Israel won its second gold medal at the International Judo Federation Grand Slam held in Abu Dhabi on Monday, and for the second time this week the national anthem was publicly played in the Gulf state.
Peter Paltchik beat Azerbaijani Elmar Gasimov to win the under-100 kilogram category. After receiving his prize on the podium, the Hatikva anthem was played in the arena, only the second time it has been heard in a Gulf state sporting contest, and one day after it was first played.
“Our Peter is giving the sweetest dessert to a historic journey, and made the Hatikva heard for the second time in the arena in Abu Dhabi,” Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev said in a statement. “The members of the delegation proved superiority throughout the contest by winning five medals. The whole team showed a tremendous fighting spirit.”
His success followed that of judoka Sagi Muki, who won the top medal in the under-80 kilogram category on Sunday. Regev was in the arena at the time, and presented Muki with the medal, after which Hatikva was played, reducing Regev to tears.
Paltchik’s win brought Israel’s medal tally to five — two gold and three bronze.
Earlier Monday, Or Sasson pulled out of the contest due to an elbow injury he sustained during his semifinal bout in the over-100 kilogram event.
“After an initial check it was decided that Ori won’t continue in the contest so as not to exacerbate his injury,” the team said in a statement. “A thorough clarification will made later.”
The playing of the Israeli national anthem and Regev’s attendance at the tournament were the latest milestones in Israel’s gradual rapprochement with some Arab states.
Regev’s presence in the United Arab Emirates capital marked the first time a minister from Israel attended a sports event in the Gulf, Israeli officials said.
It was also the first time an Israeli delegation participated there under its national flag, after the International Judo Federation warned UAE organizers the competition would be canceled unless all athletes were allowed to participate on an equal footing.
Last year, tournament organizers in Abu Dhabi banned Israel’s flag and national anthem — a policy directed only at Israeli participants. Tal Flicker won a gold at the tournament, but the anthem was not played, so he sang it himself.
Three Israeli judokas won bronze medals on Saturday, the first day of the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam, with Regev given the honor of awarding the medals for one of the categories.
Gili Cohen, Baruch Shmailov, and Timna Nelson Levy all finished third in their weight classes.
Athletes from 62 countries are participating in the competition, which runs until Tuesday, with Israel represented by six male and five female competitors.
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.