Anti-Semitism, Israel and the Olympics: What to take away


The original Olympics in Ancient Greece, the games that inspired the modern recreation that just ended in Rio, showcased the greatest Grecian athletes stretching from the Peloponnese to the Mediterranean colonies. In the Grecian Olympics, only those of pure Greek decent could participate, making the old games far more exclusive than the modern games that have come to celebrate international diversity. There are several differences between the original and the modern games; however, the similarities between two games are far more striking and relevant. Greek city-states agreed to an Olympic Truce during the celebration of the games to allow athletes safe travel to Olympia, which is now an implied aspect of the games. The Olympics in Ancient Greece also, like in modern times, developed into a political tool for city-states to claim dominance over rivals through athletics. The modern Olympics are meant to foster a sense of international unity and cooperation through the love of athletics, a passion shared universally across international borders and cultural boundaries. Comparable to the old games, The Olympic Games in Rio were not devoid of political opportunism and cultural discrimination. And Israel, expectedly yet baselessly, found itself at the center of the controversy.

Before the opening ceremonies could even begin, members of the Lebanese Olympic delegation barred Israeli athletes from boarding a bus headed to the ceremony. Salim al-Haj, head of the Lebanese delegation, told the Agency France-Presse (AFP) that he demanded the door be closed before the Israeli athletes could enter, but the Israelis “insisted on getting on.” What a potentially scarring experience for the Lebanese delegation: they were almost forced to participate in the Olympic spirit of international camaraderie. The Israelis eventually boarded a separate bus to “avoid an international and physical incident” but Udi Gal, an Israeli athlete, pondered on Facebook, “How could they let this happen on the eve of the Olympic Games? Isn't this the opposite of what the Olympics represents?” He is, of course, absolutely right; no intelligent individual would oppose this statement. Yet, predictably, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) only warned al-Haj that a similar situation would not be tolerated in the future. Apparently blatant anti-Semitism is passable as long as it is the first offense, according to the actions of the IOC.

This incident, of course, was just the start of the harassment Israeli athletes faced at the Rio Olympics. A female Saudi Arabian judo athlete allegedly forfeited her first-round match to avoid an Israeli competitor in the proceeding round. The Saudi Arabian Olympic delegation denied the claim and instead offered an injury as a legitimate excuse. Curiously, Saudi Arabia does not recognize the legitimacy of the state of Israel; far more interesting, though, is why the Saudi athlete’s injury only became a limiting factor once the draw—and her potential Israeli competitor—was determined.

If you do not regularly keep up with Israeli news or watch Fox News, you likely haven’t heard about these detestable and flagrant acts of discrimination against Israeli athletes. For those who haven’t received news of these incidents, it is not due to your own inattentiveness, but rather the  main stream media’s (MSM) lack of interest with overt anti-Semitism at the Olympics. Neither CNN nor MSNBC published articles on either of the aforementioned discriminatory incidents. When I scoured Google for other articles and quotes regarding these episodes, nearly all the articles on the individual incidents were published by conservative news sources, such as Breitbart and Fox News, or Jewish newspapers, such as the Jewish Post and Haaretz. After I noticed the disparity between the attention conservative publications gave the incidents as opposed to liberal agencies, I deliberately searched the archives of CNN and MSNBC for articles on these two incidents and found nothing. I find it greatly unsettling that these liberal publications would refrain from posting pieces on anti-Semitic incidents at the Olympics at a time when the world—especially champions of equality on the left—seems devoted to ending discrimination. Some on the left enjoy attacking conservatives for their cultural insensitivity and lack of “political correctness,” but, in this case, CNN and MSNBC seem to miss the mark.

This is not to say, however, that CNN or MSNBC are not concerned with the equal treatment of all athletes at the Olympics. In 2014, after the Sochi Winter Games, MSNBC published an article titled “IOC Makes non-Olympian Sized Move on Gay Rights, Critics Say”. and, just a few weeks ago, CNN posted an article titled “In Testament to U.S. Sports Progress, Women Lead Rio Medal Count for Team USA”. As all Americans should be, I’m glad that our country has news agencies that object to social injustices and inequalities and praise the accomplishments of women. However, in my eyes, CNN and MSNBC lose all credibility in standing up for equality when they arbitrarily select which groups deserve their defense in the face of severe unequal treatment. If CNN and MSNBC, and other like news agencies, truly stood for equality and not for political pandering, they would have given equal coverage to the undisguised anti-Semitism practiced by the Lebanese delegation and the Saudi Judo competitor.

To claim that CNN directed no attention to anti-Semitic incidents at the Olympics would be unfair and false; apparently CNN was able to ignore the first two anti-Semitic incidents but just couldn’t bring itself to neglect the final and most flagrant incident. Egyptian Judo fighter El Shehaby was booed after he refused to shake the hand of his Israeli competitor, Or Sasson. After Sasson defeated Shehaby in the opening match, he extended his hand to the Egyptian, who refused and barely gave a nod as opposed to the traditional and compulsory bow after a Judo match is completed. CNN’s article is devoid of even a hint of disapproval towards Shehaby’s actions. At the end of the article, CNN attempts—and fails—to address the earlier bus incident with the Israeli and Lebanese athletes, stating “Reports have surfaced that Lebanese athletes refused to let Israel's competitors share a bus with them to the opening ceremonies.” At the latest, the story was confirmed by both the Lebanese and Israeli delegations by August 8th, yet the CNN article, dated August 18th, merely states that “reports have surfaced”, as if the incident is merely an illegitimate piece of gossip. Shockingly, but not surprisingly, MSNBC published no articles on any of the anti-Semitic incidents. Even more unbelievable was the response from the International Judo Federation, which absurdly claimed that it was “…already a big improvement that Arabic countries accept to (fight) Israel”. Supposedly sportsmanship between athletes is just too much to ask for when one of them is a Jew.

The Israeli athletes, and Jews around the world, do not require the sympathies of CNN, MSNBC, or any other news agencies or organizations to succeed, at the Olympics or anywhere else. (CNN practically ran a propaganda war against Israel during the 2014 Gaza war, and Israel yet again prevailed.) The Jewish people have stood up to and beaten far greater injustices than what the Israeli athletes faced at the Olympics. That commendable fact does not justify the actions of the Muslim nations that treated Israeli athletes with inhuman disdain, nor does it excuse the laughable or absent responses from organizations globally. It does, however, point to the strength of the Israeli athletes, something that should not be forgotten or overlooked after the Muslim athletes’ failed attempts to beat down the morale of the Israelis.

This year at the Olympics, the United States Olympic delegation included its first Muslim athlete to wear a hijab during competition, fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad. CNN wrote three separate articles on the momentous occurrence, which points to the cultural acceptance practiced in the United States. CNN has posted multiple opinion pieces on Islamophobia, including one (offensively) titled, “America’s Islamophobia Problem”. By no means am I suggesting that unjust discrimination against Islam and Muslims should be tolerated: it should be defeated, as should all ignorant discrimination. But where is the CNN opinion piece entitled “Arab Countries’ Anti-Semitism Problem”? Although the actions of a few athletes from Arab countries do not represent the views of those countries (Egypt actually sent El Shehaby home after he refused to shake Sasson’s hand), CNN has no qualm posting an opinion piece insinuating all of America has a problem with Islamophobia. I can only wonder what CNN would have titled their article if it had been a Jewish athlete who had refused to shake a Muslim’s hand.

At face value, much has changed in regards to the original games’ homogenous nature. The International Olympic Committee has successfully transformed what was once known for is exclusivity into a celebration of athleticism and international inclusivity. A clear and foreboding lesson of Rio, though, is that the Olympics’ original prejudicial environment is far from defeated so long as our world refuses to universally condemn discrimination.


Ethan Katz is a first year political science student at the University of Florida. He is dedicated to exploring political and international issues through his writings from an analytical and impartial viewpoint.

At 80, a Munich Olympics and Holocaust survivor is still the sportsman


Shaul Ladany, a two-time Olympian, acknowledged that he was “very happy” that the International Olympic Committee finally held an official memorial for the 11 Israelis who were killed in a terrorist raid at the 1972 Munich games.

But Ladany, an Israeli racewalker who still holds a world record, didn’t need the Aug. 3 ceremony at the Rio games to remember the tragedy. He was there, forced to flee the dorms where the Palestinian terrorists held his teammates hostage.

“I remember everything that happened in Munich. I don’t need special memorial services to remind me,” said Ladany, who watched clips of the ceremony on the TV news. “What the [Rio] event did, though, was to mark the IOC’s recognizing that this was part of the Olympic movement and that the Israelis and others must be remembered.”

He added: “Anyone with a head on his shoulders, and especially Israelis who were there, wanted this [commemoration] very much.”

The ceremony, held two days before the Olympics opened in Rio, culminated a 44-year struggle by victims’ families to attain official recognition of their loved ones.

“I think a big reason for that [breakthrough] is that the president of the Olympic movement is German, and he understands his obligation,” Ladany said of Thomas Bach, adding that he hopes such commemorations are held at every Olympics.

Even before Munich, Ladany was no stranger to survival, having made it through the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp during World War II as an 8-year-old.

Yet at 80 he’s still going strong, competing in long walk races and swimming events.

In September, he will participate for the 55th year in a 2 1/2-mile swim in the Sea of Galilee – a number he thinks has been exceeded by only three people. And in November, Ladany plans to compete in a 20-mile walking marathon in the Jezreel Valley.

“I’ll be the oldest one there, of course,” said Ladany, a professor emeritus in industrial engineering at nearby Ben-Gurion University of the Negev who isn’t shy about speaking.

This summer he participated in two four-day, 84-mile walk races in the Netherlands. He competed for the 23rd time in the one held in Nijmegen, which Ladany calls “the greatest walking carnival in the world.”

In 2012, he interrupted a speaking tour in Canada to return to Israel long enough to make the Galilee swim, then flew back to resume his talks.

“Only a crazy, sports-minded person would do it,” said Ladany, sitting in his living room across from his wife Shoshana, 82, in an interview at his home in this Beersheba suburb.

