Egyptian Refusal to Shake Israeli’s Hand Underscores Struggle for Peace

Israel to the rescue in Cyprus. Israeli flags. Illustrative. By Joshua Spurlock

Arabs keep disrespecting Israel, but the Israelis still try to shake hands. Israeli flags. Illustrative. By Joshua Spurlock

Israel and Egypt have been at peace for 37 years and relations between the two governments have looked to be improving in recent months—including a visit in July by Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry. That doesn’t mean that all Egyptians are at peace with Israel, and the Jewish State’s leader has an inkling as to why. Following an incident in which an Egyptian judoka wrestler refused to shake his Israeli competitor’s hand last week at the Olympics, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pointed to an ongoing problem in the Arab world: lies about Israel.

“There are good relations” with regional nations, Netanyahu was quoted as saying on spokesperson Ofir Gendelman’s Twitter page, “but there’s more to be done about stopping vile propaganda against us.” While Shoukry shook Netanyahu’s hand last month, the judo incident highlights some of the still persisting anti-Israelism in the Arab world. To Netanyahu’s point about slander, Israel has long been accused of outlandish crimes or acts of aggression in Arab media, including claims six years ago in Egypt that they were using sharks to scare away Egyptian tourists.

A report in Arham Online cited an Egyptian expert that rejected the bizarre accusation, which was actually considered a possibility by a local Egyptian official on the public TV program, “Egypt Today”. With that among the history, while the Israeli judo Olympian last week was more than willing to shake his Egyptian counterpart’s hand, the gesture was not reciprocated—a big deal in the sport.

The New York Times, covering the incident, quoted American coach Jimmy Pedro who slammed the Egyptian behavior as not only unusual but “totally unsportsmanlike.”

Gendelman called the refusal to shake hands “shocking” on Twitter and noted that this marked the third incident during the Rio Olympics in which “Arab athletes broke Olympic spirit & protocol w/ Israeli athletes. Outrageous.”

On the other hand, the Israeli, Ori Sasson, was praised by Netanyahu for his behavior. In comments quoted on Gendelman’s Twitter feed, Netanyahu said Sasson “acted wonderfully. He won & extended his hand to his opponent. This is beautiful, strong Israel.”

(By Joshua Spurlock,, August 13, 2016)

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