First, it was the Israeli national anthem playing at a Judo tournament in an Arab nation that showed just how far Israel had come towards being accepted in the Arab sports world. Now, it’s Arab nations who are coming from afar to compete in Judo—in Israel. “For the first time ever, Israel will host an int’l Judo championship in which judokas from Arab countries that we don’t have diplomatic relations with will also participate along w/ their flags and their national anthems. It’s a great achievement for Israel & for Israeli Judo” Ofir Gendelman, Israel’s Arabic spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office, posted to Twitter on Thursday.
Arab nations have long tried to refuse to recognize Israel, even in the sports world, where simply competing against an Israeli can have negative connotations. In the past, in Judo tournaments in Arab nations, Israel’s national anthem was not played when their athletes were victorious. But that changed in the last competition in Abu Dhabi in October, where the national anthem played not once, but twice.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu commented on this significant moment in comments to the gold medalist Israeli judokas on Thursday. “I’ll tell you a secret, when I heard Hatikva twice; I also had tears in my eyes,” said Netanyahu in a press release from his office. “It was so exciting, I do not believe that there was an Israeli who was not excited at this moment, it really has very broad implications. Keep it up, this is a tremendous thing.”
The steps towards cultural normalization between Israel and Arab nations are part of a broader series of diplomatic achievements for Israel. Netanyahu was a guest in the country of Oman last month and Israeli transportation minister Yisrael Katz has been in Oman this week touting an Israel-Arab train line. The Times of Israel reported that Katz told an international transportation conference in Oman that a link from the Gulf of Arabia to the Mediterranean Sea via Israel would be positive for the Saudis and the Palestinians.
For now, it’s victories in the sports world that Israel is celebrating—both gold medal and symbolic wins. Israel’s Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, at the event with Netanyahu and Grand Slam Judo competition gold medal winners Peter Paltlchik and Sagi Muki, noted the significance of what the Israeli athletes accomplished in Abu Dhabi.
“It’s no secret that today that sports and cultural events are being utilized to de-legitimize the State of Israel, and to prevent our athletes from taking pride in their country as well. And the athletes gave us a wonderful gift here,” said Regev in the press release. “We also arrived for the first time to a Muslim country with which we have no diplomatic relations. We also sang Hatikva twice.”
Regev also thanked the president of the International Judo Federation, Marius Vizer, who “insisted that every athlete could appear anywhere in the world, including Arab countries, with their flag and anthem… [and] did everything to enable our country and athletes to be presented as equal among equals.”
(By Joshua Spurlock, www.themideastupdate.com, November 8, 2018)