A delegation of 12 Israeli judokas brought home five medals from the International Judo Federation’s Grand Slam 2017 in the United Arab Emirates, October 26-28. Tal Flicker won a gold medal. Bronze medals went to Ori Sasson, Peter Paltchik, Gili Cohen and Tohar Butbul.

Alone among the 48 participating countries, the Israelis were forced to compete as representatives of the IJF rather than of Israel. They were not permitted to have the ISR letters on their judogi uniforms or on the scoreboard. Nor was “Hatikvah” played when Flicker stood on the podium, though he mouthed the words to the Israeli national anthem as the IJF theme song played. No Israeli flag was displayed.

“Israel is my country, and I’m proud to be Israeli,” Flicker told Israeli reporters. “The anthem that they played of the world federation was just background noise. I was singing ‘Hatikvah’ from my heart.”

Mohammad Bin Thaloub al-Darei, president of the UAE’s Judo Federation, apologized to Israeli Judo Association head Moshe Ponte after UAE judoka Rashad Almashjari refused to shake hands with Butbul, who bested Almashjari in the first round of the men’s lightweight competition.

IJF President Marius Vizer commented: “Sometimes with courage, respect and politeness, you can solve tensions and conflicts, which have not been solved since many decades. … 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.”

Vizer said the IJF has worked hard to have Israel’s judo team recognized in Arab countries. “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.”