Ladany, adjusting his enormous eyeglass frames, jokes that training for each Galilee swim consists of his previous year’s participation.

“I’ll tell you something about long-distance competition: Everyone – runners, cyclists, race walkers – don’t enjoy making the effort,” he said. “They enjoy the finishing. That’s the happiness: that you were able to make it.”

Ladany’s been at racewalking for more than a half-century, ever since he participated in a four-day recreational event as a Hebrew University of Jerusalem student and realized that many runners lagged behind his walking.

His feet would convey Ladany to the still-standing world record in the 50-mile race walk (7:23:50), set four decades ago in New Jersey, and to five Maccabiah gold medals in four distances: 3-, 10-, 20- and 50-kilometers. In addition to the 1972 games, he was an Olympian in 1968 in Mexico City at age 32.

So how exactly does racewalking work?

Ladany explains that one leg must always be in contact with the ground, the foot landing on the heel while the leg remains straight, and that leg staying straight until switching to a vertical position.

“Most people who walk are really running,” Ladany said.

During the Munich games, he was staying along with most of the Israeli delegation in the Olympic Village, at Connollystrasse 31. When members of the Palestinian terrorist group Black September broke into his teammates’ rooms on the September morning, he was able to dash to safety.

Correcting the historical record that claims he jumped to safety from a second-floor balcony, Ladany told JTA that he was on the first floor and stepped on the terrace and continued away to safety. He said two other Israelis fled serpentine-style to avoid being shot.

He has a theory for why the terrorists who invaded apartments 1 and 3 bypassed his duplex in apartment 2: His five suite mates included competitive sharpshooters Henry Hershkowitz and Zelig Stroch. All survived.

Ladany sees his Munich teammates at the annual commemoration in Tel Aviv of the murders. He recently had his watch repaired by Hershkowitz, a watchmaker.

Some three decades before his second Olympics, Ladany and his parents fled their native Belgrade, Yugoslavia, to Hungary following the Nazi invasion in 1941. They were deported to Bergen-Belsen, then freed in a December 1944 prisoner exchange and sent to Switzerland before returning to Belgrade.

In 1948, the family immigrated to Israel along with Ladany’s orphaned first cousin, Martha Flattow, who was raised as his sister and now lives in Rishon Lezion. The Ladanys’ daughter and three grandchildren reside in Reut, near Modiin.

“Maybe the events of my life shaped my character. I don’t know,” Ladany said.

He says that among the most profound utterances he has ever heard was the day his father dropped him off at the Israeli army induction center in 1954. Ladany recalls his dad telling him: “The honor has accrued to you to serve the Jewish state.” Ladany would repeat the phrase when his daughter was drafted.

On this morning, even though he has just 20 minutes before a department-wide event at his university, Ladany indulges a visitor’s approach to wall-length display cases packed with trophies and medallions. The octogenarian flicks on a backlight, the better for his accomplishments to be appreciated.

Athletic hardware isn’t all he stockpiles; Ladany is an inveterate collector. In fact, he notes matter-of-factly, he maintains 200 different collections, from what he calls the “esoteric and nonvaluable” (restaurant napkins and business cards) to the highly significant (Maccabiah posters, historical Jewish National Fund collection boxes, documents about Bergen-Belsen). He is one of the world’s leading collectors of items related to modern Zionism’s founder, Theodor Herzl: 1,000 pieces, including 400 postcards.

On the inside of the home’s front door hangs a 1932 poster from the inaugural Maccabiah – “I believe I’m the most knowledgeable person in the world about the first Maccabiah,” he states unabashedly – and, above it, a poster consisting of images of each delegate to the First Zionist Congress in 1897.

The pivotal gathering may have taken place in Basel, Switzerland, but Ladany owns an invitation that designated Munich as the original location. The congress was relocated, he explains, due to a rabbinical dispute.

Now Ladany finally makes it to his garage, dips into his car’s seat and tears down Eucalyptus Street. His leg may no longer be in contact with the ground, but it’s weighing hard on the gas pedal.

Rio pays tribute to 11 Israeli victims of ’72 Munich Olympic massacre


Under the auspices of the International Olympic Committee, Brazilian senior officials joined sports activists from Israel and elsewhere at a commemoration of the 11 Israeli victims of the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre.

The Israeli and Brazilian Olympic committees and members of the local Jewish community attended the event Sunday evening at Rio City Hall.

“What happened in 1972 was one of the most lamentable episodes in the history of the Olympic Games, when  fanaticism and intolerance [converged in a] deplorable act of terrorism,” Brazil’s foreign minister, Jose Serra, said on behalf of President Michel Temer. “I believe the IOC, in all these years, hadn’t held the homage it deserved.”

Israel’s most senior representative to the games, Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, said terrorism “does not differentiate [between] people” and reaches everyone.

“When we fight against terror, we look for peace. We still see discrimination against the Israeli athletes,” she said. “There are countries that deny visas to competitors. We know that mixing sports and politics is against the IOC protocol and contrary to the Olympic spirit. Sport must bring people together.”

Unlike previous Olympic commemorations dealing with the 1972 massacre, Sunday’s event was entirely devoted to the murdered Israelis. A previous homage was held Aug. 4 at a memorial site in the Olympic Village, where not only the Israelis were honored but also four others who were killed during Olympic Games.

Ankie Spitzer and Ilana Romano, the widows of fencing coach Andre Spitzer and weightlifter Yossef Romano, were among those who lit 11 candles at the event.

Israel’s honorary consul in Rio, Osias Wurman, told JTA: “The mayor opened the doors of his house in a gesture of great friendship with the Brazilian Jewish community and the whole people of Israel. It’s a unique moment for us Brazilian Jews.”

Among the ceremony’s participants was Ori Sasson, the Israeli judoka who gave Israel its second medal in Rio — bronze in the men’s judo over 220 pounds competition. His Egyptian opponent during the competition who refused to greet him after being defeated was much criticized.

Approached by guests and journalists for a comment, Sasson avoided answering questions about conflict in the Middle East.

“It was not the first time this happened between a judo athlete competing against Muslims,” he said, “but I am only an athlete, I’m not a politician.”

Egyptian judoka sent home over handshake refusal with Israeli


Egyptian judoka Islam El Shehaby has been sent home from the Rio Olympics after refusing to shake the hand of Israeli Or Sasson following the end of their bout, the International Olympic Committee said on Monday.

El Shehaby, who was sent home by his own team, lost the fight on Friday and was reprimanded by the IOC for his actions.

The IOC acknowledged that the rules of judo do not oblige players to shake hands but said El Shehaby's behaviour went against the Games' “rules of fair play” and “spirit of friendhsip”.

“The Egyptian Olympic Committee has also strongly condemned the actions of Mr Islam El Shehaby and has sent him home,” the IOC said in a statement. “The President of the National Olympic Committee issued a statement saying they respected all athletes and all nations at the Olympic Games.”

After Sasson defeated El Shehaby and the pair retook their places in front of the referee, the Egyptian backed away when Sasson bowed and approached him to shake hands.

When called back by the referee to bow, El Shehaby gave a quick nod before walking off amid loud boos from the crowd .

“The Disciplinary Commission (DC) considered that his behaviour at the end of the competition was contrary to the rules of fair play and against the spirit of friendship embodied in the Olympic Values,” the IOC said.

“The DC issued a 'severe reprimand for inappropriate behaviour' to the athlete. It noted….the shaking of hands after a match is not in the competition rules of the International Judo Federation.”

“As well as a severe reprimand, the DC has asked the Egyptian Olympic Committee to ensure in future that all their athletes receive proper education on the Olympic Values before coming to the Olympic Games,” the IOC said.

El Shehaby, 32, had reportedly been pressured by fans on social media not to show up for the match with his Israeli opponent, who went on to win bronze in the +100kg category, because it would shame Islam.

“Shaking the hand of your opponent is not an obligation written in the judo rules. It happens between friends and he's not my friend,” El Shehaby said after the bout.

“I have no problem with Jewish people or any other religion or different beliefs. But for personal reasons, you can't ask me to shake the hand of anyone from this State, especially in front of the whole world,” he said. 

Egypt was the first Arab power to make peace with Israel, in 1979, but the treaty remains unpopular among many Egyptians.

Egyptian booed for not shaking hands with Israeli


Egypt's Islam El Shehaby refused to shake hands with Israel's Or Sasson after their judo match at the Rio Games on Friday, drawing boos from the crowd at the Carioca Arena 2.

El Shehaby, 32, had been reportedly pressured by fans in social media not to show up for his scheduled fight with his Israeli opponent because it would shame Islam, but he decided not to withdraw from the match.

After Sasson had defeated El Shehaby and the two retook their places in front of the referee, Sasson bowed and approached El Shehaby to shake his hand but the Egyptian backed away.

El Shehaby and Sasson did not comment after the match.

Nicolas Messner, a spokesman for the International Judo Federation, said in fact judokas are not obligated to shake hands under IJF rules, only to bow, which El Shehaby did after he was called back.

“Nevertheless, after the Games the situation will be studied and analysed to see if further action must be taken,” he told Reuters.

Sasson will compete in the semi-finals of the +100kg category later on Friday.

A spokesman for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said that sometimes athletes could not bring themselves to shake hands “for a number of reasons”.

“Things happen in the heat of the moment that are not acceptable and obviously we would remind all competitors of Olympic values,” Mark Adams told a news conference, adding that the spirit of toleration at the Games was exemplified by the athletes' village, where competitors spend time socialising after competitions.

“We believe that the Olympic spirit should be about building bridges, never about erecting walls,” he said.

International Olympic Committee warns Lebanon over bus incident


The International Olympic Committee reportedly reprimanded the head of the Lebanese delegation over an incident in which he blocked Israeli Olympians from boarding a bus.

At a hearing Sunday, the IOC committee warned Salim al-Haj Nakoula that it would not accept a similar incident, the Jerusalem Post reported.

