Two more bronze medals for Israeli judokas in UAE, Israeli symbols still banned
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'I love the country, with or without a flag,' says Paltchik

Two more bronze medals for Israeli judokas in UAE, Israeli symbols still banned

Or Sasson and Peter Paltchik’s third place finishes bring Jewish state’s total to 5 at competition beset by anti-Israel snubs

Israeli judoka Peter Paltchik celebrates after winning a bronze medal at the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam judo tournament in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on October 28, 2017. (Screen capture: YouTube)
Israeli judoka Peter Paltchik celebrates after winning a bronze medal at the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam judo tournament in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, on October 28, 2017. (Screen capture: YouTube)

Two Israeli judokas won bronze medals at the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam Judo tournament on Saturday, bringing Israel’s total to five at the event marked by the host’s refusal to play the Israeli national anthem or fly the Israeli flag for medal-winning Israeli athletes at the competition.

In the men’s over 100 kilograms (220 pounds) category, Olympic medalist Or Sasson finished third after defeating Benjamin Harmegnies of Belgium.

Earlier, Peter Paltchik won the bronze in the men’s under 100 kilograms category after beating Hungary’ Miklós Cirjenics.

Neither Sasson nor Paltchik wore Israeli symbols on their uniforms during the medal winning matches.

As with their compatriots, Israel’s flag was not flown as Paltchik and Sasson stood on the podium to receive their medals.

“As you can see I don’t have the flag,” Sasson said speaking after the ceremony, pointing the bare patch on his chest where the other competitors had their national flag. “But my heart is always, always with the state of Israel. I hope I made you proud and I will always continue to represent you with pride,” he said.

Paltchik spoke of his pride in representing Israel.

“I’m pleased to have won a medal after such a long day and pleased to have represented my country, particularly here in Abu Dhabi,” he said. “I’m proud to represent the country, I love the country, with or without a flag.”

Israel’s latest medal in the tournament came after a string of snubs of the Israeli delegation at the tournament, including the refusal of an Emirati judoka to shake the hand of the Israeli rival who defeated him on Friday.

Israel’s Tohar Butbul, competing in the men’s lightweight (66-73 kg) category, came up against the UAE’s Rashad Almashjari in the first round. After being defeated by Butbul, Almashjari refused the customary handshake with the Israeli.

Butbul went on to win a bronze medal in his category — by defeating Italy’s 2016 Olympic gold medalist; it was Israel’s third medal in the competition.

The no-handshake episode was reminiscent of one that occurred during the 2016 Summer Olympics, when Egyptian judoka Islam El Shahaby refused to shake hands with Or Sasson after being defeated by the Israeli, and only begrudgingly made the obligatory end-of-match bow after being being called back to the mat by the referee.

Egypt’s Islam Elshehaby (blue) refuses to shake hands after defeat by Israel’s Or Sasson in their men’s +100kg judo contest match of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on August 12, 2016. (AFP/Toshifumi Kitamura)

On Thursday, event organizers refused to play the Israeli national anthem or display the Israeli flag when Israeli judoka Tal Flicker won the gold medal in the men’s under-66kg category.

Israeli gold-medalist judoka Tal Flicker singing the Israeli national anthem despite local officials’ refusal to play it at the Judo Grand Slam in Abu Dhabi, where local judo authorities banned all Israeli symbols, October 26, 2017. (YouTube screen capture)

Flicker sang out his own private “Hatikvah” under the International Judo Federation’s (IJF) flag, as the federation’s anthem played in the background.

On the women’s side Thursday, Gili Cohen won bronze in the under-52 kilograms (114 pounds) class. The Israeli flag was not flown on her behalf either.

The entire Israeli team was required to compete without any Israeli identifying symbols, and had been told before the tournament that there would be no acknowledgement of their home country — a discriminatory policy imposed solely on the Israeli competitors.

The ban on Israeli symbols came despite the IJF’s demand before the tournament that the UAE treat Israeli athletes equally.

A letter from the IJF to the president of the UAE Judo Federation said “all delegations, including the Israeli delegation, shall be treated absolutely equally in all aspects, without any exception.”

Israeli judokas were also banned from displaying any Israeli symbols at a 2015 tournament in Abu Dhabi.

There was no word yet as to what repercussions, if any, would be taken against the UAE for its actions.

AP contributed to this report.

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