Israelis were thrilled when Hatikvah was played in Abu Dhabi after Israeli Judoka Sagi Muki won the gold medal. 

By: United with Israel Staff

Israel experienced a moment of immense pride on Sunday when its national anthem was played in Abu Dhabi.

The milestone event occurred when Israeli Judoka Sagi Muki received the gold medal. He was the winner in the under 81Kg match in the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam competition.

European champion Muki overpowered Matthias Casse of Belgium with a low Seoi-nage attack. Muki won the Grand Slam gold for the second time and soaked up every second of joy and emotion following the -81kg final against Zagreb Grand Prix silver medalist Casse.

Israeli Minister of Sports and Culture Miri Regev, who was present when Muki ascended the podium, shed tears as Hatikvah was played. Regev is the first Israeli minister to officially visit the UAE, a milestone given that the UAE and Israel have no official diplomatic relations.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with Muki after his historic win and told him: “You are golden; you promised, and you did it.”

“There are two great things here. There is a fantastic gold here and much hope for Israeli judo. There is much hope when we hear our national anthem; everyone is moved by this honor and pride,” Netanyahu said.

The second achievement is that the victory “is not only your personal achievement and the Jewish achievement of Israeli sports, but also the fact that the anthem was being played in Abu Dhabi. You know that I was recently in the area, not far away. Sagi, you are also contributing to Israel’s diplomatic effort in the Arab world. For all these reasons, congratulations!”

Netanyahu was referring to his visit to the Gulf country of Oman last week.

Competing Under an Israeli Flag

Earlier in the day and on Saturday, three Israeli judokas in the UAE, competing under the Israeli flag for the first time, won bronze medals.

Gili Cohen, Baruch Shmailov and Timna Nelson Levy all finished third place in their weight classes. Gefen Primo finished fifth. The competitors received their medals in the presence of sportsmen from 62 countries.

Posts to social media on Friday showed Regev and members of the Israeli team lighting Shabbat candles and singing traditional songs ahead of the two-day tournament.

Last year, UAE organizers allowed Israeli competitors to take part in the international competition hosted in their country on the condition that they do not display their flag or play their anthem, even if they win a gold medal.

Israel filed a complaint with the International Judo Federation, which temporarily suspended the UAE from hosting the competition, saying that it was not eligible to host international events if it discriminated against athletes based on the countries they represented.

The UAE subsequently relented, allowing Israel to compete on the same basis as all other countries.

Israel to Host Grand Prix

On Monday, the IJF announced that the next Judo Grand Prix will take place in Tel Aviv in January 2019. The signing of the landmark agreement to stage an IJF World Judo Tour event in Tel Aviv means Israel will be hosting it for the first time.

The Israeli Judo Association, which won plaudits for its highly-successful organization of this year’s European Championships, will host a Grand Prix event in Tel Aviv in 2019 and 2020.

“Today has made double history for us as we have won gold here in Abu Dhabi and our anthem has played and we have signed a contract to stage our first ever IJF Grand Prix in Israel,” Regev stated. “Everyone is invited to our Grand Prix, including all Arabic countries and I hope you will all see that our country is a peaceful and loving nation with good food and good people.”

JNS contributed to this report.