Group wants Emirates sanctioned

JERUSALEM -- A prominent group of Jewish American leaders urged the Women's Tennis Association on Wednesday to punish the United Arab Emirates for barring an Israeli player from entering the country for a tournament this week.

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations also called on international tennis authorities to cancel a related men's tournament in Dubai next week unless the UAE allows another Israeli player, Andy Ram, to participate. Ram is still waiting to receive a visa.

Organizers of the Dubai Tennis Championships have said Shahar Peer was denied a visa last weekend due to security concerns. They said they feared riots could break out over Israel's recent military offensive in the Gaza Strip.

The Jewish umbrella group, which is holding meetings in Jerusalem this week, called the decision "offensive, discriminatory and unacceptable."

In an interview, the conference's executive vice chairman, Malcolm Hoenlein, said his group had urged WTA tour chief Larry Scott to cancel the women's tournament next year if Dubai did not change its policy.

"There has to be some price," Hoenlein said. "History teaches us if you let a thing like this go, it grows, and if people perceive it as a license to discriminate, there will be no limit."

He said Scott was "very responsive" but offered no immediate promises. Scott has said he will consider dropping Dubai from the tour's calendar. The WTA is expected to discuss the matter at an upcoming board meeting.

Hoenlein said his group planned to contact Dubai authorities later Wednesday to express its dissatisfaction and urge it to allow Ram, one of the world's top doubles players, into the country.

If Ram is kept out, the group has asked the Association of Tennis Professionals, which runs the men's tour, to cancel next week's tournament. The ATP already has said the UAE must "make the right decision."

Ram was competing in a tournament in France on Wednesday and could not be reached for comment. But his agent, Amit Naor, told The Associated Press that his client is hoping to play and already has booked a flight to Dubai for Sunday.

The controversy has trapped the UAE between its desire to host big-time global sporting events and its stance on Mideast politics. The country sees itself as a guardian of the Palestinians.

The Peer incident already has hurt the country's reputation. The Tennis Channel canceled plans to televise the women's tournament, and the Wall Street Journal Europe withdrew as one of the sponsors of the Dubai Tennis Championships.

Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor condemned the UAE, but said there is little the government can do, because the countries don't have diplomatic relations.

Israel's Gaza offensive killed nearly 1,300 Palestinians, including hundreds of civilians, before ending on Jan. 18. The operation was heavily criticized around the world and sparked a public spat with the leader of Turkey, war crimes allegations and broken ties with Venezuela, Bolivia and Qatar.

In new fallout, Swedish authorities said Sweden and Israel will play their first-round Davis Cup tennis match in an empty arena next month because of security concerns.

Several anti-Israel demonstrations are planned during the March 6-8 event.