When Israeli Tal Flicker won the gold medal at the recent international Grand Slam judo tournament in Abu Dhabi, his flag and national anthem were banned. Instead of standing under the Israeli flag listening to Hatikva, Flicker was forced to stand under the International Judo Federation’s flag as the Judo Federation’s theme song played.

Tal Flicker defiantly sang Hatikvah himself. 

“I was singing Hatikvah from my heart,” the 25-year-old judo champion recalled later. “I’m proud of my country.” 

Even though the Federation wrote to the Grand Slam tournament’s organizers urging them to treat competitors of all nationalities “absolutely equally in all respects, without exception”, Israeli judo competitors weren’t allowed to wear their nation’s flag on their uniforms. They were forced to wear a patch with the International Judo Federation’s logo instead.

In the days since the tournament, United Arab Emirates (UAE) officials have apologized for their rudeness, particularly for an incident the day after Tal Flicker’s gold medal, when a UAE competitor refused to shake Israeli athlete Tohar Butbul’s hand after the Israeli won a bronze medal. UAE officials have not yet apologized for banning Israel’s flag and for forcing Tal Flicker to sing his national anthem alone.

This isn’t the first time Israel’s national anthem Hatikvah has been banned. In 2015, two Israelis pulled out if the Youth Sailing World Championships in Malaysia after Malaysian organizers said they wouldn’t be allowed to display Israel’s flag nor hear Israel’s national anthem if they won.

These snubs don’t only target Israel; they affect every Jew. Hataikvah, the title of Israel’s national anthem, means “the hope” in Hebrew, and its beautiful poetry captures the Jewish yearning to return to our ancient homeland.

It was first written over a hundred years ago by a Jewish poet named Naftali Herz Imber, who grew up in an impoverished Jewish town in Galicia in Eastern Europe, and as an adult moved to the land of Israel, then controlled by the Ottoman Empire. Imber had grown up longing to return to Israel and he penned a poem called “Our Hope” about the timeless Jewish longing to live in Israel once again.

A shortened version of his poem soon became popular among Zionists. The Jewish musician Samuel Cohen put it to music and Jews sang its haunting words: “So long as in our heart of hearts, A Jewish pulse is beating, And Eastward to the Orient, We cast our eye to Zion, Our ancient Hope will not be lost, Our age-long aspiration, To turn back to our father’s land, To the city where David dwelt.”

A few years later, thousands of Jews were heeding this ancient call to return to Israel and were transforming the land, building Jewish farms, towns, and cities. One of the men involved in creating Tel Aviv was a schoolteacher named Dr. I. L. Metman Hacohen. He edited Imber’s lyrics to reflect the reality that Jews were returning to Israel.

Dr. Hacohen noted that Jews shared the hope “To be a free nation in our land / the land of Zion and Jerusalem.”

This stirring version of the poem became known as Hatikvah and soon became an anthem of Jews everywhere. In 1933, it was adopted as the official anthem of the Zionist movement.

Filip Muller, a Jewish slave laborer who survived the Holocaust, described a group of Czech Jews who were being forced to march towards the gas chambers. As they approached their moment of death, they started singing Hatikvah, defying to SS guards who rained blows on them to stop their singing.

“It was as if they regarded the singing as a last kind of protest,” Muller recalled. “When they sang Hatikvah, they were glancing into the future, but it was a future which they would not be allowed to see.”

In 1945, the broken survivors of the Bergen Belsen concentration camp sang Hatikvah soon after being liberated. BBC reporter Patrick Gordon Walker was present, and he noted on air, “Around us lay the corpses there had not been time to clear away… People were still lying down and dying, in broad daylight… A few hundred people gathered together, sobbing openly in joy at their liberation and in sorrow at the memory of their parents, brothers and sisters that had been taken from them, gassed and burned… These people knew they were being recorded, they wanted the world to hear their voice. They made a tremendous effort, which quite exhausted them. Listen…”

These survivors then sang Hatikvah, conveying all they longed for at this moment of their liberation. They ended their rendition by defiantly declaring Am Yisral Chai!, the people of Israel lives!

In the days after Abu Dhabi’s refusal to play Hatikvah, many have applauded judo champion Tal Flicker’s persistence in singing the Israeli anthem. Two days after the judo snub, Whatsapp co-founder Jan Koum, an Israeli, posted a rendition of Hatikvah on social media. “Since they refuse to raise Israeli flag or play Israeli anthem...I am just going to leave this here,” he noted.

We can all do the same. Like the Israeli judo champ and the Israeli inventor of Whatsapp. Like the countless Jews through the years who, even when faced persecution and danger, persisted in singing Hatikvah. We can all proclaim Hatikvah, the hope that after thousands of years of exile and persecution, the Jewish people will live freely in our homeland.