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Israeli Wins World Judo Championship: Egyptian Quarter-Final Loser Refused To Shake Hands
Judo Championship
Photo by Kiyoshi Ota/Getty Images

On Wednesday, for the first time ever, an Israeli man won a gold medal at the Judo World Championships in Tokyo, but earlier, when he won his quarter-final match against an Egyptian judoka, the loser rejected judo etiquette and refused to shake the Israeli’s hand.

The Jerusalem Post reported of Israeli judoka Sagi Muki, 27, “Muki showed impressive fighting abilities in Wednesday’s tournament, having beaten most of his opponents by ippon (the highest score a fighter can achieve in Japanese martial arts), including in a fight that lasted merely 25 seconds. In the quarterfinals, Muki faced Egyptian Mohamed Abdelaal, who refused to shake Muki’s hand after having lost to him.” The Times of Israel noted, “Other Arab opponents have acted similarly after losing to Israelis, including Egyptian and United Arab Emirates judokas.”

But after Muki defeated Belgium’s Matthias Casse in the final, the two men hugged:

An emotional Muki sang the Israeli anthem after he won:

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Muki, “You’ve proven what I always say, that thanks to talented wonderful people such as yourself we turned Israel into a judo powerhouse.” Muki responded that it is a “privilege to represent Israel.”

The Jerusalem Post noted, “The biggest question coming into this tournament was whether Muki, ranked second in the world, would face Iranian judoka Saeid Mollaei in the finals, and whether the Iranian judoka would forfeit in order not to play an Israeli, as has happened in the past. But the Iranian lost the semifinals and did not get to face Muki.”

In August 2016, after he lost his first-round judo match at the Rio Olympics to Israel’s Or Sasson, ranked fifth in the world, Egyptian judo fighter Islam El Shehaby refused to shake Sasson’s hand, prompting boos from the crowd. El Shehaby was automatically defeated when Sasson threw him twice with roughly a minute and a half remaining in the bout. El Shehaby lay flat on his back, then stood with Sasson in front of the referee. Sasson extended his hand, but El Shehaby backed away, shaking his head, prompting the referee to tell El Shehaby he should return to the mat and bow. Instead, El Shehaby simply nodded his head.

International Judo Federation spokesman Nicolas Messner tried to put the best spin on the situation, asserting, “This is already a big improvement that Arabic countries accept to (fight) Israel,” adding that shaking hands was optional, but bowing was mandatory. El Shehaby ultimately bowed, said Messner, but “his attitude will be reviewed after the games to see if any further action should be taken.”

Anti-Israel media in Egypt had urged the 25th ranked El Shahaby to avoid competing against Sasson; Mataz Matar, a TV host on Al-Sharq, warned, “My son watch out, don’t be fooled, or fool yourself thinking you will play with the Israeli athlete to defeat him and make Egypt happy … Egypt will cry; Egypt will be sad and you will be seen as a traitor and a normalizer in the eyes of your people.”

In October 2017, when Tal Flicker, the Israeli judo champion, won the gold medal in Abu Dhabi, which refused to play the Israeli national anthem or display the flag of Israel, and played the theme of the International Judo Federation instead, he decided he would protest in the only way left to him: he quietly sang the Israeli national anthem himself.

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