In Dubai tennis match, love-love proved the winner
WASHINGTON — Sometimes, Middle East diplomacy isn’t unlike tennis: You can work the ref and slam down your racket and curse yourself blue — or you can reach across the net and shake hands.
A U.S. Jewish organizational leader and a Jewish congressman from New York got results when they passed on the John McEnroe approach in favor of reaching out to officials in the United Arab Emirates after the Persian Gulf nation banned an Israeli tennis player from its tournament.
Jack Rosen, the chairman of the American Jewish Congress, and U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) each described for JTA their separate roles in getting the UAE to grant a visa permitting Andy Ram, the 11th-ranked doubles player, to play in the Barclay Dubai Tennis Championships Feb. 25 to March 9 days after Shahar Pe’er, the 45th-ranked women’s singles player in the world, was denied entry into the same tournament.
“If you engage in a dialogue with the right leadership, you can have a positive result,” said Rosen, who travels frequently to Muslim countries to promote closer ties to U.S. Jews and to Israel.
Insiders say the White House had a role in pressing the UAE to relent and admit Ram. But Weiner and Rosen also were active.
Upon learning of Pe’er’s Valentine’s Day rebuff, Weiner called the oil-rich nation’s envoy to Washington, Yousef Al Otaiba.
Weiner, an aspirant to New York’s City Hall whose public reputation is that of a bulldog, says he wasn’t out for an argument. He wanted Al Otaiba, whom Weiner says he likes, to explain what so clearly was, to the congressman’s understanding, “a mistake.”
“We went back and forth about Dubai having commendably created a moderate image for itself,” Weiner said Feb. 19. “Eventually the ambassador called me yesterday morning (Feb. 17), and said ‘we’re going to admit Ram.’
“I told him it wasn’t perfect. But at the end of the day, I said Dubai did the right thing.”
In a statement, Weiner said, “Even in times of conflict, sports should be a vehicle for celebrating our common ideals and not another device to divide us. Hopefully this is the last time that this lesson has to be taught. I commend the Ambassador for his understanding and desire to do the right thing. Now, let’s watch the players play.”
It’s not the first time Weiner, a strident backer of a number of sanctions bills targeting Israel’s enemies, has quietly extended a friendly hand to Arabs. In 2004, not long after he had followed the lead of his fellow New York Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel in ramming the Syria Accountability Act through Congress, Weiner had a quiet meeting with Syria’s ambassador to Washington at a backyard barbecue in Brooklyn organized by a Syrian Jewish constituent.
“At the end of the day, parlor meetings on Ocean Parkway are not as important as policy changes in Damascus,” Weiner told JTA at the time. “But if one paves the road to the other, then it’s worth exploring.”
Weiner has been friendly with Al Otaiba for just a few weeks, since he met him at a dinner party in New York.
“I was introduced to him through my girlfriend,” Weiner said, referring to Huma Abedin, the U.S.-born, Saudi-raised aide to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Separately, Rosen called his old friend, Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the prime minister of the UAE and the emir of Dubai, according to sources apprised of the conversations. Just months ago, Rosen had attended the wedding of one the sheik’s eight sons, the sources said.
Rosen, a wireless and real estate magnate, would not discuss those details, saying only that he had reached out to “someone from the diplomatic corps” in the UAE.