Last week (while I was otherwise occupied) the International Judo Federation (IJF) held its annual competition in Abu Dhabi. The behaviour of the Arab hosts as well as other Arab teams was absolutely disgraceful and should have been enough to disqualify them from ever holding an international competition in their country, and their competitors should have been disqualified too for the way Israeli competitors were treated.
But none of this happened. The IJF cravenly kowtowed to all the Arabs’ demands.
And yet – the Israeli competitors won competition after competition and would not let the boycott attempts defeat them.
The trouble started before the Israeli team ever reached Abu Dhabi. In the absence of direct flights to the UAE, they were supposed to fly via Turkey, but the Abu Dhabians refused to grant them entry visas in Turkey. This outrageous act of discrimination should have been enough to disqualify the UAE from holding the competition at all, but the IJF stayed silent. The Israeli team had to travel back to Israel and thence to Jordan in order to receive their visas and continue on to Abu Dhabi.
But the extra travelling and aggravation did not upset the Israelis, despite the fact that they were banned from wearing the Israeli flag on their outfits or even to officially compete under the Israeli flag.
The Israeli judoka Tal Flicker won the gold medal in the Grand Slam competition. And how did those “gracious” hosts behave? in the most disgraceful, dishonourable way you can imagine. They refused to play the Israeli national anthem, as is the norm in international sporting competitions. Tal Flicker did us all proud with a display of dignified patriotism: since the Arabs would not play our anthem, he sang it himself!
As the Tablet article notes:
Flicker’s moment of dignified defiance in the face of bigotry quickly shot across social media, drawing plaudits from everyone from West Wing and Scandal actor Josh Malina to Ruth Davidson, the head of Britain’s Scottish Conservatives:
“Israel is my country, and I’m proud to be Israeli,” Flicker told Israel’s Channel 2 news after the event. “The anthem that they played of the world federation was just background noise. I was singing HaTikvah from my heart.”
“I’m proud of my country,” he said. “The whole world knows that we’re from Israel, knows who we represent. The fact that they hid our flag, it’s just a patch on our flag.”
This was far from the first time that Israeli athletes, and in particular Judokas, had faced discrimination in sporting competitions. Most recently, at the Rio Olympics in 2016, an Egyptian Judoka refused to shake the hand of Or Sasson after the Israeli bested him. (Sasson would take home the Bronze medal.) And at the same Olympics, Lebanese athletes prevented Israel’s team from boarding the bus that the two were supposed to share.
The Israelis went on to win two more bronze medals, yet their symbols were still banned.
Two Israeli judokas won bronze medals at the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam Judo tournament on Saturday, bringing Israel’s total to five at the event marked by the host’s refusal to play the Israeli national anthem or fly the Israeli flag for medal-winning Israeli athletes at the competition.
In the men’s over 100 kilograms (220 pounds) category, Olympic medalist Or Sasson finished third after defeating Benjamin Harmegnies of Belgium.
Earlier, Peter Paltchik won the bronze in the men’s under 100 kilograms category after beating Hungary’ Miklós Cirjenics.
Neither Sasson nor Paltchik wore Israeli symbols on their uniforms during the medal winning matches.
As with their compatriots, Israel’s flag was not flown as Paltchik and Sasson stood on the podium to receive their medals.
“As you can see I don’t have the flag,” Sasson said speaking after the ceremony, 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.
Paltchik spoke of his pride in representing Israel.
And the contemptible racism of the Arabs continued as the victorious Israeli’s rival refused to shake hands at the end of the match despite this being the prescribed behaviour in martial arts:
Israel’s Tohar Butbul, competing in the men’s lightweight (66-73 kg) category, came up against the UAE’s Rashad Almashjari in the first round. After being defeated by Butbul, Almashjari refused the customary handshake with the Israeli.
Butbul went on to win a bronze medal in his category — by defeating Italy’s 2016 Olympic gold medalist; it was Israel’s third medal in the competition.