The incident in question occurred Friday, when Nakoula blocked Israeli athletes from boarding a bus to transport them to the opening ceremony of the Rio games. The encounter drew attention when Israeli sailing coach Udi Gal reported it on Facebook.

Nakoula told Lebanese media that the Israelis were “looking for trouble” by insisting on boarding the same bus when they had their own transportation. He reportedly told the IOC that the incident had been a misunderstanding.

Int’l Olympic Committee says 31 athletes could miss Rio after positive Beijing drugs re-tests


Thirty one athletes from six sports could be banned from this year's Rio Olympics after failing dope tests when 454 samples were reexamined from the 2008 Beijing Games, the International Olympic Committee said on Tuesday.

The IOC also said it would start re-testing Sochi 2014 winter Games samples after allegations of tarnished samples were made last week by Russia's former top anti-doping scientist. Some 250 samples from the London Games will also be reexamined.

In an effort to crack down on cheats during the Olympics, the IOC said this was targeted re-testing on athletes likely to be at the Rio Games starting on Aug. 5, and those found to have tested positive would not compete.

An IOC official told Reuters no names would be made public at this stage until athletes had been informed and a second sample, or B-sample, tested as well.

“The aim is to stop any drugs cheats coming to the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro,” the IOC said. “The (IOC) Executive Board agreed unanimously to initiate proceedings immediately, with the 12 National Olympic Committees concerned informed in the coming days.”

The re-tests, a regular procedure by the IOC as it looks to use newer methods or look for new substances, were carried out in conjunction with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and international federations.

The IOC said it had also called on WADA to launch a “fully fledged investigation” into allegations that testing during the Sochi 2014 winter Olympics by the on-site accredited laboratory had been subverted.

The former head of Russia's anti-doping agency Grigory Rodchenkov said last week that the Sochi lab had tampered with samples.

Russia is at the heart of the biggest drugs scandal in years, with the country's track and field athletes currently suspended and the Rio Games hopes in doubt, and their drugs testing lab and anti-doping agency undergoing complete overhaul.

“All these measures are a powerful strike against the cheats we do not allow to win. They show once again that dopers have no place to hide,” said IOC President Thomas Bach.

“The re-tests from Beijing and London and the measures we are taking following the worrying allegations against the laboratory in Sochi are another major step to protect the clean athletes, irrespective of any sport or any nation.”

Apart from tarnishing any competition, doping has also damaged the Olympics' reputation, with the IOC regularly stripping athletes of their medals, sometimes years after they competed, due to positive drugs tests.

“By stopping so many doped athletes from participating in Rio we are showing once more our determination to protect the integrity of the Olympic competitions, including the Rio anti-doping laboratory, so that the Olympic magic can unfold in Rio de Janeiro,” Bach said.

The Rio Games run from Aug. 5-21.

IOC revokes Olympic qualifier status after Israeli denied visa


The Asian shooting championship, which starts in Kuwait this week, has been stripped of its Olympic qualifying status after an Israeli delegate was refused an entry visa, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said on Thursday.

“Upon request of the International Sports Shooting Federation (ISSF), the IOC Executive Board today revoked the Olympic qualification status of the Asian Shooting Championship taking place in Kuwait City between 1 and 12 November,” it said in a statement.

“The decision comes after the designated technical delegate from the ISSF, Yair Davidovich (Israel), who was due to supervise the event on behalf of the ISSF, was denied a visa by the Kuwaiti Immigration Department.”

The IOC said the denial of a visa went against its non-discrimination principle of the Olympic Charter which must apply to all Games qualification competitions.

The Olympic body said another reason for stripping the qualifying status for the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Games was the ban imposed earlier this week on the Kuwait Olympic Committee from all Games-related activities.

The IOC suspended Kuwait on Tuesday for the second time in five years over government interference in the country's Games committee.

The IOC said it met the government and the Kuwait Olympic Committee to resolve the issue over a piece of sports legislation that was seen as threatening the autonomy of the Olympic body but the talks proved fruitless.

“Another reason for the decision is the fact that the Kuwait NOC is currently suspended by the IOC due to governmental interference against the rules of the Olympic Charter,” it said.

“The KOC is not entitled to participate in any activity connected with the Olympic Movement or exercise any right conferred upon it by the Olympic Charter or the IOC.”

Los Angeles named U.S. bid candidate for 2024 Olympic Games


Los Angeles was selected on Tuesday as the American candidate city that will bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympics after Boston pulled out of the race in July, the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) said.

Los Angeles, which has hosted the Summer Games twice before in 1932 and 1984, joins a race that includes Paris, Rome, Budapest and Hamburg.

“It is my distinct honour today to formerly name the city of Los Angeles as the U.S bid city to host the 2024 Olympics,” USOC chief executive Scott Blackmun told a news conference in Santa Monica.

The final obstacle facing the city was cleared earlier on Tuesday when the Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously to pursue a bid for the 2024 Games, giving LA the chance to become the only city besides London to host the Olympics three times.

The International Olympic Committee will elect a winning bid in 2017.

IOC contributes $250,000 to Munich Games memorial


The International Olympic Committee will contribute $250,000 toward a memorial to the  nine Israelis killed by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Munich Games.

The donation was approved by the IOC, the organization confirmed Thursday to the Associated Press.

The German Olympic Sports Confederation has pledged $27,000 to the $2.3 million project, which also will be funded by German taxpayers.

The memorial, whose design will be unveiled in Sept. 19, is set to be completed in fall 2016.

Bach, who most recently served as IOC vice president, supported the refusal of the IOC to hold a moment of silence at the 2012 Summer Olympics for the  nine Israelis killed by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Munich Games.

Lane of shame: Doha erases Israeli flag in international meet


The international sportswriters’ association, which goes by the acronym AIPS, held its two-day executive committee meeting this week in Doha, Qatar. The meeting’s guest of honor was Sheikh Saoud bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, the secretary general of the Qatar Olympic Committee, who is keenly sophisticated and moves fluidly between Arab and western cultures.

The Qataris bid — unsuccessfully — for the Summer Games of 2016 and 2020, cut early on in each round by the International Olympic Committee. Of course, soccer’s World Cup is set for Qatar in 2022.

His Excellency told the ladies and gentlemen of the press that sport is fundamentally one of the pillars of Qatar’s development plan. This year, the Qataris will organize 40 major sports events. By 2020, he said, the goal is to stage a big event every week of the year.

And, of course, he said, to bid again for the Olympics. Maybe for 2024. Possibly 2028.

If you have been to Doha, actually been on the ground, you know that there is serious commitment there. The new president of the IOC, Thomas Bach, has long had extensive ties to the Middle East, so one would imagine the climate — so to speak — for a Gulf bid would be as good as it could ever get.

There’s only one thing that could stop a Doha bid dead in its tracks, and it’s not the heat. Nor is it the capacity, infrastructure or even the impact on television schedules.

It’s this:

The start of the women’s 100-meter individual medley at the Doha World Cup event // photo courtesy Universal Sports Network

This photo offers irrefutable evidence of everything the Olympic values — friendship, excellence, respect — are not.

This sort of intolerance, indeed discrimination, has to stop. Now. And forever more.

This screenshot shows the start of the women’s 100-meter individual medley at swimming’s World Cup stop in Doha — happening more or less about the same stretch of time His Excellency and some of the world’s leading writers were meeting to talk about all the exciting things happening in the Qatari capital.

In Lane 5 is Amit Ivry of Israel.

The Israeli flag that should be depicted in the graphic display in the host broadcast feed has instead been washed out.

This incident marked just one of several episodes directed against Israeli swimmers at the World Cup stops in both Dubai (Oct. 17-18) and Doha (Oct. 20-21).

On Day 1 in Dubai, Israeli swimmers were not properly identified, either by announcers on the scoreboard. That way, their name and national flag wouldn’t have to be shown, a veteran national-team swimmer, Gal Nevo, told a leading Israeli newspaper, Ha’aretz.

Things in Dubai were apparently back to normal by Day 2. Nevo, for instance, announced as from the country “I-S-R” on Day 1, was announced as from “Israel” on Day 2.

He said, “Suddenly, you arrive in a country that has refused to recognize you until now, and know that the next time we’ll be here they won’t play those games with us. I don’t know how many television viewers we’re talking about but the people in the emirate saw the Israeli flag over and over again, and were exposed to the country’s sporting aspect.”

That this sort of thing happened in Dubai can not have come entirely as a huge shock.

After all, this was where in 2009 the Israeli tennis player Shahar Peer was refused a visa for the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships; tour officials fined organizers $300,000 and said all qualified players had to be able to play or the tournament’s sanctioning would be at risk. Peer has since played in Dubai.

That said, recent years have seen a veritable catalogue of incidents in which politics and sport have mixed in all the wrong ways, consistently with the Israelis as the target.

At the 2004 Athens Olympics, for instance, Iran’s judo world champion, Arash Miresmaeli, refused to take to the mat for a first-round match against Israel’s Ehud Vaks in the under-66 kg class. Iranian officials later awarded Miresmaeli the same $120,000 given its gold-medal winners at those 2004 Games for what was called a “great act of self-sacrifice.”

At the 2008 Beijing Games, Iran’s Mohammed Alirezaei refused to compete alongside Israeli swimmer Tom Be’eri in the heats of the 100 backstroke.

At the 2010 Olympic Youth Games in Singapore, in the final of the boys under-48 kg class in taekwondo, Gili Haimovitz of Israel won when Mohammed Soleimani of Iran proved a no-show, officially claiming he had aggravated an old injury to his left leg. Soleimani skipped the medals ceremony as well — missing the Israeli flag and anthem.

In 2012, Algerian kayaker Nasreddine Baghdadi withdrew from a World Cup event in which Israeli Roei Yellin was entered, and the president of the Algerian Olympic Committee, Rachid Hanifi, said all its athletes might refuse to compete against Israelis at the London Games: “There is an obligation to ask our government if we have to meet Israel in sport.”

That prompted the then-IOC president, Jacques Rogge, to declare that only serious injury would be accepted as an excuse for not competing at the London Games, that suspicious withdrawals would be checked by an “independent medical board” and that bogus withdrawals would lead to unspecified sanctions.

