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Did Free Trip Blind Fenty To Dubai's Bias?

Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty says he went to Dubai for a week because, well, "I always wanted to go."

And hey, the government of the United Arab Emirates was paying for the trip. The mayor came home with a lovely gift, a crystal memento of his visit with the chairman of the Department of Municipal Affairs for Abu Dhabi. Fenty and family even got to watch some of the Dubai Tennis Championships, one of the world's top tennis events.

So what's the problem with the mayor of the capital of the free world taking a week of R&R in the desert? Well, even as Fenty was enjoying the hospitality of his hosts, the Tennis Channel canceled its TV coverage of the tournament because of Dubai's decision to exclude "a single player who has been blocked from entering the country due to her nationality."

That would be Shahar Peer, an Israeli player who had expected to compete for the $2 million purse at the tournament. The Women's Tennis Association has fined the organizers of the Dubai championship a record $300,000 for denying Peer a visa to compete.

Plenty of other Americans seem to get the idea that countenancing discrimination is simply not acceptable. Tennis pro Andy Roddick, the defending champion in the Dubai tourney, pulled out, saying he won't attend because of the country's decision to exclude the Israeli player. Serena Williams, who plays for the Washington Kastles of the World Team Tennis league, said that she is obviously "not for discrimination. Everyone bleeds red blood and everyone should get an equal opportunity."

But Fenty, meeting reporters Monday upon his return to the District, had a different take.

"It's a very complicated international diplomatic situation," he told The Post's David Nakamura. "Concerns were raised. After Venus Williams won, she raised the issue and I think she talked for most people when she said she would have preferred if everyone was allowed to play. But by the end, they seemed to have resolved the matter in that they were going to allow an Israeli to play in the men's tournament."

Indeed, an Israeli man, Andy Ram, was granted a visa, but the matter is hardly resolve. Peer remains blocked--and that was enough to get the Wall Street Journal's European edition to drop its corporate sponsorship of the tennis tournament. "The Wall Street Journal's editorial philosophy is free markets and free people, and this action runs counter to the Journal's editorial direction," the newspaper said in a statement.

(Newsweek, which is owned by The Washington Post Company, is also a sponsor of the tournament; an editorial in The Post said that "the only appropriate action for the Women's Tennis Association and the tournament's corporate sponsors [including Newsweek, a part of The Washington Post Co.] is to take the tournament elsewhere next year unless every legitimate competitor is admitted.")

What was Fenty really doing in Dubai? Supposedly it was a business development trip--but I'll buy lunch for the first reader who identifies any new jobs that come to the District as a result of this trip (a new PR man for the Emirates' Washington office would not count).

Better question: Would Fenty have bailed out of the trip, or at least skipped attending the tennis tourney, if he had not been beholden to his hosts? Maybe I'm being too kind to the mayor, but I think he would have at least thought hard about finding some other form of amusement in Dubai rather than watching the tennis match--if he'd been paying his own way.

Reporters are forever making big deals out of politicians who take free trips, and that can sometimes seem small or picayune. But this is exactly the kind of situation where accepting a large gift can flip in an instant from harmless gratuity to a very icky sense that you have been bought.

(Fenty was highly critical of former Mayor Tony Williams' frequent travel to fancy destinations back when Fenty was a council member from Ward 4. Williams was a far more frequent flyer, averaging close to one of three days on the road some years during his mayoral tenure. "The mayor of the District of Columbia should be in town as much as possible to make sure the city is being run correctly," Fenty said during his 2006 campaign. Fenty even said in 2004 that Williams' wanderings were one of the chief reasons he decided to run for mayor: "It's really gotten ridiculous. He's completely disengaged from the workings of government.")

Yesterday, Fenty sounded more than a little uncomfortable as he struggled to respond to questions about his trip. "We talked about everything from how's the family to how we do our jobs, tips and advice on how to do things," Fenty said when asked what he talked about with his municipal counterparts in Abu Dhabi.

But there's no need for Fenty to be in a squirm situation. He could have done the right thing by not attending the tennis games. Or, even better, if he wanted to take his family on vacation in the desert (there's no accounting for taste), he could have paid his own way. That's what council member Adrian Fenty would have advised just a couple of years ago.

By Marc Fisher |  February 24, 2009; 8:20 AM ET
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Comments

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Mayor Fenty did nothing wrong by accepting a free trip or by attending a tennis tournament. For that matter, the tournament did nothing wrong in excluding an athlete competing from a country that engages in inhumane and barbaric practices. This is no different than apartheid-era South Africa being excluded from the Olympics and other events. I only wish more countries followed Dubai's lead.

