Jerusalem: Israel’s national anthem was played at a judo tournament in Abu Dhabi on Sunday after one of its athletes won gold in what was thought to be a first in the Gulf emirate.
The playing of the national anthem and Israeli Sports Minister Miri Regev’s attendance at the tournament were the latest milestones in the country’s bid for rapprochement with Arab states.
Regev cried and sang along as the anthem played, according to footage broadcast on Israeli television.
Her presence in the United Arab Emirates capital also marked the first time a minister from Israel attended a sports event in the Gulf, Israeli officials said.
It was the first time an Israeli delegation participated there under its national flag, after the International Judo Federation warned UAE organisers they would cancel the competition unless all athletes were allowed to participate on an equal footing.
Last year, tournament organisers in Abu Dhabi banned the flag and national anthem of Israel, which has no diplomatic relations with Gulf states.
Sagi Muki won gold on Sunday at the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam and sang along to his national anthem as he stood on the podium.
He called it in remarks to Israeli television “one of the greatest moments of my career”.
Last year, Israeli judoka Tal Flicker sang Israel’s anthem himself after winning gold since its playing was banned.
Before Muki won gold, Regev wrote on her Facebook page: “I’m very proud to be here in Abu Dhabi representing Israel along with the judo team and our flag.”
“I hope we win a gold medal and experience the thrilling moment of playing Hatikvah in the Abu Dhabi arena,” she said, referring to Israel’s national anthem.
Three Israeli judokas won bronze medals on Saturday, the first day of the Grand Slam, with Regev given the honour of awarding the medals for one of the categories.
Regev’s trip to the UAE, which began on Thursday, coincided with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to neighbouring Oman, the first for an Israeli leader since 1996.
On the same day, an Israeli gymnastics delegation was in Qatar for the beginning of the world championships being held in Doha.
On Monday, Communications Minister Ayoob Kara was to travel to Dubai to represent Israel at an international internet security conference, his office said.
Israeli Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz will also travel to Oman next week for a transportation conference, according to his office.
Israel currently has full diplomatic relations with only two Arab states, Egypt and Jordan.
Netanyahu has long sought a rapprochement with other Arab states, citing in part concerns over their common enemy Iran.
Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory, however, remains a major obstacle to official recognition from Arab countries.
Speaking of his Oman visit at a cabinet meeting Sunday, Netanyahu said it was thanks to his “diplomatic efforts” in the Arab world, adding: “There will be more.”