UAE, Tunisia lose judo events for refusing to fly Israeli flag

The International Judo Federation has canceled two of its events in the United Arab Emirates and Tunisia over the two countries’ refusal to normalize Israeli participation.

The Jerusalem Post termed the decision a “victory for Israel.”

The federation does not mention Israel in its statement, but says that it “requested the two organizers to provide a letter of guarantee signed by the government that all IJF [International Judo Federation] member nations would have the right to participate in their events in equal conditions.”

The federation stated that it did not receive such confirmation from the two countries.

Organizers refused to play the Israeli anthem when an Israeli won in his division at the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam tournament in 2017. Instead, they played the official music of the federation.

Organizers also refused to raise the Israeli flag at the same event, raising the Judo federation flag instead.

In April, a court in Tunisia banned four Israeli athletes from participating in a taekwondo event in the country after a local anti-normalization group sued the president of the country’s taekwondo federation, Ahmed Gaaloul.

In their lawsuit, the National Commission for Supporting Arab Resistance and Opposing Normalization and Zionism argued that Tunisia is committed “to denouncing and refusing Zionist occupation and colonization, as well as boycotting and not dealing with the Zionist entity […] in any way,” according to The Times of Israel.

“Lobbied him extensively”

The decision to exclude the UAE and Tunisia came after Israel’s culture minister Miri Regev met with Marius Vizer, the judo federation president, when Israel hosted the European judo championships in April, according to The Jerusalem Post.

“She has lobbied him extensively since then,” the Israeli newspaper stated.

Regev welcomed the federation’s decision as “justified and courageous,” given that sports’ “underlying principles are equality and the brotherhood of mankind.”

However, Regev’s views on equality and brotherhood do not extend to Palestinians and people from African states.

Regev supported the Israeli parliament’s passage of a law that entrenches Jewish supremacy and racial discrimination against Palestinians in Israel’s constitutional law. “Israel is the state of one people, the Jewish people,” Regev tweeted.

Adalah, a legal advocacy group for Palestinian citizens of Israel, has stated that the new law “falls within the bounds of absolute prohibitions under international law” and embodies “characteristics of apartheid.”

Regev is notorious for her racism, which has included comparing refugees from African states to “cancer,” and for posting on Facebook a video of herself with a group of Israeli football fans inciting violence against Palestinians.

Gulf normalization on the rise

Despite the UAE’s refusal to display Israeli symbols at its judo events, teams from the United Arab Emirates, as well as Bahrain, openly took part in the Giro d’Italia that started in Jerusalem in May, despite calls from Palestinians to boycott the bicycle race.

The participation appeared to be part of the ongoing normalization between Israel and the bloc of US-backed Gulf states led by Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have been promoting normalization with Israel – while their media are criticizing others for doing the same.

Media from both countries eagerly jumped on a recent report from The Electronic Intifada that Qatar donated $250,000 to the Zionist Organization of America and other pro-Israel groups.

The UAE and Saudi Arabia saw it as an opportunity to embarrass Qatar, a regional rival.

But earlier this month, Saudi-owned satellite television channel Al Arabiya aired a two-part documentary that revises the history of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine before and after 1948.

The documentary, titled Nakba, is a version of the French-language film called Une terre deux fois promise: Israël-Palestinetitled in English Israel: A twice-promised land.

Directed by William Karel and his wife Blanche Finger, the film was screened at the Israeli government-sponsored festival of Israeli cinema in Paris in March.

Karel, a well-known documentary filmmaker, joined the Israeli army and spent 10 years living in a kibbutz, a type of collective Zionist colony.

After it aired on Al Arabiya, the documentary received staunch criticism for putting a pro-Israel spin on history.

The Saudi network claimed the documentary was “free of ideology or partisanship” in the text introducing it.

But Karel has been more forthright about his goals.

“From 1967, we see the development of a messianic and religious Zionism that had nothing to do with the first settlers,” Karel told French media in an interview in April. These early Zionist colonists, he asserted, “were secular, leftist, pacifist and dreamed of living fraternally with the Arabs.”

“In my documentary, I wanted to overcome the cleavages between Israelis and Palestinians, get out of the competition of victimhood, to analyze the errors of both sides that led to the current blockage,” Karel added.

Karel’s version of the past therefore erases the Zionist movement’s history of racist settler-colonization in Palestine from the outset reaching a peak in the planned ethnic cleansing of more than 750,000 Palestinians and the systematic destruction of their towns and villages in 1948.

Attempting to portray a colonial invasion as being equally the fault of the settlers and the natives whose land they invaded would be considered grotesque in almost any other situation.

In the case of Palestine it amounts to Nakba denial.

The Twitter account of BDS Gulf, a regional activist group that supports the boycott of Israel, condemned the airing of the documentary, stating, “Is the Al Arabiya channel a propaganda tool for Zionism?”

The Forum of Palestinian Journalists also criticized the channel and demanded they take down the documentary which they said “misinforms Arab consciousness and history through the falsification of the truth.”

Meanwhile, Saudi journalist Sukina Meshekhis wrote a piece calling on Arab countries to make “a few realistic compromises” to normalize relations with Israel.

Her piece was celebrated by Israel’s Arabic-language propaganda Twitter account:

Another Saudi journalist, Abdulrahman al-Zuhayyan, regularly tweets in support of Israeli attacks on Palestinians and at some point denied the existence of Palestinians as a people.
“There is no such people called Palestinians because there is no Palestine to start with,” al-Zuhayyan tweeted in June. “It’s fictional in their evil minds.”

Ali Abunimah contributed research and translation.


Tamara Nassar

Tamara Nassar is an assistant editor at The Electronic Intifada.