For the past few days I've been part of a protest outside the ASB Tennis Centre in Auckland where Israeli tennis player Shahar Peer has been playing in a women's international tennis tournament.
We have been calling for her to leave the tournament just as protests in earlier decades sought to have Springbok tours to New Zealand abandoned. In South Africa's case it was the apartheid policies of the ruling regime which legally discriminated against black and coloured South Africans and brutally suppressed dissent. In Israel's case it's the Zionist policies of the Israeli Government which discriminates against the Arab population of Israel and uses military might to oppress the wider Palestinian population and deny them freedom and any semblance of civil, political or human rights.
After South Africa, Israel is just the second country in recent times where an international consensus has developed that a boycott is the best way to bring pressure for change. Other forms of pressure have failed. Israel has ignored numerous United Nations resolutions and rulings from the International Court of Justice. It continues to oppress with impunity the indigenous population of Palestine and viciously attacks those who dare to fight back.
This is not to say Israel has not been the subject of terror attacks. It plainly has, but the driver of terrorism is the regime itself and not the sticks and stones of Palestinian youth or the suicide bombers who in anger, despair, frustration and powerlessness throw their very bodies at their oppressor.
So what has all this to do with tennis in Auckland? Everything. The BDS campaign (Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions) against Israel includes sport so Shahar Peer is being asked to make a sacrifice and give up international competition. This pales beside the sacrifices Palestinians are forced to make every day of their lives as they live under Israel's iron fist. Where are the Palestinian tennis players who'd love the chance to learn and compete internationally?
The most surprising aspect of the protest for me has been the measured and thoughtful reaction from most tennis patrons. When I grew up most New Zealanders saw Israel as a plucky little country surrounded by fanatical Arab hordes determined to overrun it and throw all the Jews into the Mediterranean. We believed we were on the side of the underdog.
It was a myth of course. Israel has always had enormous military might courtesy of the annual billions in "aid" from the US. The latest technology has been provided on a plate and Israel now has a formidable nuclear arsenal - also courtesy of the US.
New Zealanders have moved a lot in attitudes towards the Middle East over recent years. The 2006 Israeli invasion of Lebanon and last year's invasion of the Gaza strip in which 1400 Palestinians were killed (13 Israelis lost their lives) have helped New Zealanders see the Middle East with fresh eyes.
The most common question I've been asked by patrons has been why we aren't protesting the presence of Chinese and Zimbabwean players. I've responded that the organisation Global Peace and Justice Auckland, to which I belong, has protested against both governments. We led an unsuccessful protest to try to stop the Black Cap cricketers from touring Zimbabwe a few years back. However, the main opposition group the MDC (Movement for Democratic Change) doesn't support boycotts as a tactic. We've also protested human rights abuses in China and marched against the Clark government's free-trade agreement with the Chinese regime.
Shahar Peer will not be stopped by the protests this year but increasingly the boycott will tighten on Israel in trade, investment, cultural and sporting ties. Among these the sports boycott will be the most important because it has a higher profile and is most closely linked to a country's sense of itself and in Israel's case this is what needs drastic change.
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