|Acutely aware of public opinion: Jacques Rogge, International Olympic Committee president|
LONDON (Reuters) – Olympic organizers hit back at criticism on Tuesday of how they had honored 11 Israeli team members killed at the 1972 Munich Games, ignoring calls to hold a minute’s silence for them in the opening ceremony. International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge led a surprise tribute in the athletes village in London on Monday, but that low-key event failed to satisfy relatives of the victims or Israeli officials.
The Reuters story [source] offers an especially toxic way of describing the Munich 1972 outcome: "Within 24 hours, 11 Israelis, five Palestinians and a German policeman were dead after a standoff and subsequent botched rescue effort." Meaning that stuff happens and the victims were from all over: from Germany, from Israel, from Palestine. Feh!
About Tuesday's "low-key" “surprise tribute”, we think there are some important points to be made :
- How many people did it actually attract? About 100, according to Associated Press: "Rogge bowed his head as a crowd of about 100 people — IOC executive board members, dignitaries and Olympic athletes and officials — stood in silence for a minute.” By our count, there are more newspapers that reported the ceremony than people actually participating. Some tribute.
- Rogge, to his credit, has been consistent. He “has repeatedly rebuffed calls to hold a moment of silence during Friday's opening ceremony of the London Games. He said Saturday the opening was not the appropriate place to remember the Israeli team members”. [Source: Associated Press] To our way of thinking, nothing could be more appropriate than the highly-watched opening ceremony, assuming you want people to actually remember.
- At Tuesday's event, Rogge took the opportunity to wax eloquent in front of the crowd of one hundred about the physical surroundings and addressed lofty visions as he spoke of “the 11 Israeli Olympians who shared the ideals that have brought us together in this beautiful Olympic Village… The 11 victims of the Munich tragedy believed in that vision… They came to Munich in the spirit of peace and solidarity. We owe it to them to keep the spirit alive and to remember them." [Source: Associated Press]
- In the interests of repaying what the IOC “owes” to the dead Israelis and their memory, Rogge met last night (Wednesday) with two widows of the dead Israeli Olympians. He managed to leave them “distraught and heartbroken” [report]. It's almost entirely unreported.
- The Israeli widows handed Rogge a petition signed by more than 105,000 people from all over the world, calling for a minute of silence at Friday’s opening ceremony. Rogge said no again. They asked him whether his refusal was because the victims were Israeli. Rogge declined to answer. [Source: JC]
- One of the two widows is Anki Spitzer, the prime mover behind the petition [it’s here]. She said: “I was looking him in the eye but he said we had two different opinions. We said ‘you didn't hear the voice of the world’. He said: ‘Yes I did’.” [Source: JC]
- We think Rogge spoke the truth. He is acutely aware of public opinion. The public opinion to which he is paying attention is against the minute’s silence – that is, the public that is important to Rogge and the IOC.
- It is clear that a significant part of the Olympic community is embarrassed by and opposed to the singling out of Israeli victims for honoring. Who are they? Yesterday, in a blog posting [see "25-Jul-12: An effective 'spontaneous minute' that will speak louder than the IOC's roaring hypocrisy"], wequoted Thomas Bach, International Olympic Committee vice-president on this very matter. Here again is the key quote in which he spills the Olympic beans: "The threats to boycott the opening ceremony made by Arab states in the event of an official minute of silence have led the IOC to mark the 40 year anniversary in other ways, including a minute of silence on Monday inside the Olympic Village, led by IOC President Jacques Rogge. The Arab boycott “had been a possibility, according to some of our advice”, Bach said according to Israel’s Channel 2 news." [Source: Algemeiner.com]
- It’s about the Arabs. Only Bach has admitted it so far.
- The IOC has no problem holding massive memorial ceremonies. It’s not an issue of principle, and it’s not something that conflicts with the Olympic spirit. In 2002, at the Winter Olympics in Utah, they held a memorial service attended by 60,000 people [report and picture].
