Israel’s national anthem “Hatikvah” was played for the first time in the United Arab Emirates on Sunday after judoka Sagi Muki defeated Matthias Casse of Belgium in the Judo Grand Competition in Abu Dhabi to win the gold medal.
Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, who is in Abu Dhabi with Muki, wrote on social media, “We made history. The people of Israel live!”
Regev openly wept when the Israel anthem was played at the awards ceremony.
Although Israelis have for years appeared at events in the Gulf, organizers have often made their participation conditional on them not displaying national symbols, and they typically appeared under the flag of the sports federation running the event.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein called Muki “a champion” and added, “It is a great feeling to hear our national anthem... played for the first time in Abu Dhabi.”
“We salute you,” Edelstein said. “You brought a great honor to the State of Israel.”
Regev credited the International Judo Federation’s president, Austria’s Marius Vizer, for influencing the organizers to change their policy on Israeli symbols.
“I cried as the anthem was played. Marius Vizer stood next to me and also shed a tear. It was so moving to see that he was touched by our ability to express our emotions,” Regev told Israel’s Army Radio in a phone interview.
On Saturday, Regev wrote: “Our great victory in Abu Dhabi tonight is not limited to the [Judo] mat. It is about having the Israeli flag presented in the hall – and we already won three medals on the first day.”
Israeli judokas Gili Cohen, Baruch Shmailov and Timna Nelson Levy each won a bronze medal on Saturday.
The dramatic sports breakthrough came at the same time that Israeli ties with the Gulf states appears to suddenly be thawing.
Communications Minister Ayoub Kara is expected to head to Dubai on Tuesday to participate in a conference of the International Telecommunications Union.
Yisrael Katz, the minister of both the Transportation and the Intelligence Services ministries, will visit Oman to push for a regional railroad linking Haifa with Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states.
“The initiative, called ‘Tracks for Regional Peace,’ is aimed at connecting the Mediterranean Sea and the Arabian Gulf [the Persian Gulf] by rail via Israel as a land bridge and Jordan as a regional transportation hub,” Katz’s office said.
Katz is expected to present the plan when he addresses a three-day regional transportation conference, called the IRU World Congress, which will convene is Muscat beginning November 6. According to his office, “This is the first time an Israeli minister has been formally invited to participate in an international conference in Oman.”
His office added that, “The invitation reflects the strengthening ties between the two countries.”
Katz’s visit follows a surprise trip Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made on Friday to visit Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said. Oman and Israel do not have diplomatic ties. The last Israeli leader to visit the sultanate was former prime minister Shimon Peres in 1996.
Netanyahu spoke of the visit at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting. “On Friday, my wife and I returned from a historic diplomatic visit to Oman. I met with the leader of Oman, Sultan Qaboos bin Said, a very experienced and impressive man.
“This is Israel’s first official visit to Oman in 22 years. This visit comes against the background of diplomatic efforts that I have been promoting in recent years vis-a-vis the Arab countries. In our long meeting we discussed in detail the challenges facing the Middle East. These were important talks... for the State of Israel and very important talks for Israel’s security. There will be more,” he said.
Netanyahu’s visit comes in advance of the anticipated publication of US President Donald Trump’s peace plan. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas visited Oman earlier in the week.
On Sunday, an envoy of Sultan Qaboos visited Abbas in Ramallah and handed him a letter from the Omani leader, the Palestine News Agency Wafa reported.
In a speech in Ramallah to the 30th PLO Central Council session, Abbas said that he rejected Trump’s peace plan. According to Wafa, he said, "[Even] if the Balfour declaration passed [100 years ago], the ‘Deal of the Century’ will not pass.”
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