Posted by: goldbergjeffrey | February 24, 2009 8:52 AM

Do as I say, not as I do.

Posted by: waterfrontproperty | February 24, 2009 8:58 AM

Mayor Fenty did nothing wrong by accepting a free trip or by attending a tennis tournament. For that matter, the tournament did nothing wrong in excluding an athlete competing from a country that engages in inhumane and barbaric practices. This is no different than apartheid-era South Africa being excluded from the Olympics and other events. I only wish more countries followed Dubai's lead.

Posted by: goldbergjeffrey | February 24, 2009 8:52 AM
_______________________________________

The Mayor is just inconsistent and too self-serving. YOU say that there is nothing wrong with it. But then council-member Fenty said that everything is wrong with the Mayor of the District taking trips. He didn't say numerous trips, he said trips, PERIOD!.

You cannot have it both ways you are either saying it is ok for Mayor Fenty to be a hypocrite or you are saying he is a hypocrite that is not to be trusted.

Posted by: concernedaboutdc | February 24, 2009 9:04 AM

This is not a "complicated" situation - rather it is straightforward. The UAE violated its agreement to host this event by discriminating against a woman because of her nationality. The fact that that this racist government "permitted" a man from the same country to play does not mitigated its continued discrimination against this and other women.

Actions by the mayor of Washington, DC publicly condoned the illegal actions by the UAE against a woman whose "crime" was her nationality. UAE is an Arab country that treats wwomen as second class citizens. The mayor of Washington, DC took money from the UAE. What part of this needs explaining?

Posted by: zzzdoglie | February 24, 2009 9:24 AM

Still cashing those Washington Post checks Marc? I didn't see them pulling their sponsorship, so if the tournament is still good enough for your bosses then why isn't it good enough for the mayor?

Posted by: jhorstma | February 24, 2009 9:44 AM

The answer to your question is 'yes', and zzzdoglie hit the nail on the head.

What's more discouraging is that the Mayor seems to think that Venus Williams, another African American, spoke up at the tournament only after the event was over; and that in simply "speaking up", she was doing the right thing.

To set the record straight, Venus raised the Pe'er incident during the competition, and looked like a complete idiot by showing devout loyalty for the sponsors, rather than her fellow player.

If this had been a racial issue, the Williams sisters would never have played in Dubai in the first place, and all hell would have broken loose. I'm sure our African American mayor would feel the same.

The Williams sisters and Fenty were all in Dubai for one thing -- cash and prizes.

Posted by: sbaker1975 | February 24, 2009 10:06 AM

For a mayor who would probably have an issue with the South Carolina flag to go to this tennis tournament is a joke. He should issue a full apology and pay for the trip.

Posted by: Natstural | February 24, 2009 10:12 AM

Mark Fisher got this one right. Why all the secrecy about the trip?

Posted by: candycane1 | February 24, 2009 10:19 AM

Well, well, well. Not the first time Mr. Fisher spreading hateful propaganda under the guise of journalism. Does Mayor Fenty need to get AIPAC approval before he makes his next trip? Were you jumping in celebration when the Israeli bombs were killing chidren in Gaza? Do you miss George W. Bush and his cabal of neocons?

Posted by: August30 | February 24, 2009 10:28 AM

I think Mayor Fenty is a decent, caring hard working Mayor. Who from time to time reveals that he can be the best when it comes to playing both sides of the fence. As for the former Mayor Anthony Williams, it is quite obvious that he set his administration up for anyone to take the ball and run with it. In other words, Fenty inherited a functioning government (except for the school system) and basically is taking credit for it, when in reality the only thing Fenty can put his name on is the school system so far so good success. As far as going to Dubai, none of us should hate because, I doubt very seriously that Fenty could afford this on his own. Furthermore, I know that their is not a corrupt bone (maybe a couple of healed broken ones) in his body. In other words he is just like most people in DC, and that is a hard working family man. Now, if you'd like a legitimate gripe with him you should go down haines point and watch him as well as other cyclist ride through all the stops signs. Which by the way is illegal and irks me something awful.

Posted by: knjon353 | February 24, 2009 10:36 AM

I thought Fenty held the Israelis in higher regard.

Posted by: Bitter_Bill | February 24, 2009 11:59 AM

I support Fenty, but you mean to tell me that this pair of lawyers (he and his wife) showed such tremendously poor judgment?