And then, as Sussex Friends of Israel reports:
On Thursday the IJF website clearly listed ‘Israel’ on the medal table for the Abu Dhabi championships but by today that had become ‘IJF!’ :
After the competition was over, with the Israelis having won several medals, the UAE judo officials apologized – not for their disgusting behaviour towards the Israeli team, but for the refusal of the UAE judoka to shake hands.
According to International Judo Federation President Marius Vizer, the president of the UAE Judo Federation Mohammad Bin Thaloub Al-Darei and General Secretary of Abu Dhabi Sports Council Aref Al-Awani apologized to Israel Judo Association President Mr. Moshe Ponti. Vizer also claimed that the officials congratulated the Israeli team for their success.
Despite the Israeli officials accepting the apology I feel that this was mere lip service. The whole show was an utter disgrace, and the Israelis were perhaps too keen to accept the apology, in fact the entire spit in the face that they received from the Arabs.
I am glad that Aussie Dave at Israellycool, a blogger I hugely admire, is of a similar opinion, as he calls out the Israeli Judo Federation for their craven behaviour:
I am disgusted with this capitulation, that will likely guarantee the UAE is not penalized for their disgraceful conduct.
I assume this is indicative of just how much Israel wants peace and good relations with the Arab and Muslim world. But we really need to stop showing weakness – and I am not just talking about in the world of Judo.
David Horovitz at the Times of Israel slammed the IJF and the UAE for the racist behaviour towards the Israelis, and said that the world judo organization should honour its own code of ethics:
Adding insult to insult, the IJF has been partially complicit in this anti-Israeli discrimination. Its own website’s reporting on Flicker’s gold medal success described him (and still does in this article) as representing not Israel but, risibly, the IJF. “The IJF are in second place with one gold and one bronze medal,” it reported, ridiculously, on Thursday night. (By Friday evening, its medals table for the tournament was at least accurately showing Israel’s gold and two bronzes to have indeed been won by “Israel.”
Some might argue that Israel should not have participated in a tournament whose UAE hosts messed the team around regarding visas and informed the sport’s international administration in advance that Israelis would only be tolerated if they exhibited no sign whatsoever of being Israeli. But the Israeli thinking was that its excellent judokas emphatically should participate, and that they would hopefully strike a contrast, through sporting excellence and good grace, to the rudeness of the UAE organizers. And so it has proved.
But that emphatically should not be the end of the matter. When the UAE Judo Federation made plain ahead of the tournament that the Israeli team would not be allowed to compete under the Israeli flag, the IJF wrote to the hosts to demand that “all delegations, including the Israeli delegation, shall be treated absolutely equally in all aspects, without any exception.”
The UAE Judo Federation paid it absolutely no heed. Why would it? It had imposed the same discrimination against Israel’s judokas two years ago; Israel won two bronze medals in the 2015 tournament — which meant far fewer headlines than the unignorable gold-medal success of Tal Flicker.
Rather than Israelis facing the dilemma of whether to compete as unwanted intruders in events such as this, it now falls to the IJF to ensure that there is no discrimination at future tournaments, and that hosts who cannot abide by its requirement that all delegations be treated “absolutely equally” not be permitted to hold events. (Incidentally, “Palestine,” as an International Olympic Committee member, is one of the IJF’s 198 “member countries.” We can all argue long and hard over the differences or similarities, but if Israel wanted to host an IJF event, it would be required to treat Palestinian participants equally.)
As the IJF’s own Code of Ethics (clause 2) states unequivocally, “There shall be no discrimination between the participants on the basis of race, gender, ethnic origin, religion, philosophical or political opinion, marital status or other grounds.”
The UAE trampled all over those principles this week. It should not permitted to do so again.
I’m still not sure I agree with Horovitz’s opinion about Israel agreeing to participate under these discriminatory limitations, but he is spot-on about they hypocrisy in the IJF’s attitude towards anti-Israel discrimination. Shame on all of them.
And a huge kol hakavod to Israel’s judo team, both for their great wins and for their dignified behaviour in the face of such revolting discrimination.