UAE to allow Israeli symbols next year, Israeli judo chief believes

Officials hail progress though it remains unclear if Olympic bronze medalist Or Sasson will be allowed to display his flag at upcoming world championship in Morocco

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Israeli judo chief Moshe Ponte, left, with IJC head Marius Vizer, second left, and two Emirates sports officials meeting in Abu Dhabi on October 28, 2017, (IJF)
Israeli judo chief Moshe Ponte, left, with IJC head Marius Vizer, second left, and two Emirates sports officials meeting in Abu Dhabi on October 28, 2017, (IJF)

Israel’s flag and national anthem will no longer be taboo in the United Arab Emirates, according to the head of Israel’s judo federation.

“I can confirm that they told me that they will do everything so that next year things that happened this year won’t happen again next year,” Moshe Ponte told The Times of Israel Tuesday, referring to a meeting he had with the head of the Emirati judo federation.

Ponte added that he sincerely believes that at the 2018 Grand Slam in Abu Dhabi, Israeli athletes will no longer be forced to hide their nationality.

Meanwhile, it remains unclear whether Israel’s sole judoka participating at the upcoming world championships in Morocco will be allowed to identify himself as Israeli.

International Judo Federation flag flies for Israeli gold medalist Tal Flicker after organizers bans Israeli symbols at Abu Dhabi Grand Slam. (Screen capture: YouTube)

Last month, Israeli athletes took five medals — one gold and four bronze — at the judo grand slam in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates. But due to the regime’s refusal to recognize the State of Israel, they were not allowed to display any national symbols. Instead, 12 Israeli judokas competed under flag of the International Judo Federation.

When on October 26 Tal Flicker of Herzliya beat Nijat Shikhalizada of Azerbaijan to take gold in the men’s under-66 kilogram category, the IJF’s anthem was played instead of Hatikva. Adding insult to injury, athletes from the UAE and Morocco refused to shake hands with their Israeli opponents who defeated them.

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)

On October 28, the president of the UAE’s judo federation, Mohammad Bin Thaloub Al-Darie, met with Ponte and congratulated him on the Israeli team’s success in the tournament. Al-Darie also “apologized because of the UAE athletes not shaking hands with the Israel athletes,” IJF president Marius Vizer said, according to the organization’s website.

“He apologized for the treatment we received and promised it won’t happen again,” Ponte said, adding that he understood Al-Darie’s apology to include the absence of Israeli national symbols.

“The president of the International Judo Federation is making a great effort to allow us to compete with our flag and anthem,” Ponte said.

In the October 28 statement, IJF president Vizer had hailed the Emirati’s apology as “a gesture of courage, humanity and respect for the sport” and hinted at his attempts to convince Arab states to allow Israeli national symbols at their tournaments.

Israeli Judoka Peter Paltchik seen with UAE officials at the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam on October 28, 2017. (IJF)

“Sometimes with courage, respect and politeness, you can solve tensions and conflicts, which have not been solved in many decades,” he said. “Two years ago we achieved the first participation of the Israel team in Abu Dhabi, now it’s the second time, but with a much better approach and I hope in the near future we can achieve the best condition of participation for the Israel teams.”

Added Vizer: “Such delicate issues between countries, governments and nations cannot be solved overnight and cannot be solved through the sport immediately… I hope soon we can break down more barriers for more tolerance between countries and nations to express the real value of the sport, friendship unity and solidarity.”

Israel’s Or Sasson celebrates after defeating Cuba’s Alex Garcia Mendoza to win the men’s +100kg judo bronze medal at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on August 12, 2016 (AFP/Toshifumi Kitamura)

Vizer’s first test is coming up on November 11, when Israeli judoka Or Sasson will compete at the World Championships Open in the Moroccan city of Marrakech. On the IJF’s website, Sasson — who won bronze medals at the 2016 Rio Olympics and last week’s grand slam in Abu Dhabi — is listed as an Israeli.

Ponte, the head of Israel’s judo association, said he had not yet received any word on whether the 27-year-old Sasson would be permitted or denied the right to display Israeli national identifications in Marrakech.

A tournament organizer did not reply to numerous Times of Israel queries on the matter.

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