The United Arab Emirates’ top judo official apologized to his Israeli counterpart Saturday after a tournament in Abu Dhabi saw Israeli athletes repeatedly snubbed by their hosts because of their nationality.
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 over the fact that an athlete from the UAE refused to shake hands with an Israeli judoka after a match during the several-day tournament, according to a statement from the International Judo Federation.
Darei and Awani “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.”
On Friday, the UAE’s Rashad Almashjari refused to shake hands after losing to Israeli Tohar Butbul in the first round of the men’s lightweight (66-73 kg) category.
Butbul went on to win bronze, one of several medals won by Israelis at the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam judo tournament.
However, Israeli symbols were banned during the competition, the flag did not appear during medal ceremonies, and the national anthem was not played for Israel’s gold medalist Tal Flicker on Thursday.
“As you can see I don’t have the flag,” Or Sasson said Saturday after winning the bronze medal in the over 100 kilogram category, pointing the bare patch on his chest where the other competitors had their national flag. “But my heart is always, always with the state of Israel. I hope I made you proud and I will always continue to represent you with pride,” he said.
Peter Paltchik, who also won a bronze Saturday the men’s under 100 kilograms category, was pictured in a photo released by the IJF flanked by UAE officials congratulating him.
The entire Israeli team was required to compete without any Israeli identifying symbols, and had been told before the tournament that there would be no acknowledgement of their home country — a discriminatory policy imposed solely on the Israeli competitors.
On Thursday, event organizers refused to play the Israeli national anthem or display the Israeli flag when Israeli judoka Flicker won the gold medal in the men’s under-66 kilogram category. The same day, the flag was left out when Gili Cohen won bronze on the women’s side in under-52 kilogram class.
Flicker sang out his own private “Hatikvah” under the International Judo Federation’s (IJF) flag, as the federation’s anthem played in the background.
Vizier said Israel had still been treated well despite the flag and anthem flaps.
“Sometimes with courage, respect and politeness, you can solve tensions and conflicts, which have not been solved since many decades. I consider, that even without the flag and anthem of Israel, that their team have been treated very well with high respect during this event,” he said.
Israel’s Ynet news website reported that the group agreed that Israeli symbols would be permitted at the event next year, but there was no confirmation of this. Vizer only expressed hopes that “in the near future we can achieve the best condition of participation for the Israel teams.”
“Such delicate issues between countries, governments and nations cannot be solved overnight and cannot be solved through the sport immediately,” Vizer said. “In the last years the IJF has made a lot of work and important steps for the participation and recognition of the Israeli team in countries like Morocco and Emirates and I hope soon we can break down more barriers for more tolerance between countries and nations to express the real value of the sport, friendship unity and solidarity.”
Israeli athletes regularly face discrimination when competing abroad against athletes from countries critical of Israel.
In the 2016 Summer Olympics, Egyptian judoka Islam El Shahaby refused to shake hands with Sasson after being defeated by the Israeli, and only begrudgingly made the obligatory end-of-match bow after being being called back to the mat by the referee. He was later removed from the tournament for refusing to follow protocol.