Netanyahu Congratulates Israeli Bronze Medalist Judoka for ‘Showing Peace-Seeking Face of Nation’ Despite Egyptian Rival’s Olympic Snub (VIDEO)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu phoned one of the Jewish state’s star judokas during Saturday night’s Channel 2 news broadcast to congratulate him for more than merely winning an Olympic medal at the games in Rio.
“Mazal tov….Every boy and girl in Israel and the world who watched you compete saw not only a great athlete, but a man with values,” Netanyahu said to Or (Ori) Sasson, who appeared visibly stunned to be speaking to the head of his country. “You showed the true face of Israel. The pretty and proud face of a strong, peace-seeking nation.”
Netanyahu was referring to Sasson’s Friday afternoon Olympic victory in a fight against Egyptian judoka Islam El Shehaby, who exhibited a lack of sportsmanship by refusing the handshake of his Israeli competitor at the end of the match – a gesture that elicited booing from the bleachers.
As The Algemeiner reported on Thursday, in the lead-up to the fight, El Shehaby, known for his extreme, anti-Israel views, was pressured by followers on social media not to compete against Sasson in the first place.
“You will shame Islam,” wrote one angry fan. “If you lose, you will shame an entire nation and yourself. We don’t want to think what will happen if you lost to an Israeli. Victory will give you nothing. How can you cooperate with a murderous nation?”
El Shehaby, winner of a bronze medal in the 2010 World Judo Championship in the over-100-kilo category, nevertheless arrived on the mat as scheduled, following threats by the chairman of the Egyptian Olympic Committee that if he failed to do so, his citizenship would be revoked. He then lost to Sasson – a silver medalist two years in a row at the European Championships – after their first round.
Netanyahu told Sasson that he had made the whole country proud.
“You achieved something unreal from a personal, national and international perspective. I think all of us saw how you lived your dream. You showed that if one wants it enough and makes enough effort — and one dares enough — he can realize his dreams,” the prime minister said.
“I’m so happy to have brought honor to the country I love so much and to which I am so attached,” Sasson said.
Netanyahu added: “Tell your coach, Oren Smadja, that we’re proud of him, and that he should keep doing what he’s doing. And when he gets back to Israel, I’ll speak to him and [Culture and Sport] Minister Miri Regev about [establishing] a fund for Olympic athletes.”
Before signing off, Channel 2 asked him what he thought when observing El Shehaby’s handshake refusal.
“I thought that alongside relations we have been developing with countries in the region, there is much work to be done to counter the horrible propaganda that has built up against us for decades,” Netanyahu answered. “I’m not giving up on that [goal]. That day will come, God willing.”
As The Algemeiner reported earlier this month, diplomatic ties between Egypt and Israel have been strengthening in the three years since the military coup that ousted former President Mohamed Morsi.
On a visit to Jerusalem in July, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry was not only photographed next to a bust of state of Israel visionary Theodor Herzl, but watched the European soccer championships on TV with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The controversy surrounding El Shehaby is not the first incident of its kind at the Olympic Games in Brazil.
On August 5, the Lebanese delegation to the games refused to share a bus meant to take the athletes to the opening ceremony with the Israeli team. Subsequently, on Aug. 7, Saudi Arabian judoka Joud Fahmy forfeited her first-round match against Christianne Legentil from Mauritius, reportedly in order to avoid competing against Israeli contender Gili Cohen in the next round.
According to the Jerusalem Post, the Egyptian Olympic Committee has summoned El Shehaby to a hearing on his unsportsmanlike behavior following his loss to Sasson.
Watch Sasson on Israel’s Channel 2 speaking to PM Netanyahu on the phone: