“We will murder you” and “you’re not wanted here, go home” are just some of the chants which were directed at the members of Israel’s judo team over the weekend, while they competed at the World Masters competition in Rabat, Morocco.
The Israeli athletes’ problems began even before they got on the plane to Morocco. Several hours before the Israeli delegation arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport, the Shin Bet announced that its security guards would not be joining the trip, and recommended that the team cancel its participation in the competition.
But Moshe Ponti, chairman of the Israel Judo Association, decided not to give up on the important competition, which provides a score for next year’s Olympic Games. He turned to Marius Vizer, chairman of the International Judo Federation, who got the organized committee involved and made sure that the Moroccan king’s security guards would watch over the Israeli delegation.
In the meantime, the delegation was furious to learn that the Israeli flag and the list of Israeli athletes had been removed from the competition’s official website. This led to another appeal to the International Judo Federation chairman.
But when the delegation landed in Rabat, it turned out that the nightmare had just begun: The members of the Israeli delegation were held up at the airport for more than eight hours, in a large room with no chairs, food or water. The Moroccan authorities explained that the delegation members had no visas, but later changed their version and claimed that one of the passengers had a weapon in his suitcase.
Only after the International Judo Federation chairman threatened to call off the entire competition, the Israeli delegation members were allowed into the country, and were escorted to their hotel by the king’s security unit.
On the first day of the competition, the Israeli judokas experienced hostility again, and the Israeli flag was nowhere to be seen. In response, a representative of the International Judo Federation demanded that all the flags of the participating countries be removed.
During the matches, the Israeli contestants were subject to the audience’s degrading behavior. Some raised Palestinian flags, others threatened to “murder” them and some booed every time one of the Israelis went up to compete.
Despite the ongoing harassment, the Israeli athletes managed to win the fifth place twice and the seventh place three times.
“What happened in Morocco was a disgrace,” said Israeli world champion in judo, Yarden Gerbi. “As an Israeli, I am ashamed to wait at the airport for eight hours and I am ashamed to hear my fellow team members getting booed – all because we are Israelis. We came for the sake of sports, pure sports, not politics, and this is a disgrace on Morocco and the organizers.”
Moshe Ponti concluded, “I am very disappointed – not by the results, but by the audience’s attitude. I am asking myself whether we did the right thing, coming to this country, and I always reach one conclusion: That I will go to every Arab country I am allowed to go to. As for the sports aspect, there is no doubt that we will draw conclusions and fix whatever mistakes we made.”