security needed to play.

“Obviously, Andy Ram got his visa, so I’ll be happy to come and defend next year,” Williams said. “If everyone is not given the equal opportunity to play, I’d rethink. But I love this tournament. They really care about the players.”

Meanwhile, Jemele Hill of ESPN argues that the Williams sisters should have taken a stand.

Some eight years ago, Venus Williams withdrew from a tournament in Indian Wells, Calif., before she was due to meet her sister, Serena, in a semifinal match, which drew raucous boos from the crowd.

More than a few people speculated it was match fixing. According to their father, Richard Williams, as he and Venus were walking to their seats for the championship match to watch Serena, some fans called Venus the n-word, and another fan threatened to skin him alive.

“It’s the worst act of prejudice I’ve seen since they killed Martin Luther King,” Richard Williams said at the time.

The issue of the Williams sisters’ double burden of gender and race was once again a national discussion. Tournament organizers denied the charges, and others intensely debated the accuracy of Richard Williams’ allegations. Martina Hingis called the accusations “total nonsense” and went as far as to say she didn’t think there was any racism at all on the WTA Tour.

But did the Williams sisters back down? No. In fact, they have boycotted the Indian Wells tournament ever since.

Given that experience, you would think they would have shown the same backbone and determination this week in Dubai after a fellow tour member became a victim of discrimination.

By now you’ve probably heard about the controversy surrounding Israeli tennis player Shahar Peer, who was not allowed to play at the Barclays Dubai Tennis Championships.

A Jewish woman traveling on an Israeli passport, Peer was denied a visa in what appears to be a clear-cut case of unfair treatment. Even though WTA rules state a player can participate in any event as long as she has the required ranking, tournament director Salah Tahlak said he feared the presence of Peer, the 45th-ranked female tennis player in the world, would have “antagonized” fans.

It was a handy, but pitiful, excuse. Yes it’s true that protesters demonstrated when Peer played at a tournament in New Zealand, waving anti-Israel signs and yelling disruptively. But if security was such an issue, why was Israeli Andy Ram given special permission to play in the Dubai men’s event next week?

This was a rare opportunity to make a significant stand. If anyone should have accepted the challenge and taken up Peer’s fight, it should have been the Williams sisters, whose immense success always has been intertwined with the underlying tension created by their race and gender.

It didn’t matter that Peer said it would have been unfair to the players if the event were canceled. The two biggest icons in women’s tennis should have boycotted anyway, instead of offering their colleague surface-level support and shallow rationalizations.

“I have to look at the bigger picture,” Venus told reporters. “The big picture is that Shahar Peer didn’t get a chance to play, but making an immediate decision we also have to look at sponsors, fans and everyone who has invested a lot in the tournament.”

The Tennis Channel and the Wall Street Journal’s European edition were the only ones who seemed to understand it was time to act, not talk. The Tennis Channel canceled its coverage of the event, and the newspaper pulled its advertising. Meanwhile, the Williams sisters chose money over principle and met Friday in a semifinal matchup, with Venus winning in a third-set tiebreaker.

“Sponsors are important to us,” Venus said. “We wouldn’t be here without sponsors and we can’t let them down. Whatever we do, we need to do as a team — players, sponsors, tour and whoever — and not all break off in one direction. We are team players.”

If playing for a lucrative purse is more important than taking a stand for fairness, Venus needs to re-evaluate her definition of a team player.

If this had been a racial issue, the Williams sisters would never have played in Dubai, and I couldn’t imagine Venus’ expressing such unabashed loyalty to her sponsors, or even caring what sponsors thought. I’m certain the WTA would have withdrawn and the media coverage worldwide would have been unrelenting.

Some of you probably think I’m being unfair by singling out the Williams sisters. There were 53 other female players in the tournament and any one of them could have boycotted on Peer’s behalf.

It’s not like the Williams sisters were the only ones who failed Peer. The WTA had some early indications Peer’s participation could be denied. The tour should have threatened to boycott from the onset. Now that all this has transpired, it shouldn’t sanction another event in Dubai.