As sbaker1975 said: "The Williams sisters and Fenty were all in Dubai for one thing -- cash and prizes."

Heck, instead of speaking out after collecting her prize, Venus could've offered the money to some charity or someone other than HERSELF! The noble choice would've been to boycott the tourney. How would Venus and Serena feel if a country didn't allow them to play because of US foreign policy? Would they not want the support of their fellow athletes?

Back to Fenty...get a better PR man dude.

Posted by: redstriped | February 24, 2009 12:15 PM

Dera Mayor Fenty -- You lost me. And it will take an awful lot for you to get me back. You have always seemed to me to be a caring, thoughtful man. But by going to Dubai, attending a tennis tournament that excludes players based on their nationality, and trying to hide your actions, you lost me. You think you and your family wer invited out of the goodness of their hearts? Get real. I know what it is. You figured that you are the poor civil servant who can't make ends meet and has to take a free vacation to an exotic locale. I've got news for you -- you are not entitled to anything by virtue of your having been elected mayor. I can't wait to learn (any it will come out) exactly how much this junket cost -- and then you should pay it back. By the way, Mr. Mayor, how did you explain to your sons the exclusion of the Israeli tennis player? Or maybe that was all right with you. Perhaps the Legg Mason Tennis Tournament in DC should exclude her, too, in your view?

Posted by: Larry19 | February 24, 2009 12:28 PM

I find Fenty attending the tournament a lot less troubling than the Washington Post sponsoring it.

Posted by: washpost4 | February 24, 2009 12:35 PM

Mark-

Have you been to the state of Isreal lately? So much worst than apartheid South Africa. I think you should disguise yourself as Palestinian (not far from your own resemblance) and experience the utter disgust of Apartheid Israel.
No done wrong with Dubai's embargo of Israeli athletes. Hopefully, this is the begining of a successfull Boycott campaign against Israel!!!

Posted by: pali_g | February 24, 2009 12:49 PM

It's only a matter of time before Marc Fisher starts griping about Obama's father being a muslim.

Posted by: August30 | February 24, 2009 12:54 PM

To Pali-G, have YOU ever been to Israel and were you ever in South Africa under apartheid? Because if you were in Israel and South Africa you would understand the complete and utter fallacy of your statements. Are you aware that there are many Arabs who are Israeli citizens with equal rights to other Israelis -- they can vote (men and women) and enjoy the civil rights of Israeli citizens -- far more rights than any Arabs in Arab countries. Your lack of knowledge shines through in your posting here.

Posted by: Larry19 | February 24, 2009 1:09 PM

Fisher, this is much ado about nothing. When the country hosts you, you don't decline due to some obscure foreign policy reason. You are a gracious guest.

Posted by: sgrahamuva | February 24, 2009 1:14 PM

Fenty attending the tournament is a legit issue. That Fischer raises it while his employer sponsored the same tournament is a double standard on his part. I've found, however that many in the media do not hold themselves to the same standard they attempt to impose on others.

Posted by: pnclare | February 24, 2009 2:43 PM

Let's clear up a few points. First, the UAE was clearly wrong. When the Dubai Duty Free tournament was set up, the organizers agreed with WTA rules, which they ostensibly cleared with the national government. WTA rules specifically bar a tournament from discriminating against any player based on, among other things, national origin. Hence the UAE violated the agreement. The WTA would have been within their rights to cancel the tournament.

However, the UAE did not announce the decision to refuse Shahar Peer a visa until about 3 days before the event. At that point, at least half of the players had already arrived and were on-site at the tournament. While some players were wrestling with what to do, Peer, herself, publically encouraged her fellow players to play in the event. She said that she did not wish any other players to not be able to play like she was. Thus, it is not fair to criticize the female players who chose to continue playing, especially the ones that were already in town and on-site for the tournament.

In the case of Andy Ram, the Israeli men's doubles player, his visa was approved about a week in advance of the tournament. Clearly the UAE realized the political and economic publicity disaster that they had made. Despite this, at least two sponsors have withdrawn from sponsorship of the event and Andy Roddick withdrew. It was easier for him to withdraw 6 days before the tournament started when he was still in Memphis and hadn't already travelled cross-Atlantic to the tournament site.

The WTA has already levied the largest penalty ever and has said that they will reconsider whether Dubai will remain on the tournament calendar for next year. I think the WTA will be waiting to get a confirmation from the UAE government that such an issue will not arise again otherwise, they'll move the sanction to another site. Since the tournament is extremely lucrative for the UAE, they'll probably cave, but we'll have to see.

