Three Israeli judokas won bronze medals in Abu Dhabi Saturday, competing in the United Arab Emirates under their national flag for the first time.
Gili Cohen, Baruch Shmailov, and Timna Nelson Levy all finished third in their weight classes at the Abu Dhabi Judo Grand Slam, as Sports Minister Miri Regev looked on.
The welcome for the Israeli athletes was a significant change from last year, when UAE organizers had singled Israel out with a ban on displaying its flag or playing its anthem during the tournament when one of its athletes was awarded a medal.
A fourth Israeli athlete at the Abu Dhabi meet, Gefen Primo, finished fifth.
Athletes from 62 countries are participating in the competition, which runs until Tuesday, with Israel represented by six male and five female competitors.
Regev is the first Israeli minister to visit the UAE in an official capacity, as the countries have no official diplomatic relations.
Pictures and videos shared to social media on Friday showed Regev, the coaches and team members singing and lighting Shabbat candles ahead of the two-day tournament.
Israeli athletes competing in international tournaments hosted by Arab countries have generally not been allowed to compete under their national flag, display national symbols on their uniforms or have their anthem played, despite protestations by Israel and international officials.
צפו: קבלת שבת באבו דאבי
— ZioNLight (@ZioNLight1) October 26, 2018
The International Judo Federation had temporarily suspended the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam from its schedule, but it was reinstated in September after the tournament’s UAE organizers promised equal treatment to Israeli athletes.
At last year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Slam, organizers refused to acknowledge the nationality of the Israeli athletes — a policy directed only at Israeli participants.
That included a ban on the display of identifying symbols, as well as a refusal to fly the Israeli flag and play the national anthem during ceremonies for Israel’s five medalists.
The Israeli competitors instead competed under the flag of the International Judo Federation (IJF) due to the UAE’s non-recognition of Israel.