Just two weeks ago, Tunisia’s tennis federation ordered its top player, Malek Jaziri, ranked 169th in the world, not to play Israel’s Amir Weintraub in the quarterfinals of a lower-tier ATP event in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

International Tennis Federation spokesman Nick Imison told Associated Press he believed the case was a first-of-its-kind in tennis.

The constitution of swimming’s international federation, which goes by the acronym FINA, is absolutely clear that discrimination on the grounds of “race, sex, religion or political affiliations” is out of bounds.

True, FINA officials absolutely had been put on notice by events in Dubai. But Doha? This was where a 20-year-old Shahar Peer in 2008 — the year before the episode in Dubai — had reached the round–of-16. Moreover, her first night in the city, the tourney director had even taken her and her entourage out to dinner at a Moroccan restaurant in the traditional Souk district marketplace.

And yet — Doha.

According to a report in the Times of Israel, it’s not just that the Israeli flag was not displayed in the computer graphics of the races. Some races in which Israelis swam were not broadcast. The Israeli flag was removed from outside the venue; a tweet was posted Sunday complaining about the flag’s presence before it was taken down from outside the swim complex, according to the Doha News.

How this all happened remains entirely unclear. Who precisely was responsible — also uncertain.

FINA on Wednesday issued a statement saying that it reacted to events in both Dubai and Doha as soon as it knew. In Doha, for instance, FINA officials say they were told the full scope of what had happened only 15 minutes before the end of Day 2.

The statement says FINA “guarantees” that “all steps will be taken in the future for such acts not to occur again.”

This is particularly key because the world short-course championships are due to be held in Doha Dec. 3-7, 2014. Dubai and Doha are also scheduled to host further World Cup events ahead of the worlds.

FINA’s executive director, Cornel Marculescu, told Associated Press the two organizing committees apologized for what he called these “stupid things.” He also said, “Next year we have the world championships and these things will not happen anymore.”

Marculescu is absolutely right to label the incidents so forthrightly and to  say enough is enough.

Now: Doha has a huge incentive to bid for the Olympics.

There are all kinds of bold steps that could be taken. For instance, there are apologies of all sorts. Some are private. Some are meant to be much more public.

Or: there are ways of reaching out, gestures of goodwill — say, swim clinics in which regional stars teach local kids. Could it hurt to invite Amit Ivry, winner of the silver medal in the 100 medley at the Doha 2013 World Cup?

At the least — all the Israelis all ought to be taken out to dinner next December at the worlds, everyone ought to shake hands and pose for some tourist-like pictures in the Souk and then all hands can get on with the business of swimming.

The Israelis — just like they were anybody else. That’s what they, and everybody, deserve.

After all, that’s the fundamental promise inherent in Olympic sport — that everyone can get along and that everyone deserves a chance to do their best, however good-enough that best might be. If the Qataris want to invite the world in 2024 or 2028 and be taken dead seriously about it — an Olympics is way different than the World Cup — that is the deal. Anything less is a non-starter.

FIFA to help solve Palestinian sports dispute with Israel


FIFA president Sepp Blatter promised Palestinians on Wednesday that soccer's world governing body would help put an end to the long-running problems with Israel that severely restrict sport in the territories.

Blatter, who went to the region two years ago to try to help improve the relationship between the Palestinians and Israel, was applauded by delegates at a conference of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) in Mauritius before FIFA's Congress starting on Thursday.

Blatter told AFC delegates he was aware of what he called “this touchy problem”, adding: “I can confirm I will help, FIFA will help. It's a problem of football. We will help you and this will be done. It's not a promise it's a will – and where there's a will there's way.”

The tensions between the neighbours have been exacerbated as the start of UEFA's European Under-21 Championship, being staged in four Israeli cities next month, approaches.

Last week UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino said after its Congress in London that European soccer's governing body was within its rights to award the tournament to Israel and would not consider moving it.

But Jibril Rajoub, president of the West Bank FA and West Bank Olympic Committee, said the situation had worsened since Blatter and International Olympic Committee (IOC) chief Jacques Rogge visited the region on separate occasions in 2011 and 2010.

At Rajoub's request there will be an open debate on the situation at the FIFA Congress on Friday.

ANGRY PALESTINIANS

Palestinians are angry that Israel's security forces, who control movement between Gaza and the West Bank, frequently prevent athletes from travelling freely between the two areas.

The situation is not restricted to Palestinians.

As a full member of FIFA and the AFC, the West Bank FA has started to hold more regional tournaments but the Israelis are stopping athletes from third countries entering the West Bank.

Recently two teenagers from Myanmar were stuck in Jordan for a week awaiting clearance so they could play in an Under-17 tournament before eventually been granted access to the Palestinian territories.

After Wednesday's meeting, Rajoub told Reuters: “It's crazy what the Israelis are doing. They should be asked either to respect and accept the statutes or pay the price. I am talking about free access and free movement for both athletes and sports instructors and experts from abroad.

“We just want to enjoy sport like the rest of the associations.”

Asked whether IOC and FIFA intervention had helped, he said: “No. The situation is deteriorating. They have to recognise reality on the ground and West Bank is a member of both FIFA and the IOC and accepts all of the standards and statutes of FIFA.”

He also objected to Israel hosting next month's Under-21 finals saying: “They should not be given this gift as long as they are not giving Palestinians the right to enjoy the same things as them.”

Reporting by Mike Collett; Editing by Ken Ferris

Wrestling with it: U.S. vs. Iran


Iran is a mainstay in international wrestling. The United States has a long and proud wrestling history, too. In February, the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) policy-making executive board moved to exclude wrestling from the 2020 Summer Games program. Sports officials in both countries would like to change that.

Thus, this week, USA Wrestling was promoting two meets, one which took place May 15 in New York, the other taking place on May 19 in Los Angeles. Both days: U.S. versus Iran. It’s an example, a press release notes, of “international goodwill through wrestling,” and follows an American wrestling trip in February to Tehran.

It is often said that sports and politics don’t mix.

In this case, the sports are all about politics. It’s sports politics. It’s geopolitics. It’s politics with ramifications yet uncertain.

It’s “outrageous,” Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, said of the wrestling exhibitions, asking rhetorically, in a reference to the Berlin Games used by the Nazis for propaganda purposes, “Did we not learn anything since 1936?”

The challenge for USA Wrestling is that it has an elemental goal: to get back in the 2020 Summer Games. That is its narrow focus, and that is why the Iranians have been extended an invite.

“We think this an opportunity to use sport for good and maintain our position on the Olympic program,” said Rich Bender, executive director of USA Wrestling.

The bigger-picture complexity is that Iran’s Olympic-sport athletes have for the last several years withdrawn, purposely lost or suddenly reported feeling ill so that they wouldn’t have to compete against Israelis.

The Olympic values purport to exemplify excellence, friendship and respect. Consider the record since 2004 in particular, and ask how USA Wrestling is — simply by giving the Iranians this platform and the media attention that goes with it — advancing those values.

Iran does not recognize Israel. It bans contact with the Jewish state.

New York and Los Angeles make up — outside Israel — the largest Jewish communities in the world.

At last summer’s London Olympics, Iranian officials declared for the record that their athletes would indeed compete against Israelis.

But the only Iranian athlete who could possibly have faced an Israeli opponent — judo champion Javad Mahjoob, competing in the 100-kilogram class — pulled out immediately before the Games, claiming a digestive infection.

At the 2011 world swimming championships, Iran’s Mohammad Alirezaei opted out of his qualifying heats in the 100-meter breaststroke. Israeli Gal Nevo was in the same race. Alirezaei told Associated Press he was “so tired and drowsy” from flying the day before the race.

At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Alirezaei pulled out of the 100 breaststroke, which included another Israeli, Tom Beeri. The IOC accepted the explanation that Alirezaei was ill.

That both withdrawals came against Israelis, Alirezaei said when asked about it in 2008 — that was simply a coincidence.

At the 2004 Games in Athens, Iran’s Arash Mirasmaeili showed up the morning of his match against Israeli Udi Wax. But Mirasmaeili — an experienced two-time world champion — inexplicably did not make weight, “disqualifying” himself.

And more:

In 2006, Iran withdrew from the World Judo Championships, to avoid a match with Israel. A year later, Iranian referee Ahmed Kaspandi declined to referee a match in which an Israeli player was participating.

At the 2010 Youth Olympic Games in Singapore, Israel’s Gili Haimovitz won the 48 kg/106 pounds gold-medal match when Iran’s Mohammad Soleimani defaulted; he claimed to have aggravated a leg injury.

Moreover, at the medal ceremony, Soleimani did not show up. The Israeli flag went up; the anthem was played; the silver-medalist’s spot went vacant.

The Wiesenthal’s Rabbi Cooper is a longtime sports fan. He said, “I was pretty shocked wrestling was removed because it’s a dynamic sport. It brings people from around the world together. A lot of other things should have been cut first, and they should restore it.”

He also is a fan of the Games: “It is compelling. There are rules. There is no shtick. This is what sports are supposed to be.”

In London, Iran won six wrestling medals, fully half its total of 12. Three were gold, third-best, behind only Russia and Japan. In Iran, wrestling really matters.

For comparison: The United States won four wrestling medals, two gold, out of 104 total.

Wrestling is not just about force and power. It’s also about leverage. USA Wrestling had it but didn’t use it, Cooper said, asserting that the federation should have have “had the guts” to invite a third party — the Israelis.

If the conclusion had been that to invite the Israelis meant the Iranians wouldn’t come — well, Cooper said, “that rests the case.”

As it happens, the May 15 event in New York, at Grand Central Terminal, was indeed a doubleheader. There was the U.S. versus Iran. And the U.S. versus Russia — Russia is the world’s leading wrestling power. Russia won 82 medals overall in London, 11 in wrestling. At press time, results of the New York match were not yet available.

The Israelis were not invited.

The May 19 show in Los Angeles is set for the Sports Arena.

