In my synagogue back home this weekend, my Rabbi, intentionally or not, echoed the message of historian Deborah Lipstadt’s piece in Tablet: The real reason the International Olympic Committee refused to commemorate the Israeli athletes murdered in Munich in 1972 is because, well, in the eyes of the world, Jewish blood is still as cheap as ever.
We hear this trope often, and I hardly begrudge it. I agree with Lipstadt that the IOC’s claims to be “apolitical” don't fully hold up (she cites how they had no trouble being “political” in commemorating the Bosnian war in 1996 and 9/11 in 2002). And though I may prefer other methods for community building, I’ll say this for the Jewish sense of embattlement—free of cynicism and in all seriousness—it does wonders for the Jewish collective psyche. The ADL, two New York democrats, and even Barack Obama came out in favor of the minute of silence. And nothing, seemingly, was happening.
But then the IOC did it. Today, IOC President Jacques Rogge led a minute of silence for the 11 Israeli athletes murdered in Munich those forty years ago. It was not held, as requested, at the opening ceremony in London but instead in front of 100 people at the athletes’ village. And indeed, Rogge claimed that the dedicated minute “has nothing to do with the requests” and was instead “spontaneous,” “normal” and “natural.”
This is a place where we speak about sport and peace. It's absolutely normal I should call for a remembrance of the Israeli athletes…I couldn't speak here in front of the athletes and the national Olympic committees about peace and sport and about the Olympic Truce without remembering or reminding the people what happened 40 years ago and the disaster that also started in the Olympic Village in Munich, so it was fitting that I would say what I feel about that.
But the ADL was not so easily appeased. Abraham Foxman, the National Director announced that by not holding the moment of silence at the opening ceremony, the IOC was guilty of “a continuing stubborn insensitivity and callousness to the memory of the murdered Israeli athletes.”
But really? I mean, yes: the ADL didn’t get exactly what it wanted. Rogge said that he and the IOC "feel that the opening ceremony is an atmosphere that is not fit to remember such a tragic incident." But is something like this so zero-sum? Shouldn’t we (and the ADL) give the Olympic Committee National some positive reinforcement here?
Rogge is not opposed to commemorating the Munich murders in public. According to AFP he’s planning “a pilgrimage to the airfield where several of the Israeli team…were killed in a chaotic shoot-out” and being “present on the exact day of the killings…at the military airport of Furstenfeldbruck where the killings actually happened..." And, excluding the two instances Lipstadt mentions, it's hard to find any tragedy that the IOC's been willing to commemorate at all.
So when Rogge’s statements includes things like “I want to pay homage to the 11 Israeli athletes who shared the idea of the Olympic truce, who believed that the Olympic Village was a place which brought people together” and "these 11 athletes came to Munich in this spirit…" it’s hard to say who’s being “stubborn” and “insensitive” here. What say you, Deborah Lipstadt?