‘Hatikva’ in Qatar: Israel fencer Yuval Freilich wins gold, en route to Paris Olympics

With ‘Am Yisrael chai’ embroidered on his shirt, 29-year-old takes Grand Prix in Doha; Israel Olympics Committee head: ‘Israeli pride at its peak’

Israeli fencer Yuval Freilich at the Qatar Grand Prix, January 31, 2024 (FIE (Fédération Internationale d'Escrime) on X, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Israeli fencer Yuval Freilich at the Qatar Grand Prix, January 31, 2024 (FIE (Fédération Internationale d'Escrime) on X, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Israeli fencer Yuval Freilich won gold in the Doha Grand Prix on Wednesday, sparking a rare scene — the Israeli national anthem being played during wartime in Qatar, a country that does not have ties with Israel.

The 29-year-old former European champion wore a shirt with the words “Am Yisrael chai” (the people of Israel live) embossed in Hebrew on the Israeli flag when he defeated one of the world’s top fencers, world champion Yannick Borel of France, with a score of 9:15, moving him one step closer to advancing to the Paris 2024 Olympics.

Gili Lustig, the CEO of the Olympic Committee, called Freilich’s win “an impressive achievement in an Olympic-level tournament,” according to Channel 14 news.

“The win in Qatar and waving the Israeli flag in times like these on this unique stage is Israeli pride at its peak,” Lustig was quoted as saying.

Freilich became the first Israeli fencer to win a European championship in Germany in 2019. The 29-year-old fencer grew up in the West Bank settlement of Neve Daniel. He is the son of Australian immigrants and has been fencing since age five. He won two gold medals in teen championships in 2014 and 2015 and a silver in the under-23 category in 2016.

The playing of the Israeli national anthem “Hatikva” during the medal ceremony in Doha came weeks after two Israeli soccer players were deported from Turkey for making a gesture of sympathy to the hostages held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip since the terror group’s October 7 massacre in southern Israel.

Qatar and Israel do not have diplomatic relations. However, in 2022, the two nations cooperated to allow Israeli visitors to attend the World Cup soccer tournament, including allowing the first-ever direct charter flights from Ben Gurion Airport to Doha.

Doha, which is a leading patron of Hamas and hosts its leaders, played a key role in negotiating the November release of 105 hostages held by terror groups in Gaza, and is a key mediator in current talks aimed at releasing the remaining abductees and negotiating a lengthy pause in fighting.

As well as hosting Hamas’s political office for more than 10 years, Qatar is also home to the largest US military base in the region.

Recent weeks have seen several attempts to target Israeli sports amid the war.

In January, the International Ice Hockey Federation reversed its decision to ban Israel from a world championship in Bulgaria. Israel was originally supposed to host a portion of the 2024 competition, but after Hamas’s October 7 onslaught and the ensuing war in Gaza, the games were moved to Bulgaria and the federation announced that Israel would be excluded due to “concerns over the safety and security of all participants.”

The war in Gaza erupted after Hamas’s brutal October 7 massacre, which saw some 3,000 terrorists burst across the border into Israel, killing some 1,200 people and seizing 253 hostages of all ages, mostly civilians.

JTA contributed to this report.

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