Judo Shame

If Abu Dhabi denies Israel and Israelis the most basic gesture of respect on a national level, that denigration inevitably will filter through to personal treatment.

Israeli judo fighter Tal Flicker. (photo credit: COURTESY/IJF WEBSITE)
Israeli judo fighter Tal Flicker.
(photo credit: COURTESY/IJF WEBSITE)
It was aggravating to see International Judo Federation president Marius Vizer trying to play down Abu Dhabi’s appalling snub of Israeli Judokas at the Abu Dhabi Judo Grand Slam.
During a kiss-and-makeup meeting between Israel Judo Association chairman Moshe Ponte and president of the United Arab Emirates Judo, Wrestling and Kickboxing Federation Mohammad Bin Thaloub Al Darei, Vizer tried to be positive about Abu Dhabi’s unforgivable behavior toward the Israeli team.
“Sometimes with courage, respect and politeness, you can solve tensions and conflicts, which have not been solved since [sic] many decades. I consider, that even without the flag and anthem of Israel, that their team have [sic] been treated very well [and] with high respect during this event,” he said.
We understand Vizer’s desire to smooth things over, but wonder to precisely what “high respect” Vizer was referring.
Was it how Abu Dhabi caused the Israeli delegation to wait pointlessly for seven hours at Ben-Gurion Airport last Monday, only to be told, after all, that they could not pick up their visas to Abu Dhabi in Istanbul as they originally had been told? Instead, the Israelis were forced to fly through Amman, which delayed their arrival by an entire day.
Perhaps Vizer was referring to the way a UAE judoka who had been defeated by Israel’s Tohar Butbul – who went on to win a bronze medal – refused to shake Butbul’s hand, slighting the Israeli before a crowd of onlookers.
No, with all his good intentions, Vizer misses the point.
As long as Israelis are treated like no other nation; as long as they are forced to hide their nationality; as long as “Hatikva” is not played when an Israeli athlete wins a gold medal; as long as the Israeli standard is not displayed along with the flags of other nations – treatment of Israel’s judokas cannot be that of “high respect.”
If Abu Dhabi denies Israel and Israelis the most basic gesture of respect on a national level, that denigration inevitably will filter through to personal treatment. Vizer’s attempt to distinguish between the national trappings of flag and anthem on one hand and the individual treatment of the members of the Israeli Judo team on the other, simply does not hold up. When a citizen of a country is asked to hide his or her nationality, the implication is that there is something to be ashamed of.
The shame was almost palpable when Tal Flicker took his place on the winner’s podium to accept his gold medal.
But, instead of being announced as a judoka representing Israel, he was said to be accepting the medal for the International Judo Federation. It was an Orwellian moment in which everyone – sports commentators, judges, crowd, fellow competitors – knew full well Flicker’s nationality but no one could actually say the word. Why? Because using the word “Israel” displaying the flag on Flicker’s gi or playing Hatikva were liable to trigger violence. And the unspoken implication was that this violence was perhaps even justified.
Not only were these Israelis being publicly shamed for who they were, but they were told that this shaming was for their own protection. Flicker’s silent lipping of the Israeli anthem as the IJF theme song was played was admirable but hardly a satisfactory substitute for real recognition.
The entire fiasco in Abu Dhabi is a bitter reminder of the ease with which people acquiesce to appalling discrimination.
The commentators with British accents knew enough about judo to praise Flicker’s techniques as he flounced his opponent from Azerbaijan. But they were eerily silent about the proverbial elephant on the tatami. They obediently accepted the terms set by Abu Dhabi’s bigots and refrained from commentating as Flicker stood lipping “Hatikva.” Humans, it seems, are remarkably accepting of humiliating treatment as “just the way things are.”
Abu Dhabi’s despicable behavior would never have received mention if the Israeli Judokas had given a mediocre performance. But Flicker had won the gold and four other members of the Israeli team – men and women – won bronze medals in their respective weight-classes. As a judo powerhouse, Israel simply cannot be ignored.
Vizer had an opportunity to end, once and for all, Israel’s mistreatment by members of the IJF. Unfortunately, he missed that opportunity, but it is not too late to change course. Neither Abu Dhabi nor any of the 198 members of the IJF should be allowed to behave so terribly to Israel again.