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Fenty Stands Firm: Dubai Trip No Mistake

Privately, Mayor Adrian Fenty has been telling Jewish supporters that his decision to attend a tennis tournament in Dubai even after the government there barred an Israeli player from competing was, if not a mistake, at least something he'd like to find a way to make amends for.

But publicly, the mayor is standing firm, saying he did nothing wrong because even though Dubai denied Shahar Peer a visa, the government there later granted last-minute permission for another Israeli, Andy Ram, to take part in the event.

According to two Jewish supporters who told Fenty they were disappointed by his failure to take a stand against Dubai's discriminatory policy, the mayor has taken lots of time to hear them out and to explain himself.

Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld of the Ohev Sholom synagogue on 16th Street NW says Fenty told him he was open to inviting Peer to compete in the District's Legg-Mason tennis tourney as a gesture of reconciliation. "He told me he wants to do the appropriate thing," Herzfeld said of his half-hour talk with the mayor. The rabbi wants Fenty to apologize to Peer and invite her to Washington to play in the tourney here and to visit the mayor's office.

(Add your voice about Fenty's decision--in today's poll, at the end of this post.)

But when I asked Fenty about that, he said only that "I did talk to the rabbi." Fenty also said he had not seen a letter from the actor Lou Gossett Jr., who runs an anti-discrimination group called the Eracism Foundation, urging the mayor to "connect with Peer" on her next U.S. visit and to invite her to host a tennis clinic in the District for children of all ethnic backgrounds.

"Shame on you," Herzfeld wrote in a letter to Fenty, saying that "by attending this tournament, you chose to condone this terrible act of bigotry.... You should have known better." Similar, if less strongly worded, condemnations have come from other Washington Jewish leaders.

Gossett struck a similar chord in his letter to Fenty. "I am sure that in hindsight you can see how your attendance at the tennis tournament under those circumstances might be construed as condoning the well-publicized exclusion of the Israeli tennis player," Gossett wrote.

But Fenty concedes no such thing. I spoke to the mayor after his appearance at Carol Joynt's Q&A Cafe at Nathan's in Georgetown this week. Do you regret attending the tournament, I asked.

"You've probably asked a question that doesn't have a yes or no answer," the mayor replied. He repeated several times that Peer should have been allowed to play, but each time added that he believed that the subsequent decision to admit the male Israeli player was a recognition by the United Arab Emirates that a mistake had been made.

"I felt by the time I went to the tournament, they had made a decision that acknowledged that mistake," Fenty said.

Even if that were the case--and lots of other people and institutions have not read it that way, including the Tennis Channel, which canceled coverage of the Dubai tournament in protest of the banning of the Israeli player, as well as the Women's Tennis Association, which levied a record $300,000 fine against Dubai's tournament organizers--that would hardly preclude Fenty from conceding that his appearance there sent the wrong message about his attitude toward blatant discrimination. This is a curious stance for a mayor who has won deep and abiding support for positions and hiring practices that display a commitment to equal rights.

Mike DeBonis of Washington City Paper asked Fenty whether he attended the match because to sit it out would have been a slap against his hosts in Dubai, whose government had paid for the mayor's trip.

"No," Fenty replied, visibly bristling at the suggestion. "I feel like I'm a free person.... So, yes, I feel like it was my decision to make."

In 2006, when Fenty was running for mayor, he responded to a candidate questionnaire from the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance like this:

Q. Will you refuse to issue proclamations and otherwise decline to honor individuals or organizations that promote any sort of bigotry?

A. Yes. I will not issue proclamations or honor individuals or organizations that promote bigotry or discrimination. We must move forward as one society and we can't do that unless we finally stand up and say in every way and at every opportunity that discrimination and bigotry is unacceptable in all its forms.

The mayor said he still intends to release details of the Dubai government's payments for his trip--sometime "soon." Let's hope that release is accompanied by an acknowledgment that a mayor's actions have symbolic meaning, even when he's on vacation.

By Marc Fisher |  March 13, 2009; 8:22 AM ET
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I suspect the Dubai government thought by paying for Fenty's trip they were buying access through him to President Obama.

What both the Dubai government and Fenty have failed to realize is that the election is over and Obama no longer needs either Fenty or DC voters. Fenty is just another Mayor among many.

Of course, maybe Dubai also arranged for some generous political contributions to Fenty's reelection effort. If that were true, then that would be a story Marc!

Posted by: NewEra | March 13, 2009 12:50 PM

The man was on vacation, he went to a tennis match, they let another Isreali play what is the big deal? And why do we always have to walk on egg shells around the Jews as if they NEVER do anything wrong? Just ask a Palestinian!

Posted by: Angryman | March 13, 2009 1:56 PM

I didn't realize the mayor had any power over who does or doesn't play in the LeggMason tournament.

Posted by: Cossackathon | March 16, 2009 11:35 AM

Fenty, Fenty you have lost all of what's left of Washington's black vote. Now you're gonna piss of Washington's gentrification-generated Jewish vote?!?! Smart, real smart.

What the heck, it is St. Patrick's day, how about driving buy The Dubliner this evening and give everyone the finger? Lose the Capitol-Hill-Irish-American vote too.

And to the Post, it took Fenty pissing off Jews for you all to finally expose the scum bag he is...thanks.

Posted by: TheMadnessShop | March 17, 2009 9:47 AM

I am no longer surprised when Fenty disappoints me. Love or hate Anthony Williams, he was an honorable man and pulled back the curtain on a corrupt government. He brought transparency and dignity back to DC for the first time in many years.

Fenty seems bent on closing that curtain again. He actively resists scrutiny, he ignores FOIAs, he gives the finger to his constituency.

It doesn't matter to me how good his intentions may be when everything he does reeks of cronyism and deception. Though I really doubt that anyone with truly good intentions would be trying to conceal the inner workings of government so much.

He won't be getting my vote a second time.

Posted by: jamietre | March 17, 2009 10:19 AM

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