I agree that Fenty should have taken the high road and even once he was in Dubai, he should have opted to forgo attending the tennis tournament.

Posted by: DadWannaBe | February 24, 2009 2:49 PM

Fenty apologists need to step back. Okay, so maybe you can justify the Dubai trip. But why does he have to go to the tennis tournament? Are you seriously suggesting that attending a tennis tournament has anything to do with Fenty's mayoral responsibilities?

And for those arguing that Israel is the next South Africa, please - you have no idea what you're talking about. If you think Israel should be boycotted, then it follows logically that you should boycott half the planet. How about Sri Lanka, where Tamil civilians are being killed every day? How about Russia, where Georgian civilians were killed last year (or Chechen civilians were massacred in the 1990s)? Or China, or Iran, or Turkey, or Pakistan, or Zimbabwe, or the Philippines, or anywhere else in the world where ethnic strife rears its ugly head. Demonizing one side accomplishes nothing of value. Grow up.

Posted by: simpleton1 | February 24, 2009 4:03 PM

MArk
When will you start dealing with a much more significant issue---Like when the DC City Council throws Barry out for his repeated tax filing failures. We haven't heard a word from the Council --or you-- about throwing the bum out.

Posted by: jmsbh | February 24, 2009 4:27 PM

Shahar Peer got a little taste of what her country does to Gazans at the roadblocks every single day. Blaming UAE for not offering her a visa is like the pot calling the kettle black.

Posted by: August30 | February 24, 2009 6:11 PM

Give me a break. The guy has never been to a Middle Eastern country, and gets his first chance and he should snub the entire country just because they didn't give a player in a tennis match a visa?

I mean its the Middle East, which country in the Middle East is known for kissing and hugging an Israeli when they come off of the plane?

What a waste of Journalism. What a waste of coverage. What a waste of my five minutes to read and respond to this junk.

Posted by: wlockhar | February 24, 2009 7:35 PM

Mayor Fenty has become...NAUSEATING. Were his children on Spring Break? How on Earth is it a "vacation" when he's sponsored by the UAE? What total lack of judgement did he show attending the tennis tourn? Which hotel(s) did he stay in? You can't stay in a 2-star hotel there for less than $800/night US. What a joke. Glad he did it though, hopefully it will raise the eyebrows of his donors and prompt a new leader to run against him. Also wish the Obamas would stop hangin' with him...he's so transparent (Fenty).

Posted by: modern5 | February 25, 2009 8:44 PM

Mayor Fenty has become...NAUSEATING. Were his children on Spring Break? How on Earth is it a "vacation" when he's sponsored by the UAE? What total lack of judgement did he show attending the tennis tourn? Which hotel(s) did he stay in? You can't stay in a 2-star hotel there for less than $800/night US. What a joke. Glad he did it though, hopefully it will raise the eyebrows of his donors and prompt a new leader to run against him. Also wish the Obamas would stop hangin' with him...he's so transparent (Fenty).

Posted by: modern5 | February 25, 2009 8:45 PM

Fenty has become (or was he always?) NAUSEATING. What a fool. Please, someone, run against him and win.

Posted by: modern5 | February 25, 2009 8:46 PM

Is Fenty from another planet or what? Why in the would he support and accept trinkets from a country that is blatantly racist and doesn’t give a hoot about the world’s open window to view their hatred. And, for Fenty to use Venus Williams as justification for attending a tournament, where an Israeli woman was banned, has me questioning his being. How can it be feasibly possible for a politician to be of this world and not associate support of racist acts with political death? It’s absolutely asinine for Fenty not to relate Dubai’s hatred of Israel with the sufferance human beings have experienced for centuries because of their race, religion, nationality, etc. Is he not aware of the pain and humiliation African Americans and Jews have endured because of ignorance and bigotry? Did Fenty not find a correlation with Dubai’s ban of an Israeli athlete and the 1936 Olympics in Berlin where Hitler tried to ban Jessie Owens because he believed African Americans were non-humans? I guess not!

I’ve always been suspicious of Fenty with his extraterrestrial, frontal lobe characteristics and this act has confirmed it! Yes, he is from the planet HasBeens. Your political career is washed-up Mr. Mayor and your Mothership will be at the Carter Barron on November 2, 2010 waiting to transport you back. Shalom!

Posted by: dcnatives | February 25, 2009 11:41 PM

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