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Posted at 6:47 a.m., Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Tennis: Israel's Peer resists protesters' calls to pull out

Associated Press

AUCKLAND, New Zealand Shahar Peer wants to keep sports and politics separate.

The Israeli tennis player has ignored calls for her to withdraw from the ASB Classic tournament over her country's invasion of Gaza, saying she isn't responsible for her nation's military action.

A New Zealand protest group said Wednesday it had written to Peer asking her to withdraw from the WTA tournament as part of an international boycott of Israel.

Peace and Justice Auckland said it had received no reply from Peer and would protest outside the tournament venue Thursday when the fifth-seeded player was scheduled to play a quarterfinal match.

"On the eve of the tournament last Sunday evening we wrote to Shahar requesting she respect international calls for a comprehensive boycott of Israel and withdraw from the tournament," protest leader John Minto said in a statement.

Peer was provided with extra security when she played a second-round match Wednesday, beating Barbora Zahlavova of the Czech Republic 6-3, 4-6, 6-2. Afterward, she said she could do nothing about the politics of the Middle East.

"I have nothing to do with this," she said. "I'm Shahar Peer. I came here to play tennis. I know I'm from Israel and I'm proud of my country and that playing tennis is what I'm going to do tomorrow."

An Israeli basketball team in Turkey was also targeted by protesters. Bnei Hasharon players had to leave the court on Tuesday, getting protection from police with riot shields, at their European Cup game against Turk TeleKom. The contest was postponed when the Israeli team didn't return.

The 21-year-old Peer said she had tried to ignore the events in Gaza even though her brother, a military reservist, had been called up.

"Two days ago, I was crying a bit, actually more than a bit, so it was a hard time for me," she said. "I hope as soon as possible it will end and we will all be happy, because no one wants to be in a war."

Peer said she had never previously been the focus of protests and had even been the first Israeli to play in the Muslim country of Qatar. She said the protesters had the right to express their views.

"It's their choice and they are choosing what they want to do," she said.

Peace and Justice Auckland said its letter to Peer highlighted the attacks and invasion of Gaza by the Israeli army and the heavy death toll of Palestinians.

"The sports boycott of Israel is a key part of any boycott campaign because it is much more visible than a trade or investment boycott and can have an important psychological impact," Minto said. "We saw this with the successful sports boycotts against apartheid South Africa, which had a big impact in South Africa and around the world."