Reality Check: The right way to remember Munich 11

Did Bush ever receive the same venomous flak over Jerusalem that US President Barack Obama is currently receiving?

Israeli flag raised at London's Olympic Village 390 (photo credit: Mark Blinch/Reuters)
Israeli flag raised at London's Olympic Village 390
(photo credit: Mark Blinch/Reuters)
Monday's ceremony in London commemorating the murder of 11 Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists at the Munich Olympic Games 40 years ago is the correct way to honor their memory. A minute’s silence at last week’s opening ceremony would not only have been out of place at such a joyous event, it also would have risked turning the horror of these athletes’ deaths into a barren political ping-pong over the rights and wrongs of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.
An immediate example of such sterile debate was Jibril Rajoub’s shameful letter to International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge, in which the Palestinian Olympic official thanked Rogge for not holding the minute’s silence, stating that having done so would have promoted the “spread of racism.”
In writing this letter, Rajoub placed a new hurdle on the track towards possible Israeli-Palestinian coexistence.
There can be no defense of the events of 40 years ago. But while one can understand, and deeply sympathize with the feelings of the widows of the slain Israeli athletes, it was naive to expect that the organizers of the Olympic Games would suddenly agree to hold a memorial for the murdered Israelis after having failed to do so at previous Games.
As we know from past American and Soviet boycotts of different Olympic Games, politics does intrude on sports, despite all the highfalutin talk of the Olympic spirit. The sad truth is that for as long as the Israeli-Palestinian dispute continues, there will never be a mention of the victims of Munich in 1972 at an Olympic Games opening ceremony, and we should stop fooling ourselves into thinking that if we sign enough online petitions, we will be able to change this.
We should also stop casting slurs on the International Olympic Committee and have them, and in particular Jacques Rogge, listed in popular consciousness as “enemies of the Jewish people.”
They’re not. Rogge will be attending today’s ceremony in London’s Guildhall, organized by the Israeli Embassy and the British Jewish community, and IOC officials will also be attending a ceremony in Germany on next month’s actual anniversary of the attack.
And last month, just before the Games began, Rogge led a minute of silence during a ceremony which promoted the Olympic truce inside the Olympic village, the first time the IOC had ever honored the Israeli victims in a ceremony inside an Olympic village. He started by “honoring the memory of the 11 Israeli Olympians who shared the ideals that have brought us together in this beautiful Olympic village” and said that the Israelis “came to Munich in the spirit of peace and solidarity.”
Rogge added, “we owe it to them to keep that spirit alive and to remember them.”
One Olympic arena, however, in which the power of Internet petitions did come partially into play is the BBC’s Olympic website. In its initial country profile of Israel, it failed to list Israel as having any capital while simultaneously listing East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine (yes, the Palestinians do have their own Olympic team, even though they don’t have a state).
After a flurry of letters from the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, and a Facebook petition, the BBC amended the listings, putting down Jerusalem as Israel’s “seat of government,” adding that most foreign embassies “are in Tel Aviv,” and changing the Palestinian listing to note that East Jerusalem is the “intended seat of government,” with Ramallah currently serving its administrative capital.
Of course, this did not satisfy everyone, with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat firing off a press release stating firmly that “irrespective of the BBC’s political agenda, Jerusalem always was, is, and will be the capital of Israel and the spiritual, political and physical center of the Jewish people.”
While Barkat’s sentiments about Jerusalem are true from an Israeli perspective, it’s not the BBC that has unilaterally decided for its own political reasons that Jerusalem is not Israel’s capital.
It surely can’t have escaped Barkat’s notice that almost the whole international community has yet to officially recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Not even the United States has its embassy in Jerusalem. And while the pro-Republican Emergency Committee for Israel has been frenetically running television ads in Florida over the weekend claiming that Mitt Romney will change this, we all know that should he be elected president, this will never happen unless an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement is reached.
At the same point of his campaign 12 years ago, George W. Bush promised to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on his first day in office. In reality, over the course of eight years, Bush signed 16 waivers telling Congress he would not be moving the embassy despite a law calling for him to do so, arguing that such a move would harm US efforts to bring about a two-state solution to solve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.
And did Bush ever receive the same venomous flak over this issue that US President Barack Obama is currently receiving?
The writer is a former editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post.