Israel’s national anthem was played in an Abu Dhabi arena on Saturday after 17-year-old Alon Leviev took gold in the junior category at the Ju-jitsu World Championship, the latest instance of a sea change in the Gulf Emirate where Israeli symbols were banned just a few years ago.
Leviev, who competes in the 55-kilogram-and-under weight category, beat an athlete from Abu Dhabi in the final, having overcome competitors from Pakistan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan.
Following the medal distribution, the tournament presenter announced, in English, “Congratulations, and now for the national anthem of Israel” after which the “Hatikva” melody began playing.
Last year the United Arab Emirates reversed its policy of banning athletes from the Jewish state from using Israeli symbols such as the flag and anthem at tournaments after an outcry.
Posted by Linoy Horev on Saturday, November 16, 2019
This led to Israel’s national anthem being played publicly in a Gulf state for the first time when Israeli judoka Sagi Muki won the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam last October.
The move came after the Judo Federation stripped the UAE and Tunisia of the right to host two international tournaments due to their failure to guarantee equal treatment of Israeli athletes, who were not allowed to compete under their nation’s flag or play the national anthem if they won.
In 2017, tournament organizers in Abu Dhabi banned Israel’s flag and national anthem — a policy directed only at Israeli participants. Tal Flicker, playing under the Judo Federation flag, won a gold at the tournament, but the anthem was not played, so he sang it himself.
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, who have attempted to crack down.