The formidable Israeli judo team numbering 12 athletes was forced to contend with a host of indignities at the Abu Dhabi Judo Grand Slam tournament this week. First, Turkish Air inexplicably refused to fly the team to Turkey where they were supposed to pick up their visas in Istanbul and then fly to Abu Dhabi. They were forced to endure a grueling 7-hour waiting period at the airport. The team was then forced to travel to Amman to obtain the requisite entry papers and flew directly to Abu Dhabi via Amman.
Abu Dhabi officials deliberately imposed difficult restrictions on the Israeli delegation to discourage them from attending. But Abu Dhabi officials forgot they were dealing with tough-as-nails Israelis who’ve had to contend with, and triumph over far worse including genocidal Islamists, endless wars, terrorist attacks, drought, semi-arid land, hostile boycotts and massive immigration absorption. Bureaucratic red tape was a cakewalk by comparison.
Despite the fact that they arrived at Abu Dhabi exhausted and haggard from their unnecessarily arduous flight, team members nevertheless quickly scored impressive victories. Israel's Gili Cohen took the bronze medal in Thursday’s women's under-52kg competition. But her Muslim hosts would not allow her to display the Israeli flag on her uniform as all other competing nations are permitted to do. Instead of the flag, the letters “ISR” appeared. But it gets worse, much worse in fact.
Twenty-five year old Israeli judoka Tal Flicker captured the gold, defeating his opponent in the under-66 kilogram category. As he sat at the top spot of the podium reserved for gold medalists, he was forced to watch and listen with a mixture of contempt and disgust as the flag of the International Judo Federation was raised and the IJF anthem played. That’s right, Israel’s Blue and White, with its Star of David could not be displayed and its national anthem, “Hatikva” – The Hope – could not be played. Flicker was seen moving his lips while the IJF anthem was played and later said that he was singing Hatikva. The Israeli spirit could not be broken.
This disgraceful behavior is expected from Abu-Dhabi. The Emirate nation has no ties with the Jewish State and is deeply mired in medieval-like antisemitism and xenophobia. That is the general norm in the Arab world as well as many – though certainly not all – non Arab, Muslim nations.
Abu-Dhabi officials claimed that their odious restrictions on Israeli players were motivated by security concerns but this disingenuous excuse is as lame as they come. All Western nations have become targets of terrorism. France, the UK, Germany, Belgium, Sweden and Spain have been relentlessly attacked by Islamic terrorists. Israel is a relatively safe place to live compared to these nations. No, Abu Dhabi was plainly motivated by something infinitely more nefarious.
The IJF should not escape criticism either. They are equally culpable in this nonsensical charade. This isn’t the first time that an international sporting event hosted by a Muslim nation was disgraced by such infantile and racist behavior. In 2015, Israeli judokas Yarden Gerbi and Sagi Muki competed in Abu Dhabi and captured bronze medals in the women’s under 63-kilogram weight class, and men’s under 73-kilogram weight-class, respectively. They were forced to wear the judo federation's insignia in lieu of their national flag.
If they truly wanted, the IJF could have put a stop to these outrages. There is certainly no shortage of nations willing to provide hospitable venues for IJF sporting events. Had the IJF demonstrated some fortitude, they would have forcefully and unequivocally informed Abu Dhabi that its discriminatory conduct would not be tolerated and that the Grand Slam event would be held elsewhere. But instead, they chose to capitulate to medievalism and base racism. What occurred to the Israeli delegation at Abu Dhabi this week represents true apartheid. There is simply no other way to describe it.
Earlier in the week, IJF president Marius Vizer sent a letter to the event’s organizers demanding that the Israeli delegation “be treated absolutely equally in all aspects,” and further highlighted IJF statutes which he said “clearly provide that the IJF shall not discriminate on the ground of race, religion, gender or political opinion.” Abu Dhabi was unmoved and no effort was made to sanction the Emirate nation.
Arab and Iranian athletes routinely refuse to compete against Israelis. On the rare occasions that they do compete, they often engage in unsportsmanlike conduct. During the 2016 Rio games, Egyptian judoka, Islam El Shahaby, disgraced himself and his country when he refused to bow or shake the hand of Israeli judoka, Or Sasson after Sasson gave the Egyptian a thrashing. In June 2013, in one of the most bizarre incidents of unsportsmanlike conduct, an Egyptian wrestler exhibited traits associated with a rabid dog by biting her Israeli opponent in the back and drawing blood. The Egyptian was suspended while the Israeli, Ilana Kartysh, captured the gold. The list of indignities and outrages are too long to note but international sporting officials continue to look the other way.
There was a time not too long ago when Jews were required to display the Star of David on their clothing as a badge of shame but today the reverse is the case. Israelis and Jews cannot display the Blue and White in most Muslim countries. Prior to 1948, before the Jewish people reclaimed their ancestral homeland, the Star of David was viewed upon by many with disdain and contempt. Today, it is a symbol of success and strength and is a constant reminder of the impotence and failure of Israel’s enemies.