The Olympic Games kick off in London this Friday. Though Israeli competitors hope to come home with some prestige, if not medals, there will be no minute of silence honored for their countrymen slaughtered 40 years ago at the same event in Munich.
The refusal of the International Olympic Committee to devote 60 seconds to memorializing the eleven Israeli victims of Palestinian terrorism – first taken hostage and then executed by members of the Black September group – has caused quite a social-media stir. Petitions have been multiplying on Facebook and Twitter, with much response.
One example is a placard showing thumbnail photos of the dead, with a caption reading, “Share if you agree: 17 days; 24,480 minutes. Not 1 minute to honor the memory of the Munich 11?”
It’s a clever idea, and its sentiment couldn’t be better. As a cause, it is as admirable as it is worthy. But it was hopeless from the outset.
To understand why, let us review the massacre itself and its aftermath.
The 1972 Summer Olympics took place in Germany from August 26 to September 10. The last time the Germans had hosted the mega sports fest was in 1936, when the Nazis were in power. As a result, the West German government wanted to present the country in a positive light. Ironically, as it would turn out, the event was officially titled “The Happy Games.”
On September 5, ten days into the games, Palestinian terrorists stormed the Olympic Village and took Israeli athletes and coaches hostage, immediately murdering the two who put up a fight. Eighteen hours later, the terrorists transferred the rest of the hostages by helicopter to a military airport, where they were going to board a plane to an Arab country. It was then that the Germans carried out a failed rescue mission, during which four of the hostages were shot and then blown up by a grenade that one of the terrorists threw into the helicopter. The five hostages left were then machine-gunned down.
In the show-down with German authorities, most of the terrorists were killed. The three who survived were arrested, but ended up being released a few weeks later in exchange for a hijacked Lufthansa jet: On October 29, two men hijacked a plane en route from Beirut to Ankara, demanding that Palestinian prisoners held in Germany be released in exchange for the hostages on the flight. Though the Germans initially refused the deal, they ended up giving in, and the three terrorists who had taken part in the Munich Massacre were set free.
As a result of the massacre, the “Happy Games” were suspended for 24 hours. As soon as the whole thing was over, and the Israelis were already dead, International Olympic Committee President Avery Brundage conducted a short memorial service at the stadium, during which he made an appalling speech, paying minor tribute to the Israeli athletes who had just been killed, and making a more general comment about the nature of the Olympics.
“Every civilized person recoils in horror at the barbarous criminal intrusion of terrorists into the peaceful Olympic precincts,” he said. “We mourn our Israeli friends, victims of this brutal assault. The Olympic flag and the flags of all the world fly at half mast. Sadly, in this imperfect world, the greater and more important the Olympic Games become, the more they are open to commercial, political and now criminal pressure. The Games of the 20th Olympiad have been subjected to two savage attacks. We lost the Rhodesian battle against naked political blackmail. We have only the strength of a great ideal. I am sure the public will agree that we cannot allow a handful of terrorists to destroy this nucleus of international cooperation and goodwill we have in the Olympic movement. The Games must go on and we must continue our efforts to keep them clear, pure and honest and try to extend sportsmanship of the athletic field to other areas. We declare today a day of mourning and will continue all the events one day later than scheduled.”
It is worth noting here that the Israeli government (!) endorsed Brundage’s decision to go on with the competitions as scheduled.
Four years later, the Summer Olympics took place in Montreal. The only reminder of the massacre was a black ribbon on the Israeli flag carried by the Israeli team as it marched into the stadium.
Since that time, there have been repeated requests to the International Olympic Committee, mainly on the part of families of the victims, to have a regular memorial service at the games. This request has been denied again and again, on the grounds that such a commemoration might “alienate other members of the Olympic Committee.”
This year, a number of governments – the United States, Canada, Germany and Israel – have come out in favor of holding a moment of silence.
Still, the current president of the IOC, Jacques Rogge of Belgium, is adamantly against it. Guess who sides with him: Alex Gilady, the Israeli member of the Committee. He feels that stopping to ponder the carnage could jeopardize Israel’s standing in the sports world. After all, he argues, this could make other athletes, such as those from countries hostile to the Jewish state, ill at ease. Oh dear.
Should we not have known better, then, than to imagine that a minute of silence for Israeli victims of Palestinian terrorism would be treated as one too many?
Ruthie Blum is the author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring,’” now available on Amazon.
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