- Not everyone is as appalled as we are at the insensitivity of the Olympic management team. The Palestinians, for instance, think it’s really OK. As PMW notes today, the Palestinian Authority headed by Mahmoud Abbas is against the moment of silence: "Sports are meant for peace, not for racism", the headline in its newspaper says today. Jibril Rajoub, president of the Palestinian Olympic Committee and a man who knows a thing or two about racism and terrorism, sounds a positively lyrical note in a report from the Arabic media yesterday: "Sports are a bridge to love, interconnection, and spreading of peace among nations; it must not be a cause of division and spreading of racism between them [nations]" [Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, July 25, 2012]
- The Fatah/PLO/Palestinian Authority side opposes a minute of silence because, for them, the murder of Israelis by Palestinian Arabs is not terror at all. It’s heroism. Palestinian Media Watch routinely documents how they express this glorification of terror and terrorists; it’s an ongoing, daily thing. For them, the Munich massacre was done by a "star who sparkled... at the sports stadium in Munich". And so on.
- Let's note by the way that Rajoub is himself a seasoned terrorist [see "We salute Shalit's kidnappers, says Jibril Rajoub"] who has been repeatedly arrested and imprisoned over the decades. He owes his freedom to a notorious 1985 transaction (eventually known as the Jibril Deal) in which he was among 1,150 Palestinian Arabs freed from Israeli prisons in exchange for three Israeli hostages held by a terrorist group. After his release, Rajoub moved to Tunis where he served as aide and advisor to Abu Jihad who was head of the Black September terrorist force in the early '70s [source]: the same Black September took executed the Munich massacre.
- In a letter this week to Rogge, the terrorist Rajoub "expressed appreciation for [Rogge's] position, who opposed the Israeli position, which demanded a moment's silence at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in London." As PMW points out, Rajoub is unable to bring himself to actually mention the murdered Israeli athletes. Their killing is simply termed "the Munich Operation”. Small wonder that Rajoub and the PA sing the praises of Rogge's refusal to permit a minute of silence for dead Israeli athletes. But the question for us is: Those people who are standing by and with and behind Rogge – do they subscribe to the Fatah/PLO’s endorsement of the IOC refusal?
- We have heard it said that Tuesday’s pathetic “low-key” memorial moment gave worldwide exposure to the murder of the Israeli athletes and that makes it a positive thing. But we say the events of 1972 in Munich gave them worldwide exposure too; does that make the killings a positive thing? The more serious criticism is that the message of Tuesday's IOC 'event' fails to come to grips with what is being remembered. The Munich massacre of 1972 was followed by many more killings, based on the same hatred, the same contempt for other people's lives, and essentially by the same people. The terrorists who planned and executed are busy planning more. Though the Israelis came in peace, they died as Israelis and Jews. None of this was even hinted at in Rogge's vacuous "spontaneous" comments. He mentioned Israeli once in the video clip [here]. But the message was not about Israelis or about terror.
- We say Tuesday's “spontaneous” IOC event was symbolic, but not in the way Rogge and the IOC intended. It actually possesses multiple layers of symbolism. Thanks to the ringing endorsement of the Palestinian Authority and its blood-soaked Olympic committee head, we now understand them a good deal better.
Friday is going to be day of pomp, enthusiasm and unstoppable optimism. But in certain ways the opening ceremony of the London Olympics is also - for those of us living daily in an ongoing war - likely to be a reminder of the deep gulf between those who have some understanding of terrorism and what it stands for, and those for whom slogans and lofty pronouncements conceal a fundamental emptiness.
"Inspire a Generation has been revealed as the official motto for the London Olympics. 'It is the heartbeat, the very DNA of this organisation and a rallying cry for the athletes to come to the UK to perform at their very best and inspire the world." [Source: Daily Mail]It would have been good to see the Olympic movement embrace something a little more substantial and focused on genuine humanitarian values.