As further evidence that this tour is motivated by interests other than pure sport: International wrestling is hardly on the radar screen in Los Angeles, home of the Lakers, Clippers, Dodgers, Angels, Kings, Ducks, USC and UCLA.

Indeed, while USC and UCLA now field women’s varsity sand volleyball, and USC even has a women’s lacrosse team, there is no USC or UCLA varsity wrestling team, men’s or women’s. Olympic-style wrestling is simply just not part of the Southern California culture.

What is, though, and indisputably, is the Iranian influence. Estimates vary, but there is no question that there are hundreds of thousands of people who can claim ties to Iran in Los Angeles and Southern California, and the phrase “Tehrangeles,” especially for the area immediately south of UCLA, is a well-known part of L.A. life.

Iranian wrestlers have not competed in the United States since 2003, when the world championships were held in New York.

The Iranians are expected to bring two-time world champion Mehdi Taghavi Kermani at 66 kg/145.5 pounds, and two 2012 bronze medalists, Ehsan Lashgari at 84 kg/185 pounds, and Komeil Ghasemi at 120 kg/264.5 pounds.

The U.S. team in Los Angeles will be led by 163-pound gold medalist Jordan Burroughs and 132-pound bronze medalist Coleman Scott. Two other 2012 U.S. Olympians are on the U.S. roster: Tervel Dlagnev, the 2009 world silver medalist, at 120 pounds, and Sam Hazewinkel at 155 pounds.

The U.S. versus Russia meet was due to be held under some experimental rules designed to press wrestling’s case before the IOC. The U.S. versus Iran would feature the current international freestyle wrestling rules.

“It’s too bad the Iranian sports system corrupts and debases what sports stands for,” Cooper said, adding a moment later, “I am also disappointed the U.S. State Department did not put a caveat on this: The Iranian team would be welcome to come but not by debasing what America stands for.

“At best it’s a lost opportunity and at worst it’s sending a wrong signal. It’s sending the signal that will be received by the mullahs that was the same signal Hitler got: You can do all these terrible things, make a mockery of human rights and still get invited to the dance. That’s a shandah,” the Yiddish word for shame.

Cooper laughed a wry laugh and said, “That’s a famous wrestling term. And you can quote me on it.”


Alan Abrahamson is an award-winning journalist specializing in Olympic sports. He is also the creator of the Web site 3 Wire Sports (3wiresports.com, where this column originally appeared).

German Jewish leader slams IOC at memorial for Munich 11


The head of Germany's Jewish community at a memorial ceremony for the Munich 11 lamented the “icy coldness” of the International Olympic Committee in refusing to mark the 40th anniversary of the massacre.

Dieter Graumann, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said Wednesday that he is “still angry” and his “tears had not dried” after the IOC failed to publicly honor at this summer's London Games the memory of the 11 Israeli athletes murdered by Palestinian terrorists on Sept. 5, 1972 at the Munich Olympics.

Graumann's remarks came as Germany held its own memorial ceremony in Munich attended by family members of the athletes, members of the 1972 Israeli team, and German and Israeli government officials, including Israel's vice premier, Silvan Shalom. The ceremony took place at the Furstenfeldbruck Air Base, where 40 years
ago nine of the Israeli hostages and one German police officer were killed in a botched rescue attempt.

“The security authorities back then revealed a disastrous dilettantism,” Graumann said at the ceremony.

According to Ynet, Ankie Spitzer — the widow of Israeli athlete Andre Spitzer — demanded that all documents related to the events of the massacre be made public. Last week, the Israel State Archives released 45 classified documents related to Israel's deliberations and actions as the tragedy developed.

Graumann said he would never forget the “casual flippancy” with which German sports officials reacted to the tragedy at the time. He said he had “never [encountered] an ounce of self-criticism” from them.

Then-IOC President Avery Brundage uttered the words “the Games must go on” without a hint of compassion, Graumann said. “Jewish blood was cheap in the eyes of the world.”

Graumann said the current IOC president, Jacques Rogge, is no better for refusing to hold a moment of silence at the opening ceremony of the London Games.

“One minute of mourning — was that too much to ask?” Graumann said.

The Chabad Telethon: Beyond silence


One of the most moving letters you’ll read this year was written by Irwin Cotler, a Canadian member of parliament, to the president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Jacques Rogge, imploring him to hold a minute of silence for the 11 Israeli athletes murdered by Palestinian terrorists 40 years ago at the Munich Olympics.

Rogge had already refused the request for the opening ceremonies, so Cotler urged him to do so during the closing ceremonies:

“This Sunday, when the London 2012 Olympic Games conclude, let us pause to remember and recall each of the murdered athletes. Each had a name, an identity, a family — each person was a universe: Moshe Weinberg; Yossef Romano; Ze’ev Friedman; David Berger; Yakov Springer; Eliezer Halfin; Yossef Gutfreund; Kehat Shorr; Mark Slavin; Andre Spitzer; Amitzur Shapira.

Dr. Rogge … it is not too late to be on the right side of history.”

Cotler appealed not only to emotion but also to reason. Such a memorial, he reminded Rogge, was not without precedent:

“Two years ago during the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, the IOC observed a moment of silence — over which you presided, appropriately enough — in memory of the Georgian athlete, Nodar Kumaritashvili, who died tragically in a training accident. Ten years ago, in 2002, the IOC memorialized the victims of 9/11, though that terrorist atrocity neither occurred during the Olympic Games nor had any connection to them. The duty of remembrance was justification enough.

“In particular, after eschewing a memorial for the murdered Israeli athletes and coaches at this year’s opening ceremony, the IOC then — and again, rightly — memorialized the victims of the 2005 London Bombings … though this terrorist atrocity, as well, had no nexus to the Olympic Games.”

Cotler’s appeal was compelling and moving, but it was unsuccessful — a fact that has surely left a stain on this summer’s Olympics.

But beyond that, it has also left many disappointed Jews around the world wondering what to do next.

After an exhausting lobbying effort supported by many world leaders, including President Obama, these disillusioned supporters are wondering whether they should lick their wounds and give up the fight — or begin anew and lobby for a minute of silence at the next Olympic games.

Here in Los Angeles, there is a Jewish group that is taking a whole different approach to honoring the victims. They will neither give up the fight nor plead with the IOC for a minute of silence.

In fact, they don’t want silence. They want to make some holy noise.

And you can bet they will do that at the 32nd annual Chabad Telethon on Sunday night, Sept. 9.

“The Rebbe taught us that the only response to darkness is to increase the light,” was how Chaim Marcus put it when I asked him why they had decided to honor victims of terror during a normally festive evening.

Marcus, the producer of the last few telethons, doesn’t think there’s a contradiction between the two. “The Chabad Telethon itself was born out of the fire that destroyed the world’s first Chabad House, in 1980 in Westwood,” he told me. “It was our way to rebuild and renew — stronger and greater than before.”

So, instead of commemorating the 11 Munich victims with silence, Chabad will celebrate their lives by “adding light to the world by encouraging our viewers to live their legacy through acts of goodness and kindness.”

Chabad Rabbi Chaim Cunin, executive producer of the telethon, adds: “This year, we will sing more, dance more and pour out our hearts more than ever on behalf of the Munich victims and all those in need.”

The tribute will include Larry King setting up a short film clip from “1972 Munich Games: Bud Greenspan Remembers,” followed by the lighting of 11 candles and the chanting of the El Maleh Rachamim mourning prayer by chazzan Yacov Lerner.

They’re hoping to have many celebrities on stage at the Saban Theatre, where the telethon will take place this year, including people like Olympic swimmers Mark Spitz, Lenny Krayzelburg and Jason Lezak; and London’s gold-medal gymnast Aly Reisman.

It’s classic Chabad to take an Olympic failure and turn it into a Jewish lesson. What they’re basically saying is: Yes, it would have been great had the IOC devoted a minute of silence to the Jewish victims, but they didn’t, and we won’t cry over it. We can do it ourselves, in our own way.

It’s true that as Jews, we want the world to love us, to understand us, to feel our pain. With our history of Holocaust trauma, we crave recognition, especially for our innocent victims. So, naturally, we wanted a billion people worldwide last month to remember that 11 athletes were murdered because they were Jews.

But being Jewish doesn’t only mean being victims. It also means being survivors; survivors who have the power to honor our victims by being more Jewish than ever.

And that’s an idea worth making a little noise over.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

IOC’s Rogge hears sharp criticism at London memorial for Munich 11


The president of the International Olympic Committee came under attack from successive speakers at a London memorial for the Munich 11.

Jacques Rogge, who was in the audience on Monday night, was blamed for refusing to allow a minute of silence during the opening ceremony of the London Games, in memory of the 11 Israeli athletes and coaches who were slain by Palestinian terrorists in the 1972 Olympics. A petition started by the families of the victims and JCC Rockland in suburban New York generated more than 111,000 signatures from across the world, but failed to move the IOC.

“Shame on you, IOC,” said Ankie Spitzer, widow of fencing coach Andre Spitzer, who died in the attack. “You have forsaken the 11 members of your Olympic family. You discriminate against them only because they are Israelis and Jews.”

Another of the widows, Ilana Romano, told Rogge that he had “submitted to terrorism.”

“You will be written down on the pages of history as … a president who violated the Olympic charter calls for brotherhood, friendship and peace,” she said.

Both women received standing ovations.

[Related: L.A.‘s little-known plaque and grove of trees honor ‘Munich 11’]

The Israeli Embassy in London and the National Olympic Committee of Israel, along with the local London Jewish community organized the memorial, which took place in the Guildhall, a medieval-style great hall in central London.

Members of the 2012 Israeli Olympic delegation sat on stage for the ceremonies, which were attended by more than 650 people, including representatives of various nations’ Olympic committees. Among the many government officials in the audience were British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, opposition leader Ed Miliband, London Mayor Boris Johnson and Israeli Sports and Culture Minister Limor Livnat.

Rogge, accompanied by the only Israeli representative on the IOC, Alex Gilady, told the audience that remembering the events of 1972 was “painful” and that he “would never forget why we’re here.”

