Flying own flag, three Israelis win bronze at Abu Dhabi judo tourney
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Flying own flag, three Israelis win bronze at Abu Dhabi judo tourney

Year after Israelis were forced to compete under judo federation flag, Israeli symbols displayed in UAE; minister makes first official visit to country

Israeli Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev, middle, shakes hands with Mohamed Bin Tha'loob Al Derai, President of UAE Wrestling Judo & Kickboxing Federation, after one Israeli player won the bronze medal during the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam Judo tournament in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018. (AP/Kamran Jebreili)
Israeli Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev, middle, shakes hands with Mohamed Bin Tha'loob Al Derai, President of UAE Wrestling Judo & Kickboxing Federation, after one Israeli player won the bronze medal during the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam Judo tournament in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018. (AP/Kamran Jebreili)

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.

Israeli Baruch Shamailov embraces his coach after he won the 66kg bronze medal during the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam Judo tournament in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018. (AP/Kamran Jebreili)

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.

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.

Israeli Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev and Israel Judo Association President Moshe Ponte with medal winners during the women 52 kg medal ceremony at the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam Judo tournament in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

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.

Israeli gold-medalist judoka Tal Flicker stands on the podium at the Judo Grand Slam in Abu Dhabi, where the local judo authorities banned the display of all Israeli symbols, on October 26, 2017. (YouTube screen capture)

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.

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