But I expect more from Venus and Serena because they’ve experienced discrimination. I’m as disappointed in them as I was with Tiger Woods, who said Augusta National Golf Club had the right to set club rules however it saw fit, even if it meant excluding female members. Woods clearly forgot the club once used that same excuse to prohibit golfers of color from playing there.

When you’re a leader of your sport, you bear a different responsibility, and the Williams sisters have assumed ownership of the torch once carried by Althea Gibson, Billie Jean King and Arthur Ashe.

If legacy and equality are important to Venus and Serena, they will give Dubai the Indian Wells treatment. Otherwise they’ll be sanctioning treatment they would never accept for themselves.

8:25PM: The two Hamasholes who died in the work accident (see 7:53PM update) were on their way to kill or capture some IDF soldiers, according to family members.

8:12PM: The Daily Telegraph reports on Moshe Holtzberg and his Indian nanny savior.

The baby boy who was orphaned when his parents were gunned down during a siege at the city’s Jewish centre.

Moshe Holtzberg was snatched to safety by his Indian nanny from under the noses of the gunmen who brought carnage to India last November.

Since that day, Sandra Samuel has rarely left his side and has now taken on the role as his second mother.

“God has granted that I take care of this small baby,” she told the Daily Telegraph. “It’s my responsibility to be with him now.”

Just as she has since the time he was a newborn, Miss Samuel, 44, sleeps in the same room as Moshe.

His Rabbi father and mother were killed the day before his second birthday when Islamic militants took over the Chabad House they ran in Mumbai, one of several targets they laid siege to in the city during the devastating terrorist raid in which more than 170 people died.

It was Miss Samuel, the couple’s cook and nanny, who made headlines around the world when she emerged from her hiding space in a storage closet to follow the cries of Moshe.

She found him sitting next to his mother, who lay unconscious next to him. His clothes were splattered with blood. She scooped the wailing toddler into her arms and rushed to safety outside.

She said she had no doubt in her mind she would follow him to Israel when his maternal grandparents decided to take him back.

She has now decided to stay for “as long as he needs me.”

“He is always close by to me. When I’m not there for ten or fifteen minutes he asks where I am,” said Miss Samuel who has moved in with his grandparents at their home in the northern Israeli town of Afula.

Miss Samuel, who came to Mumbai from Goa and previously worked as a caretaker for the elderly and others before she started work at the Chabad House over four years ago, said she planned to tell Moshe about his parents when he is older.

“I will tell him his parents were extraordinary,” she said. “They were so special, so warm.”

“I still have not processed that they are not here anymore. I am very happy to be with him. He loves me and I love him. It is all God’s grace.”

Moshe’s mother, Rivka Holtzberg, 28, was six months pregnant when she was shot. Moshe’s father, Gavriel Holtzberg, 29 was also found shot and killed along with seven others who had been guests at the Jewish guesthouse.

Rabbi Shimon Rosenberg, Moshe’s grandfather, said that in the immediate days after the attack the toddler, a boy with honey coloured hair and brown eyes, was afraid to be around men so the Miss Samuel’s help was crucial.

He said: “He has a strong connection to her, like a mother. He is with her all the time.”

When he asks where his mother and father are he is told they are in heaven and will often peer into the sky looking for them.

He also asks about his older brother Dov, who suffered from a severe genetic disease called Tay-Sachs and died about a month after his parents at the age of four and a half. The eldest Holtzberg son named Mendi also died of the same disease at the age of 3 and a half.

When Moshe cries out for his parents, which he does less often than he used to, it’s hard for his grandparents to keep their composure.

“This is difficult, it breaks our heart,” said Rabbi Rosenberg. “But we try our best never to appear upset in front of him.”

7:53PM: Work accident!

7:38PM: You tell ’em, Gerhard.

Visiting former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder criticized on Saturday Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for casting doubt over the Holocaust, saying the slaughter of 6 million Jews by Nazis was a fact.

Since coming to power in 2005, Ahmadinejad has provoked international condemnation for saying the Holocaust was a “myth” and calling Israel a “tumor” in the Middle East.

In an Israellycool exclusive, here is audio of Schroeder from the meeting.

About the author

Picture of David Lange

David Lange

A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media
Picture of David Lange

David Lange

A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media
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