Pointedly avoiding referring to the Munich minute of silence campaign, Rogge – an athlete on the Belgian yachting team during the 1972 Olympics—condemned terror and said that the Munich attack “cast terrorism’s dark shadow on the Olympic games. It was a direct assault on the core values of the Olympic movement.”

Rogge’s speech was greeted by polite applause from the audience.

After the ceremony, some audience members privately expressed discomfort at the sustained attack on Rogge. Andrew Gilbert, the former chair of Limmud International, Anglo-Jewry’s flagship learning program, tweeted that “the memorial service for Munich 11 became an anti-IOC rally and heavy-handed humiliation of Rogge.”

However, in general, the audience applauded the attacks on Rogge.

Other speakers to attack Rogge included Livnat, who said that those asking for a minute of silence were in tune with the Olympic spirit. Mick Davis, who as chairman of the Jewish Leadership Council and of the United Jewish Israel Appeal is the most senior lay leader of the British Jewish community, told Rogge that “to be silent is to be complicit … to fail to remember is to be complicit.”

Vivian Wineman, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, Anglo-Jewry’s main representative organization, told JTA that “it is good that [Rogge] should see how we feel.”

Following the ceremony, Spitzer said that she really thought that Rogge would allow the minute of silence to go ahead this year, which is why she came to London to meet him before the games began.

She told JTA that she is an optimist by nature and believes a minute of silence will happen one day.

“If we can’t continue the struggle, our children and the children of our children will continue,” she vowed.

British Prime Minister David Cameron spoke at a reception before the ceremony officially began, and then left. The American ambassador to the United Kingdom, Louis Susman, read a message from President Obama.

Israeli actor Chaim Topol served as the master of ceremonies.

Editorial Cartoon: Obvious politics — Minute of silence


PA opposes moment of silence for slain Israelis


The Palestinian Authority opposed a moment of silence at the London Olympics for the 40th anniversary of the Palestinian “Black September” terrorist group’s killing of 11 Israeli team members in Munich, Palestinian Media Watch reported.

On July 25, the PA’s daily publication said in a headline that sports “are meant for peace, not for racism.” Jibril Rajoub, President of the Palestinian Olympic Committee, wrote International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge thanking him for not granting Israel’s request of a moment of silence at the opening ceremony.

“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],” Rajoub, wrote in the letter, which appeared in Al-Hayat Al-Jadida.

The PA publication does not refer to the Munich murders as terrorism, simply calling the events of 1972 “the Munich Operation.”

Congressmen to hold moment of silence for Munich 11


Members of the U.S. House of Representatives will hold a moment of silence for the 11 Israeli athletes and coaches slain by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

“We’re going to give one-minute speeches on the House floor and devote a substantial moment of that to silence on Thursday,” Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) said in a conference call with the media on Wednesday. Following that, he and Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) will lead a group of lawmakers to the Capital grounds for another moment of silence.

Engel and Lowey are cosponsors of a bill calling on the International Olympic Committee to hold a moment of silence for the Israelis during Friday evening’s opening ceremonies of the London Games. The bill unanimously passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee, but a vote has yet to be scheduled by the full body. The U.S. Senate unanimously passed a similar resolution.

“On Friday, millions of people around the world will tune in to the Olympics opening ceremony,” Lowey said. “A minute of silence would be a reminder that we must be constantly vigilant against prejudice, hate and intolerance, and it would pay tribute to the Munich 11 and their families.”

President Obama and presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, along with several governments around the world, have joined the call for a moment of silence at the opening ceremonies, but the IOC has rejected the request.

“For them not to do a moment of silence, that’s being political because frankly they’re afraid of offending some of the Arab nations,” Engel said, adding later that “If you have this fiction of fraternal bonds and commonality of feeling, then it’s appropriate for the IOC to act without any politics whatsoever. The only reason they haven’t done this in 40 years is because it’s Israeli athletes, and that makes it even more disgraceful.”

Rep. Ted Deutsch (D-Fla.) added on the call, “There is still time for the world to honor these athletes and to unite against terrorism. We can’t allow the 40th anniversary of their murder to pass by, and we can’t allow it to be overshadowed by geopolitics.”

In the past, Olympics officials have attended private Israeli or Jewish ceremonies marking the tragedy, but other than the day after the murders themselves, the IOC has not held a commemoration during the Games for the Munich victims. There was a brief mention of the killings at the close of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics when then-IOC head Juan Antonio Samaranch called for a moment of silence for the victims of a bombing during those Games as well as the slain Israelis.

Opinion: Munich’s indelible stains


Under the headline “Indelible Stains,” the Los Angeles Times listed “10 Olympic controversies that forever leave their mark on the Summer Games.”

Subsequently, the Times published (a part of) my letter written in response to the egregious omission from their article:

Unfortunately, the most important controversy in the history of the games was left off the Times’ list: the murder of 11 Israeli athletes and coaches at the Munich Olympics in 1972 by Palestinian terrorists. 

Maybe the controversy was that the Olympics did not have adequate security; or that the German government refused assistance from the Israeli government, who, unfortunately, had years of experience in such situations; or that the Olympics were not suspended out of respect to the great loss of life; or that 10 Arab countries protested lowering their flags half mast and immediately raised their flags following the memorial; or that the German government released the three remaining terrorists (in exchange for a hijacked Lufthansa airliner), who returned to heroes welcomes in their home countries.

Or maybe another controversy is that the Indelible Stains of Blood was actually left off the LA Times’ list.

The Times placed it on their website; not in print.  Interestingly, they omitted what I considered the most important line in the letter: the last.

People question why so many Jews today are obsessed with keeping alive the memory of the 11 murdered Israelis. 

Unfortunately, in today’s world, 11 people mass murdered is a relatively benign number.  Almost daily we read about suicide bombers who murder 20, 30, 45, 200.  Not to mention the thousands wiped out in Syria and more than 300,000 slaughtered in the Sudan.  Just last week, in our own back yard, 12 people were murdered while attending a midnight movie.  That’s one more than Munich.

So why should the Olympics and the world pause, even for one moment, to honor the memory of 11 murdered Israeli athletes?  Why not give silence to all victims of murder?

Because it’s different.  Because context is everything.  Because it was on the heels of the Holocaust, in the exact place where the idea of eradicating an entire people began; an idea which led to more than 6 million people stripped of their dignity, tortured, and systematically exterminated: men, women, and children.

There were not just eleven people murdered in the Munich Olympics during those horrific events, frozen in time while the world witnessed.  Those 11 athletes represented a country, a religion, a people.  Every Jew lost a brother that day.

When a U.S. embassy is attacked, America is attacked.  The 11 Israeli Olympians were not just individuals; they were Israel.  Then, once again, as Israel was attacked, the world did nothing but watch, as if it was another televised sporting event.  And it continues today while the International Olympic Committee refuses to honor their memory 40 years later.

Israel has moved into the 21st century.  Israeli children are taught about the Holocaust, yet they understand today’s realities.  They are no longer crippled by the past, rather they celebrate Israel’s Nobel Laureates in science, medical and technological breakthroughs, and the humanitarian efforts that are transforming the world.

Certain images create nations.  Unfortunately, those images are not always beautiful.  The assassination of Abraham Lincoln, Pearl Harbor, the Twin Towers.

As a Jewish nation, we can no longer stay paralyzed by our past, but we must never forget it.  We must remember the “indelible stains” of our history, from the destruction of the First and Second Temples to the heroism at Masada and Entebbe.  And we must honor with a moment of silence those who perished in the Holocaust, and our relatives lost in Munich in 1972.

Jack Saltzberg is executive director of Friends of Sheba Medical Center. He can be reached at jack@saltzberg.org.

 

IOC denies in-person appeal for minute of silence


The International Olympic Committee rejected an in-person appeal for a minute of silence at the opening ceremonies of the London Games by the widows of two of the 11 Israelis slain at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich.

Ankie Spitzer and Ilana Romano presented their request to IOC President Jacques Rogge on Wednesday along with a petition with more than 100,000 signatures. Rogge again denied the request.

Rogge held a minute of silence in memory of the murdered 11 athletes and coaches at a small ceremony Monday in the Olympic Village. The widows have said the gesture was not sufficient.

“We are outraged by the denial of the request, which comes not only from us but from so many people around the world,” Spitzer said in a statement. “Our husbands were murdered at the Olympics in Munich. To observe a minute of silence in their memory would let the world know where the IOC stands in the fight against terrorism.”

Organizers of the campaign for a minute of silence have called on attendees at the opening ceremonies on Friday to stand and hold their own minute of silence at the beginning of Rogge’s speech.

The campaign has drawn the support of numerous public figures, including President Obama and presumptive Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Spitzer’s husband, Andrei, was a fencing coach. Romano’s husband, Yossef, was a weightlifter.

Australian Jewish leaders call for national minute of silence


Australian Jewish leaders have urged all Australians to hold a moment of silence in honor of the 11 Israelis murdered at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

In a joint statement released Tuesday, Dr. Danny Lamm, head of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, and Philip Chester, head of the Zionist Federation of Australia, encouraged Australians to pause at 11 a.m. local time Friday in memory of the victims. The Jewish leaders also said that they “deplore” IOC President Jacques Rogge’s refusal to hold one minute of silence at Friday’s opening ceremony in London.

“The legislatures of Britain, the United States, Canada, Australia, Germany and Italy have passed resolutions calling on the IOC to set aside one minute of silence at the opening ceremony of the 2012 Games to remember the 11 Israeli athletes who were murdered by Palestinian terrorists at the Olympic Games in Munich 40 years ago,” Lamm and Chester wrote. “Their calls have been endorsed by U.S. President Barack Obama and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, among others. We salute them for their principled leadership.

“May their memory help to advance the highest ideals of sport and sportsmanship which the Olympic Games were created to affirm.”

Meanwhile, Jewish lawmaker Michael Danby has added his name to a petition by the International Council of Jewish Parliamentarians also calling on Rogge to hold a minute of silence in London on Friday.

