Despite attempts by Arab hosts to hide Israel’s presence at the games, Israeli champions stood proudly on the podium.
Israeli athletes won five medals at the Grand Slam competition held at Abu Dhabi last week, even though the United Arab Emirates (UAE) tried to obscure Israel’s presence at the games.
Israeli judoka Tal Flicker won a gold medal on Thursday in the men’s under-66 kilogram (145 pounds) after defeating Azerbaijani judoka Nijat Shikhalizada.
Since Abu Dhabi barred Israel’s judo team from donning national symbols and refused to play the Jewish state’s national anthem during the tournament, Flicker stood on the podium at the award ceremony mouthing the words to the “Hatikvah” as the Judo federation’s anthem played instead, with its flag flown above Flicker.
“Israel is my country, and I’m proud to be Israeli. The anthem that they played of the world federation was just background noise. I was singing Hatikvah from my heart,” Flicker told reporters.
The 12 Israeli athletes participating in the Abu Dhabi Judo Grand Slam tournament could not even include the letters “ISR” to identify their nationality on their uniforms.
Gili Cohen won the bronze medal in the under-52kg women’s division after overcoming Portuguese judoka Joana Ramos.
Peter Paltchik won a bronze in the men’s under 100 kilograms category.
Tohar Butbul won a bronze in the men’s lightweight (66-73 kg) category.
In the first round, he beat the UAE’s Rashad Almashjari, who then refused to shake hands after losing.
Mohammad Bin Thaloub Al-Darei, president of the UAE’s Judo Federation, and Aref Al-Awani, another senior Emirates sports official, apologized to Israeli Judo Association head Moshe Ponte, according to a statement from the International Judo Federation.
The two Arab officials “apologized because of the UAE athletes not shaking hands with the Israel athletes and also congratulated the Israel team for their success here,” IJF president Marius Vizer said. He called the move a “gesture of courage.”
Or Sasson, who won a bronze medal at the Rio Olympics last year, won a bronze medal in the over 100 kilograms category.
In the 2016 Summer Olympics, Egyptian judoka Islam El Shahaby refused to shake hands with Sasson after being defeated by him, and only made the obligatory end-of-match bow after being called back to the mat by the referee.
El Shahaby was later removed from the tournament for refusing to follow protocol.
“I’m glad we’re here, with or without the flag. As far as we’re concerned, what’s important is having [Israeli] athletes compete on such levels and proving to everyone that there’s no stopping Israel,” said the coach of Israel’s team, Oren Smadja.
By: World Israel News Staff