Sunday, August 05, 2012

How they treat Israeli athletes, living and dead, at the Olympics (Hampton Stevens & Deborah Lipstadt)

As Hampton Stevens observes in the Atlantic, "Some Olympic Controversies Matter, Others Don't". Among the latter:
[....] Finally, there are those Olympic controversies that look serious because they are. They matter to us all, because they don't merely illustrate problems in the wider world, they can have an impact on them, for good or ill. In regards to the geopolitical conflict that's been the loudest in London—the one between Israel and the Muslim world—the effect so far has been decidedly terrifying. There's been the IOC's refusal, despite all decency and common sense, to honor the Israeli athletes slain at Munich—apparently from fear that some Muslim nations would boycott the Opening Ceremonies. (Fat chance.) Iran has maintained their unacceptable policy of refusing to let their athletes compete with Israelis. The only Iranian entered in the same event as an Israeli, Iranian judo champ Javad Mahjoub, didn't make the trip, citing a stomach problem. The Lebanese judo team, though, is in London to carry the torch for bad sportsmanship. Friday, at an official training venue, members of the Lebanese team refused to practice on the same mat as Israelis. Olympic organizers were "forced"—as Reuters curiously phrased it—to put up a screen between the two teams. Whatever one's views may be on the conflict in the Middle East, it's difficult to dream up a more repugnant violation of the Olympic ideal than refusing to practice alongside an athlete from another nation. [....]
For anyone who isn't familiar with that first controversy, a piece by Deborah Lipstadt on July 17 offered a good explanation of what it has been about. Some highlights:
For the past few months there has been a concerted effort to get the International Olympic Committee to set aside one minute of silence at the opening ceremony at this year’s games to commemorate the Israeli athletes who were murdered—not killed, murdered—at the Munich games in 1972.

The games, held this year in London, are 17 days long. That’s 24,480 minutes. Despite the fact that petitioners were asking for only one of those minutes, it is now fairly evident that their efforts have failed. Before speculating on why the IOC has been so steadfast in its refusal, it is worthwhile to reflect on what precisely happened in Munich 40 years ago. [....]

In the years since, the families of the victims have repeatedly told the IOC that all they want is a chance to mark the murder of athletes who had traveled to the games to do precisely what athletes do: compete at their very best. These victims deserved to be remembered by the very organization that had brought them to Munich.

[JW: This year, their request was supported by a number of public figures in the US and Europe, ranging from Barack Obama to a multi-party group of 125 Italian Members of Parliament.]

Why the IOC refusal? The Olympic Committee’s official explanation is that the games are apolitical. The families were repeatedly told by long-time IOC President Juan Samaranch that the Olympic movement avoided political issues. He seemed to have forgotten that at the 1996 opening ceremony he spoke about the Bosnian war. Politics were also present at the 2002 games, which opened with a minute of silence for the victims of 9/11.

The families have also been told that a commemoration of this sort was inappropriate at the opening of such a celebratory event. However, the IOC has memorialized other athletes who died “in the line of duty.” At the 2010 winter games, for example, there was a moment of silence to commemorate an athlete who died in a training accident.

The IOC’s explanation is nothing more than a pathetic excuse. The athletes who were murdered were from Israel and were Jews—that is why they aren’t being remembered. The only conclusion one can draw is that Jewish blood is cheap, too cheap to risk upsetting a bloc of Arab nations and other countries that oppose Israel and its policies.

I have long inveighed against the tendency of some Jews to see anti-Semitism behind every action that is critical of Israel or of Jews. In recent years some Jews have been inclined to hurl accusations of anti-Semitism even when they are entirely inappropriate. By repeatedly crying out, they risk making others stop listening—especially when the cry is true.

Here the charge is absolutely accurate. This was the greatest tragedy to ever occur during the Olympic Games. Yet the IOC has made it quite clear that these victims are not worth 60 seconds. Imagine for a moment that these athletes had been from the United States, Canada, Australia, or even Germany. No one would think twice about commemorating them. But these athletes came from a country and a people who somehow deserve to be victims. Their lost lives are apparently not worth a minute.
It's worth highlighting an important point from that last paragraph. Some people will immediately come up with the stock response that if there is any bias or bigotry or invidious discrimination involved here, it is not anti-semitic (directed against Jews per se) but only anti-Zionist (directed against Israel and Israelis). Well, let's assume for a moment that a prudent capitulation to anti-Zionist bigotry by the IOC is all that's involved. So what? This is one more example of a long-term process by which stigmatizing and demonizing Israel and Israelis has come to seen as "normal" and reasonable and respectable—so that if Israeli civilians get murdered by terrorists, it's really just their own fault, isn't it? That's bad enough.

—Jeff Weintraub