On Monday, Rogge held a moment of silence during a ceremony in the Olympic Village, the first time the deaths have been commemorated in the athletes’ home during the Games.

L.A.’s little-known plaque and grove of trees honor ‘Munich 11’


In the summer of 1984, when Los Angeles hosted the Olympics, then-Mayor Tom Bradley and the local organizers of the Olympic Games unveiled a large bronze plaque honoring the 11 Israeli athletes murdered by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Summer Games in Munich. The Israeli Olympic delegation was present for the unveiling, as were Jewish community leaders, according to a Los Angeles Times report.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, at the time an L.A. City Councilman, remembers the ceremony and what stands out most, he said in a recent interview, was that it took place at Los Angeles City Hall.

“It was a big ceremony, and I kept asking myself, ‘Why is it here?’ ” Yaroslavsky recalled. “Why isn’t it at the Coliseum?” he said, referring to the venue where the games were taking place.

“The International Olympic Committee [IOC] said no, we couldn’t do it there, at the games,” said Federal Appeals Court Judge Stephen Reinhardt, who served as secretary of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee. Instead, the plaque was hung temporarily at City Hall, then was reinstalled at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum’s Court of Honor after the games ended,  Reinhardt said. It continues to hang there today, alongside other commemorative plaques.

Reinhardt said he was surprised in 1984 when the IOC refused all requests to officially commemorate during the games here the 11 Israelis killed in 1972. No IOC officials attended the Los Angeles City Hall ceremony.

So when Reinhardt heard of the IOC’s refusal to commemorate the athletes with a moment of silence at the opening ceremonies of this year’s Olympic Games, set to begin in London on July 27, he said it “sounded just like the old days, all over again.”

This year’s push to commemorate the Israeli athletes has been more concerted and more public than ever before. More than 100,000 people signed an online petition asking the IOC to hold a minute of silence at the opening ceremonies to mark the 40th anniversary of the killings. President Barack Obama and Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney both endorsed the call, and NBC sports anchor Bob Costas told The Hollywood Reporter that if the IOC does not observe a minute of silence, he will dedicate a minute of silence himself, on the air.

Nevertheless, IOC President Jacques Rogge refused the request, telling the Associated Press that “the opening ceremony is an atmosphere that is not fit to remember such a tragic incident.”

Instead, Rogge said the IOC will honor the athletes elsewhere and at other times, including at a reception in London on Aug. 6, during the games, and again at a ceremony on Sept. 5, the actual date of the anniversary, at the military airfield in Germany where they were killed.

In addition, at a ceremony in London on July 23, Rogge held an impromptu moment of silence in what he called “the first time [that the slain athletes were memorialized] in an Olympic Village.”

That the IOC is participating in any remembrance of the Israeli athletes, who have come to be known as “The Munich 11,” could be seen as progress, given the IOC’s earlier refusals to participate in commemorations such as the 1984 Los Angeles one.

However, Ankie Spitzer and Ilana Romano, widows of two of the Israeli athletes killed in Munich and the leaders of the campaign for the opening ceremony minute of silence, reportedly were outraged by Rogge’s action.

“This is not the right solution, to hold some ceremony in front of 30 or 40 people,” Spitzer told the Jerusalem Post on July 23. “We asked for a moment of silence at the opening ceremony, not for someone to mumble something in front of a few dozen people.”

The L.A. City Hall ceremony wasn’t the only way the Israeli athletes were remembered in Los Angeles in 1984, though. On June 24, about a month before those games began, a copse of 11 purple-leaf plum trees was planted at the top of a hill in Pan Pacific Park, in the heavily Jewish Fairfax District.

According to Laura Bauernfeind, principal forester for the Los Angeles City Department of Recreation and Parks, trees are often planted in city parks in memory or in honor of people. “What’s unique about the grove in Pan Pacific Park,” she said, “is that it has a plaque.”

“These trees stand as a memorial to the eleven athletes who were murdered during the XXth Olympiad,” reads the plaque, which was dedicated by the Los Angeles chapter of the Jewish National Fund (JNF).

Only nine trees stand on that hill today, and they appear to have been all but forgotten by the Jewish community. Little is known about the circumstances surrounding their planting; a representative from the JNF couldn’t uncover any records relating to the memorial grove, and Sanford Deutsch, who was president of the local JNF chapter when they were planted recently told The Journal in an interview that he didn’t remember the ceremony that took place almost 30 years ago.

These days, the grove looks a bit scruffy. The trees all appear to lean uphill at an acute angle, giving them a slightly cockeyed look. Two have no leaves at all, and five appear to have been replanted very recently. Of those, four are buttressed by wooden posts. 

Those posts ensure no lawnmower or young child will accidentally bump up against a tree (which could damage the underdeveloped roots), and are evidence of their care by the Department of Recreation and Parks. The department oversees between 850,000 and 1 million trees in the 16,000 acres of parkland in the city of Los Angeles.

“We think groves like this are important,” said Leon Boroditsky, whose official title with the department is “tree surgeon.” “And we want to maintain them to the best of our ability. But our staffing is really low.”

Budget constraints notwithstanding, Boroditsky, with help from volunteers from the nonprofit association TreePeople, oversaw the replanting of one of the trees in the grove just last April. Boroditsky said he plans to replant the two missing trees in the fall, when the weather is more conducive to growth.

“Being a tree in a park is a difficult life,” Boroditsky said, “Not as difficult as a street tree, but it definitely has its challenges, with kids and dogs and soccer players.”

How the Munich 11 petition went viral


It began two years ago as an idea by volunteers at a suburban Jewish community center and turned into a major international campaign, galvanizing everyone from President Obama to the mayor of London.

And in case you haven’t heard yet about the movement to get the International Olympics Committee to hold a minute of silence to honor the 11 Israeli athletes and coaches slain at the Munich Games in 1972, NBC’s Bob Costas has promised to raise the issue and hold an on-air moment of silence in his Olympics broadcast.

The campaign for the commemoration gained steam in May, when IOC President Jacques Rogge denied a request by Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon for an official moment of silence during the Games to honor the Munich 11.

“I intend to note the IOC denied the request,” Costas told the Hollywood Reporter last week. As the Israeli team walks into the 80,000-seat Olympics stadium, Costas said, he will say, “Many people find that denial more than puzzling but insensitive. Here’s a minute of silence right now.”

In making that pledge, Costas added his name to a growing list of public figures calling for the official IOC moment of silence. The list includes Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, the U.S. Senate, the German Bundestag, the Canadian and Australian parliaments, Australia Prime Minister Julia Gillard, 140 Italian lawmakers and some 50 members of the British Parliament. The Olympic Games’ opening ceremony is Friday.

In a personal letter, Julia Gillard urged Rogge to recognize the Munich 11 during the opening ceremony “or at an appropriate time during the Games.” That, she said, would allow the Olympic movement “to honor, before the world, the memory of those whose lives were lost during that horrific event.” On Monday, the IOC’s Rogge surprised many by holding an impromptu moment of silence to honor the Munich 11 before delivering brief remarks in the Olympic Village, marking the first time the athletes have been memorialized inside in an Olympic Village.

“I would like to start today’s ceremony by honoring the memory of 11 Israeli Olympians who shared the ideals that have brought us together in this beautiful Olympic Village,” Rogge said at the event for the Olympic Truce, a U.N.-backed initiative calling for an end to hostilities during the two weeks of the Olympic Games. IOC executive board members, special guests, Olympic athletes and officials attended the event.

“The 11 victims of the Munich tragedy believed in that vision,” Rogge said. “They came to Munich in the spirit of peace and solidarity. We owe it to them to keep that spirit alive and to remember them.”

But two widows of the slain Israelis criticized the move to The Jerusalem Post as a public relations stunt and slammed Rogge for holding fast to his decision against an official commemoration.

The campaign for an official commemoration at the 2012 Games was born when Steve Gold and a few other volunteers at the Rockland County JCC in suburban New York decided to dedicate the Maccabi Games they were hosting to the murdered Israelis.

One of them knew Ankie Spitzer, wife of the Andrei Spitzer, an Israeli fencing coach killed in the attack, and asked her to record a video promoting a petition for an official IOC moment of silence. In the past, Olympics officials have attended private Israeli or Jewish ceremonies marking the tragedy, but other than the day after the murders themselves, the IOC has not held a commemoration of its own of the Munich massacre.

The petition was launched, and since April the signatures—and news stories about the effort—quickly mounted. At last count, some 104,000 people had signed on to the petition.

On Monday, Gold left for the London Games, where he, Spitzer and Ilana Romano – whose weightlifter husband, Yossef, was killed by the Palestinian terrorists in 1972—plan to present their petition to Olympics officials.

The campaign gained visibility last week when Obama lent his support to the effort via an email from National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor to Yahoo! News, and this week when Romney—who was CEO of the 2002 Winter Games at Salt Lake City—threw his support behind the effort.

Gold, who was the first person to sign the petition, credited Jewish and non-Jewish organizations with picking up on the effort.

“Everybody knows somebody. There was not one organization that said they would not help us,” he said. “To them this was a no-brainer, and everybody started putting it on their website, whether it was the Anti-Defamation League or the Board of Rabbis or the Jewish Federations of North America. So it began to go viral. It’s cool stuff.”

Gold said it is remarkable that a petition about something that happened four decades ago has had such an impact.

“Here’s a cause that’s 40 years old and it has resonated,” he said. “I believe it hit a nerve and that people had this in their head for 40 years and weren’t able to tell anybody about it. We gave them that opportunity.”

On Sunday, London Mayor Boris Johnson unveiled a memorial plaque to the Munich victims at a ceremony near the Olympic village organized by Hackney Borough Councilman Linda Kelly and Martin Sugarman, chairman of the Hackney Anglo-Israel Friendship Association, according to the London Jewish Chronicle.

“It is entirely right this morning that we should remember those events,” Johnson said. “And today let us hope that these Olympic Games that we are holding in London this week, 40 years later, are not only happy and peaceful, and also that they will be remembered in years to come.”

