The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is to allow the Israeli national anthem to be played and the Israeli flag to be flown in an upcoming judo competition after it was threatened with cancellation.
The Abu Dhabi Grand Slam, which is slated to take place from 25-27 October, will see competitors from Israel and Arab nations compete side by side and Israeli judoists allowed to sport their national insignia. The event was previously threatened with cancellation after the International Judo Federation (IJF) in July stripped the UAE of the right to host the tournament due to its failure to guarantee “equal treatment” of Israeli athletes.
The IJF issued a statement saying it is “pleased to announce that the UAE Judo Federation confirmed in an official letter sent to the IJF that all nations participating in the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam will have the possibility to do so in equal conditions.” The statement added that “the historic decision will thus allow all nations to display their national insignia and national anthem, including Israel,” the Times of Israel reported.
During the 2017 Abu Dhabi Grand Slam, organisers refused to play the Israeli national anthem after two Israeli competitors won gold and bronze medals. The President of the UAE Judo Federation, Mohammed Bin Thaloub Al-Derai, apologised to his Israeli counterpart, Moshe Ponte, for the decision and also for the refusal of an Emirati judoist to shake hands with his Israeli competitor.
The decision to allow Israeli insignia at this year’s event will likely be seen as the latest act of normalisation by the UAE, despite its official non-recognition of Israel. In August, an Israeli journalist claimed that an Emirati pilot participated in the bombing of Palestinian targets in the Gaza Strip in July during his training on Israeli Air Force F-35 fighters. Cohen, the journalist who made the claims, also accused Dubai’s Deputy Chairman of Police and Public Security, General Dhahi Khalfan, of being complicit in assassinating Hamas leader Mahmoud Mabhouh in Dubai in 2010.
Also in August it was revealed that the UAE purchases Israeli security technology. It is believed that Asia Global Technology, run by Israeli-American businessman Mati Kochavi, won a multi-million-dollar contract for projects to maintain internal security in the UAE. It was also claimed that other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, as well as Jordan and Egypt, regularly undertake business deals with Israeli companies.
In June, an exposé by the New Yorker revealed that Israel and the UAE have been engaged in secret normalisation talks since the 1990s. The report disclosed that “the secret relationship between Israel and the UAE can be traced back to a series of meetings in a nondescript office in Washington D.C after the signing of the Oslo Accords.” These meetings discussed the possibility of the UAE purchasing F-16 fighter jets from the US which are known to be comprised of Israeli technology. The Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed Bin Zayed, also gave his blessing for delegations of influential American Jews to be brought to Abu Dhabi to meet with Emirati officials and establish an intelligence-sharing relationship.
This is not the first time that judo has become the centre of political controversy. In March, Morocco came under heavy criticism after two Israeli judoists were awarded medals while the Israeli flag was raised and the national anthem aired. The Moroccan Organisation for Ummah Affairs (Norsa) condemned the participation of Israelis in the tournament, saying they “refuse normalisation with the Israelis in all its forms [and] we will remain steadfast in supporting Palestine and defending the sanctities of the holy land.”