After winning the bronze medal at the Rio Olympics and returning home to Israel, judo fighter Ori Sasson shared his perspective on his Egyptian opponent’s infamous handshake snub. Refusing to shake Sasson’s hand (the most basic gesture of respect in martial arts), disgraced Egyptian judo fighter Islam El Shehaby officially left professional judo shortly after leaving Rio and getting reprimanded by the Olympic committee. Since then, he has garnered international attention for poor sportsmanship and raw hatred, highlighting the disease of Arab anti-Semitism on the world stage.
On Tuesday, Sasson provided extra insight into his encounter with El Shehaby in an interview with Israel’s Yedioth Ahronoth. El Shehaby and his coach “said Allahu Akbar’ to each other” before the fight,” Sasson said in the interview. “This shouting reminded me of what’s going on in Israel, before a terror attack.”
Sasson suggested he didn’t harbor any animus toward his opponent before the fight. I “never developed hatred towards him,” he stated, adding, “But I realized I was going to fight against an athlete, and it didn’t matter to me if he were Egyptian.”
Nonetheless, El Shehaby treated Sasson with disrespect from beginning of the match. “He never spoke to me. He always had a hostile expression. He would always look like he wanted to murder us,” Sasson stressed.
Despite the consistent slights and indignities directed toward Sasson, the judoka and his coach felt it was important to honor El Shehaby with a handshake in a show of deference to the sport of judo.
“After the fight, I sought out his hand (to shake). My coach Oren Smadja asked me to do so,” Sasson noted.
Although the incident was admittedly jarring, Sasson suggested he doesn’t hold any grudges. Upon returning to Israel with a medal in hand, the judoka was greeted by a myriad of fans eager to shake his hand.
“After being welcomed by hundreds of people at Ben-Gurion Airport upon his landing in Israel, the Olympic medalist had a long day, spending most of it talking to the media,” reports Ynet News. “Despite that, he made time to come to the community center where his brother teaches judo to children.”
Many have suggested that El Shehaby’s foul behavior on the judo mat was the perfect metaphor for nearly seven decades of Israeli-Arab relations.