Israeli anthem plays in Abu Dhabi for first time

After an Israeli judoka won gold in the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam, organizers allowed Israel’s national anthem to be played as he received his medal.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Israeli judoka Sagi Muki made history on Sunday when he won his under-81 kg class event at the International Judo Federation’s (IJF) Grand Slam competition in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Not only was he allowed to compete in the Arab country with his country’s flag on his uniform, he could hear the strains of “Hatikva” played as he stood on the podium after receiving his gold medal.

This was a first for the UAE, which has no diplomatic relations with Israel. The organizers even allowed non-competing Israelis to officially attend, namely Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, who was invited to the competition by IJF President Marius Vizer.

The display of an Israeli flag was not a one-off event either. It has been raised three other times so far during the Grand Prix, as three other judokas stood on slightly lower podiums to get bronze medals for taking third in their respective weight classes: Gili Cohen, Baruch Shmailov, and Timna Nelson Levy.

Abu Dhabi seemingly learned its lesson after being suspended from the IJF for not allowing Israelis to compete at last year’s event under their own flag, even though the reason officially given was that it was for their own safety. They fought under the Federation’s symbol, and when Tal Flicker won his under-66 kg event, he had to sing Israel’s national anthem to himself as the flag raised – and anthem played – was that of the Federation.

The UAE had done this in 2015 as well, but after the 2017 event, the Israeli government protested vociferously that this was against all IJF rules, and that time, the Federation listened.

When the sports authority promised that Israelis would be treated like all the other athletes, the country’s tournament was reinstated – and, as seen, UAE organizers kept their promise.

Muki, who is also the 2018 European champion, bested Matthias Casse of Belgium just nine seconds into the final match.

According to a statement by the Culture and Sports Ministry, Regev had more than the pleasure of attending a good sports competition on her mind when she went to Abu Dhabi.

“The goal of the minister’s visit is first and foremost to sign a historic agreement for Israel to host a Grand Prix event, which will be attended by the best judokas in the world,” it said. It would be very interesting to see if Arab competitors would come – or be allowed to come – if Israel does gain this sports honor.