Romney joins calls for Olympics moment of silence


Mitt Romney joined the campaign for a moment of silence at the London Olympics to remember the 11 Israelis killed at the Munich Olympics in 1972.

“Gov. Romney supports the moment of silence in remembrance of the Israeli athletes killed in the Munich Olympic Games,” Andrea Saul, the spokeswoman for the presidential campaign of Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and presumptive Republican nominee, said in an email.

Romney, who directed the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, will attend the opening ceremony on Friday. His support comes four days after President Obama joined the growing calls for a moment of silence.

“We absolutely support the campaign for a minute of silence at the Olympics to honor the Israeli athletes killed in Munich,” National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said last week.

Romney has come under fire from Democrats for not voicing similar support for a moment of silence on the 30th anniversary of the massacre during the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.

Deborah Lipstadt, a prominent Holocaust historian, faulted Romney for not expressing support for such a moment in 2002, when his position directing the Winter Olympics would have weighed heavily with the International Olympic Committee.

“Mitt Romney’s failure to do that was failure of character,” Lipstadt told Reuters. The historian told the news agency that she supports Obama but is not connected to his campaign.

Saul did not answer JTA’s query about Romney’s position on the moment of silence during the 2002 Olympics.

The families of the victims of the 1972 massacre have mounted a global campaign to get the IOC to hold an official moment of silence at the Games—something IOC officials already have rejected for this year and have never done in the past. However, IOC representatives have attended Israeli and Jewish-organized commemorations.

On Monday, IOC head Jacques Rogge held a moment of silence in the Olympic Village, the first time the deaths have been commemorated in the athletes’ home during the Games.

Along with Obama and now Romney, the U.S. Senate, the German Bundestag, the Canadian and Australian parliaments, about 50 members of the British Parliament, the Israeli government, Jewish organizations worldwide and about 100 members of Australia’s Parliament have urged the IOC to hold a moment of silence.

NBC’s Bob Costas advocates London Olympics moment of silence


NBC sportscaster Bob Costas said he will call out the International Olympic Committee for denying Israel’s request for a moment of silence for the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes and coaches at the 1972 Games.

Costas, according to the Hollywood Reporter, will add his voice to the U.S. Senate, the German Bundestag, the Canadian and Australian parliaments, Italian lawmakers and some 50 members of the British Parliament who are also advocating the moment of silence.

“I intend to note that the IOC denied the request,” he told the Hollywood Reporter. “Many people find that denial more than puzzling but insensitive. Here’s a minute of silence right now.”

Costas intends to make his remarks when the Israeli delegation enters the 80,000-seat Olympic Stadium for the Olympics’ Opening Ceremony, which coincides with the 40th anniversary of the Munich massacre.

“There’s a reality in business; there were times when I thought he got too forceful,” said Dick Ebersol, Costa’s former producer at NBC, reported the Hollywood Reporter. “But I’m very proud of the fact that Bob was able to be Bob.”

Obama backs moment of silence at Olympics


President Obama has joined the campaign for a moment of silence at the upcoming London Olympics to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Palestinian terrorists murdering Israeli athletes at the Munich games.

“We absolutely support the campaign for a minute of silence at the Olympics to honor the Israeli athletes killed in Munich,” National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor told Yahoo News in an email.

The families of the victims of the 1972 massacre, the State of Israel and Jewish communities have consistently requested a moment of silence in subsequent Olympics. Other than the day after the murders themselves, the Olympics have never granted an official moment of silence. Olympic officials point out that they have sent representatives to host-city Jewish community commemorations.

Obama joins the U.S. Senate, the German Bundestag, the Canadian and Australian parliaments, about 50 members of the British Parliament and about 100 members of Australia’s Parliament in the call.

A spokeswoman for Mitt Romney, Andrea Saul, said the Republican standard-bearer had taken no public stance on the issue, according to Yahoo News.

Palestinian Olympic participation brings conflict to the fore


A portrait of the two most prominent Palestinian leaders—current Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and former President Yasser Arafat, who died in 2004—hangs in the conference room of the Palestinian Olympic Committee headquarters.

The background of the portrait is a panorama of the Dome of the Rock in the Old City of Jerusalem, which Israel and the Palestinians both claim as a capital. National flags and photos of national leaders would be commonplace at any country’s Olympic office. Indeed, Israeli flags abounded at a press event for the Israeli Olympic team earlier this month.

But as Palestinian delegation head Hani Halabi sees it, and as the Dome of the Rock photograph indicates, the Palestinian delegation’s presence at the London Olympics is about not just national pride but also highlighting the ongoing Palestinian conflict with Israel.

Halabi says he is proud, for example, that Palestinian judoka Maher Abu Rmeileh became the first Palestinian ever to qualify on his own for an Olympic event. But he is even happier that Abu Rmeileh is from Jerusalem.

Four Palestinian athletes, two men and two women, will join Abu Rmeileh, who is 28, in London: swimmers Sabine Hazboun and Ahmed Mostafa Gebrel and sprinters Baha Alfarra and Woroud Sawalha. The latter covers her hair even while competing.

While Abu Rmeileh qualified for the Olympics on his own by competing in his sport, the other Palestinian athletes, by contrast, will reach the Games via a special invitation from the International Olympic Committee reserved for countries whose athletes have not been able to qualify for events. Palestinians have been competing in those spots since 1996, the first year they participated in the Olympics.

Sawalha, 22, does not have medal hopes, saying that she needs “more years” to train, but said that she is excited to go to London, “represent my country and see another world.”

Israeli delegation head Efraim Zinger said that the Israeli Olympic Committee has tried to use the Olympics to foster cooperation between his team and the Palestinian one. Israel offered joint training facilities and staff to the teams, he said, and the International Olympic Committee “praised our effort and cooperation. But on their side we didn’t get any response.

“It’s a shame, because we believe that through sports the young generation can get to know each other better than during day-to-day life,” he said.

Halabi dismissed the notion that sports could bring Israelis and Palestinians together. For him, conversely, preparing for the Games has brought the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into sharp relief.

“We are in the occupation,” he told JTA. There are “no facilities, no coach, no moving for the player from town to town—from Jerusalem to Ramallah, from Ramallah to Bethlehem.” Halabi said that due to restrictions on Palestinian freedom of movement, the first time the entire delegation will meet is when the athletes and coaches arrive at London’s Heathrow Airport on Friday.

Even when offered, Halabi said he refuses any cooperation with the Israeli delegation. “There are more than 6,000 Palestinians in their prisons,” he said about Israel. “With the occupation and the prisons, I cannot train in judo” with Israel.

For her part, Sawalha would be happy to train with Israelis. “The whole thing is about sport and nothing else,” she said.

Zinger said that the Israeli Olympic Committee has been responsive to every Palestinian complaint regarding freedom of movement, doing its utmost to ensure that Palestinian athletes can train without limitations.

“They have no problem in principle as far as we know,” he said. “When there were problems like that in the past we managed to work it out and since then we haven’t heard any complaints.”

The International Olympic Committee reported in an October 2011 news release that the Israeli and Palestinian Olympic committees met three times last year regarding potential collaboration and easing freedom of movement, but has reported no further progress since then.

Even as he eschews using the Israeli Olympic team’s gyms, Halabi lamented his athletes’ subpar training facilities. As such, while star Israeli judoka Arik Ze’evi expects to win a medal, Halabi has modest goals in mind for Abu Rmeileh.

“I hope to see him carry the Palestinian flag in London,” Halabi said. “He is a good fighter in judo. Maybe he will make a good place, but a medal is very difficult.”

Spats between the two committees have occurred ever since the Palestinian delegation first announced its participation in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. Israel reportedly objected that year to the Palestinian athletes’ walking under a banner that read “Palestine,” on the grounds that there was no recognized state of Palestine. The International Olympic Committee dismissed the complaint.

This year, Israel has lobbied heavily—and so far unsuccessfully—for a minute of silence at the Games to commemorate the murder of 11 members of the Israeli delegation to the 1972 Munich Games. Palestinian terrorists killed the victims. Halabi said he had “no comment” on the issue.

In personal letter, Australia’s PM urges Olympic moment of silence


Australia’s Prime Minister wrote a personal letter to the president of the International Olympic Committee, urging him to hold a moment of silence in memory of the 11 Israelis killed at the Munich Games in 1972.

In her letter to Jacques Rogge, Julia Gillard said a moment of silence, either at the opening ceremony on July 27, “or at an appropriate time during the Games,” would allow the Olympic movement “to honor, before the world, the memory of those whose lives were lost during that horrific event.”

Her letter, released late last week, drew his attention to the fact that the Australian parliament had unanimously passed a resolution on June 25 in support of a minute’s silence, saying it would be a “fitting remembrance and tribute on this significant memorial anniversary.”

In an editorial Monday, The Australian newspaper argued that in rejecting the moment of silence on the 40th anniversary of the massacre, the IOC had “misjudged the centrality of the Munich massacre, not just to the evolution of the Olympic movement but also to the battle against the evil forces that still pose a constant threat.”

Italian lawmakers join Olympics moment of silence push


Some 140 Italian members of the Parliament of Italy have added their voices to calls for a minute of silence during the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in London to honor the Israeli athletes murdered by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

The MPs, from across the political spectrum, made their appeal in a letter this week to Jacques Rogge, the president of the International Olympics Committee.

The letter was spearheaded by Jewish MP Fiamma Nirenstein, who is vice president of the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs commission.

“At all the Games since 1976, family members of the murdered athletes have requested a minute of silence but they have always been refused,” Nirenstein said in a statement. “This year marks the 40th anniversary of the massacre.”

It was time, she said, for “a moment of pity for these murdered athletes and a firm condemnation of terrorism.”

The IOC has never had a moment of silence at the games for the 11 murdered Israelis, other than the day after the tragedy. IOC officials have attended private Jewish community ceremonies in host cities during the games.

The U.S. Senate, the German Bundestag, the Canadian and Australian parliaments, about 50 members of the British Parliament and about 100 members of Australia’s Parliament are advocating the moment of silence.