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At the Olympics, silence is golden

It is a Jewish tradition to honor the few who stand against the tide; here are the 'gold medalists' of redemption who commemorated the victims of Munich 1972

On the 40th anniversary of the Munich atrocity, we were outraged at the callous refusal by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), to mark a moment of silence — in memory of the 11 murdered Israeli athletes — at the opening of the London games.

This betrayal of the Olympic values of peace and fraternity in sports sank to a new low with the Palestine Authority’s letter to the IOC claiming that any memorial would be racism against the Palestinian people. Rather than taking the opportunity for a gesture of sympathy and thereby winning over much Israeli and world opinion, Palestinian Football Federation President, Jibril Rajoub, preferred to present the Munich murderers as victims.

IOC President, Jacques Rogge, in a face-saving maneuver agreed to speak at an Israeli embassy memorial service in London. This side event, despite the VIPs in attendance, adds salt to the wound for many by ghettoizing the message and relieving the IOC of its responsibility. Perhaps the service should have been reserved for Israel’s true friends.

It is a Jewish tradition to honor the few who stand against the tide. In the Shoah, it was the “Righteous Gentile,” who acted at his own peril. Today, it is the voices of integrity, firm in their convictions, however unpopular.

Among those who deserve our virtual gold medal are:

  • Leszek Sibilski, sports sociology professor at the Catholic University of America, 2010 Paralympics torchbearer, who led the “moment of silence” campaign.
  • The EasyJet pilot of a London-Tel Aviv flight who called on the crew and passengers to mark the moment as the plane flew over Munich.
  • NBC sportscaster Bob Costas, who criticized the IOC’s refusal  on-air, as the Israeli team entered the stadium.
  • The Italian Olympic team,who held their moment of silence outside the Israeli team’s quarters in London.
  • The unknown others who kept the true Olympic flame on high, while so many bystanders remained indifferent or in denial.

Each of these “gold medalists” of redemption indeed deserves to be called a “righteous person.”

About the Author
Shimon Samuels is Director for International Relations of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. He has served as Deputy Director of the Leonard Davis Institute for International Relations at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, European Director of ADL, and Israel Director of AJC. He was born in UK and studied in UK, Israel, U.S. and Japan.