Munich’s legacy

Hopes of change after the horrible massacre are left unfulfilled.

 Britain's opposition Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn (photo credit: PETER NICHOLLS/REUTERS)
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn
Forty-six years ago the world watched on television as the 1972 Olympic games were hijacked by murderous terrorism. Eleven Israelis were taken hostage by Palestinians and murdered, nine of them on the tarmac of a Germany military airport. Those watching the tragedy unfold initially got positive reports that most of the athletes had survived. Soon after midnight on September 6, Jim McKay relayed the final news. “They’re all gone.” Six Israeli coaches, 5 athletes, 1 German policeman: all massacred.
The legacy of Munich overshadows us today. From the very beginning Germany, the European powers and the world tried to downplay the murders. Officials sought to continue the games as if nothing had happened.
Even though an attack on the Olympics and its values of peaceful competition would appear to go against the very fabric of the games, for decades the 1972 massacre was treated as if it was an Israeli problem and that those seeking to commemorate it were trying to politicize the games. Only in 2016, 44 years later, were the victims commemorated in an official ceremony organized by the International Olympic Committee.
But the aftermath of the mass murder has not resulted in a greater understanding of the need to confront terror or even to treat Israel equally. The three terrorists who survived the gun battle at Furstenfeldbruck Airport were supposed to stand trial. But when members of the Palestinian terrorist group Black September hijacked Lufthansa Flight 615 that October, the West German government released the hijackers. They were transported to Libya where they got a hero’s welcome. The release was a clear message that Jewish and Israeli lives are worthless. It was left to Israel to hunt down the terrorists and the masterminds behind the killings.
In 2014, Jeremy Corbyn participated in a ceremony in Tunisia at the Cemetery of the Martyrs of Palestine graveyard where he was pictured holding a wreath near graves of Black September members. He was excoriated on social media, including by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who said his act “deserves unequivocal condemnation from everyone.”
But Corbyn said that he had gone to the event “because I wanted to see a fitting memorial to everyone who has died in every terrorist attack everywhere.” If that was true, then Corbyn should have laid a wreath for the athletes – the victims – of the 1972 attack. Corbyn’s offensive act is compounded by the unwillingness of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Foreign Minister Heiko Mass to condemn Corbyn’s visit.
Munich’s legacy can be found in the continued double standards applied to Israel internationally and the way in which Israel is singled out for special hatred and criticism whether in sports or at the United Nations. In July, it was reported that a seven-year old Israeli chess player was banned from participating in the upcoming 2019 World Schools Chess Championship. In 2017 the same country had kept Israelis from participating.
But the real problem isn’t just Tunisia’s intolerance – it’s that international organizations keep purposely scheduling events there knowing Israeli athletes can’t participate. Israel is always the only country banned from participating again and again at international sporting events because too many international sports organizations give a blank check to countries to ban Israelis by selecting countries that discriminate.
The discrimination against Israeli athletes goes beyond just political differences. Some countries don’t recognize Kosovo, but Kosovar athletes can usually compete without restrictions. Israeli athletes are not only banned from some countries or our national symbols hidden away during competition, but the athletes of some countries refuse to even step into the ring with Israelis.
This too is not a “political” issue. In no other circumstance do the athletes of Iran refuse to wrestle, even with other enemies of Tehran. Even countries with the worst human rights records against Muslims, such as Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya, have their athletes respected. This is because the hatred of Israel and its athletes is not a political issue: it is an antisemitic hatred of Jews, foisted onto athletics.
Israel is the only country that suffers this kind of arbitrary and constant discrimination. When the world said “the games must go on” at Munich in 1972, the message was that Jewish lives have no meaning. In 2018 the world can do better. International sports groups need to guarantee equal access and equality in the arena for all players. It’s time to change Munich’s legacy.