Almost 50 years after the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich by the Palestinian terrorist group Black September, there was a commemoration of the victims by an official moment of silence at last week’s opening ceremony of the Olympics in Tokyo. While in the past there have been tributes paid off-site to the victims, this was the first time for this recognition of the tragedy, largely owing to the opposition of past Olympic officials.
We are seldom surprised at the double standard applied to things Jewish, but there was something especially irksome about the tortuous path to last week’s welcome development. The notion of a suspension of hostilities between combatants during Olympic games is an Olympic tradition that originated back in ancient Greece. And while it did not necessarily call for a general cessation of all fighting, it did contemplate a temporary halt to all action that would put the host city and participating athletes and spectators at risk.
So, in a very real sense, the Black September murders were an attack on the Olympic movement itself, making the resistance of its officials to a moment of silence all the more troubling. As one family member put it, “[The victims] were not accidental tourists. They were part of the Olympic family and they should be remembered within the framework of the Olympics.”
And it is not that people didn’t get it. Ever since 1972 the families of the victims regularly sought a moment of silence to mark the murders of their loved ones – only to be rebuffed at every turn.
One particularly hurtful example was the 2012 London Olympics turndown. An Olympic spokesman said in a statement that tributes would be paid to the victims at a separate ceremony at London’s Guildhall. The statement said that was “the most appropriate way to pay tribute to the athletes.”
But everyone knew why a moment of silence was being deemed “inappropriate.” Most commentators suggested that Olympic organizers were fearful of provoking a walkout by some Arab countries and they were anxious that the games not be politicized.
We will leave it to others to explain by what calculus responding with a few words of tearful remembrance to mass murder committed in the name of Palestinian nationalism is a form of politicization or provocation.
But we do express the hope that the change in attitude in the Olympic world towards the fate of Israeli victims of terror reflects a change in perception about the Jewish state, similar to what has been occurring in the Arab world. While authorizing a moment of silence was simply the decent thing for officials to do, if it also represented a maturing of attitude towards Israel, all the better.