Netanyahu to judokas: You are all champions

Prime Minister meets Olympic medal-winning judokas Ori Sasson and Yarden Gerbi and the entire Israeli Olympic judo team.

Nitsan Keidar,

Binyamin and Sara Netanyahu with Or Sasson and Yarden Gerbi
Binyamin and Sara Netanyahu with Or Sasson and Yarden Gerbi
Amos Ben Gershom/GPO

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara, along with Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, on Wednesday met with Olympic medal-winning judokas Ori Sasson and Yarden Gerbi and the entire Israeli Olympic judo team including Sagi Muki, Golan Pollack, Shira Rishoni and Gili Cohen.

Judo Federation Chairman Moshe Ponti and team trainers Oren Smadja and Shani Hershko also participated in the meeting.

Gerbi won her bronze medal early last week after defeating Japan's Miku Tashiro in the women's Judo under 63 kg category.

Sasson's medal came on Friday, after he won a consolation round in the men's 100 kilogram plus weight class.

Sasson defeated Cuban Alex Garcia Mendoza, shortly after losing a semifinal match to world champion Teddy Riner.

Both were welcomed back to Israel on Monday night by hundreds of fans who gathered at the Ben Gurion Airport as they returned from Brazil.

"We are very pleased to welcome you back, Miri and the team. Whoever reaches our Olympic team is a champion,” Netanyahu told the athletes. First of all, one must remember this. It is not easy to be accepted into an elite unit. We saw the effort and the dedication, and the struggle, and this inspires us all; even if one does not succeed, there is the future. I tell you, it is possible to lose in a competition and come back, and I tell you this from personal experience. It is possible to lose and come back.”

“You are all champions, that is the first thing. Second, there are generations here. Smadja is the first, Ponti afterwards, Ori afterwards, and this says that judo is strong and has something special; I must say this,” he continued.

“Our country has very major strengths, the greatest is brain and brawn together, and this is judo – brain and brawn. Neither brain nor brawn separately, a combination is necessary, and this is a very great combination. To this I add something else that is important – heart. Brain, brawn, heart. And you have proven all of these things and we will support you, both you and our other Olympic teams.”

“We know that Israel is on the global map and it is on the global map in sports, especially Olympic sports, and we will also support previous and future athletes,” said the Prime Minister.

“I have one last request. Oren, you are not retiring, forget it. You have made a great contribution here and we need you and we love you; we love all of you. We were also moved by Sagi, Yarden and you Ori,” he continued.

Netanyahu then related to the incident involving Sasson and Egyptian judoka Islam El-Shahabi, who refused to shake Sasson’s hand after a match and was eventually sent home from the Olympics.

“Now I want to tell you that yesterday I received a message from Egypt. They told me that after your impressive victory Ori and you extended your hand, which expressed – in effect – the Israeli people, because we know the truth and they told me from Egypt: ‘I want you to know, Prime Minister, that other voices were heard. What is important is that for the first time in years other voices were heard from Egypt.’”

“I think that this is very important; this is an important milestone not only in sports, [but] in our network of relations, which is not just on the government level but other voices were heard also among the public. Your extended hand Ori was not without response, perhaps there but not everywhere. And this is a change, a great thing. You have many merits and another one, the greatest merit, I tell you, is ours because we are proud of you. You truly represented the best in our country. Thank you all," Netanyahu concluded.