Lack of Silence Speaks Volumes

By Raffe Gold

As the individual copper petals, aflame with the hopes and dreams of the Olympic athletes, began to rise up and form a torch, the opening ceremony for the XXX Olympiad drew to an end, but it was the beginning of the most important time in the lives of the thousands of athletes.

It was a truly magical opening ceremony, one of the best of all modern Olympics, and for the first time, I screamed my support for the Israeli team. Since becoming an Oleh, the Israeli team was mine, and I was one of theirs. I jumped with joy when I saw the camera pan onto the blue and white uniforms of my now fellow countrymen (even though I, like thousands of others in Israel, groaned when I saw Shahar Zubari had dyed his hair into an Israeli flag). But my anguish was not of embarrassment or shame but a feeling of “OMG, that’s so Israeli”.

Shahar Zubari

But on reflection, I now realize that there was also a feeling of anger. Like many of my fellow compatriots, I pushed for a moment of silence to remember the slain Israeli athletes of the 1972 Olympic Games. It was during these chilling hours that we saw the message of the Olympics, brotherhood, peace, and sportsmanship, soiled in the blood of its own athletes. Israelis lay bound, helpless, and dying as the games continued as if nothing had changed. The International Olympic Committee viewed the games as more important than the lives of those who came to participate in them. Neither I, now will any Jew, forget the shameful words of the President of the IOC, Avery Brundage, who said, “The games must go on.”

For the last several months, a number of prominent Israeli and international figures have asked the IOC to hold a one-minute silence to commemorate those who died before the eyes of tens of millions of television watchers. This call was supported by international sports figures, celebrities, and President Barack Obama. Their calls went unheeded. Jacques Rogge, the President of the IOC, stated that he did not want to ‘politicize the opening ceremony‘. It was this conflicted and vapid statement that angered Israelis but it was during the opening ceremony that they were truly enraged.

There were two moments of silence and both were entirely appropriate. The first moment of silence, for those soldiers and civilians who fell in the wars, was marked with red poppies. The second moment of silence was for ‘friends and family members that were unable to attend’. A number of pictures were then shown of people of all races and colors. There were no names. Quite simply these were the family members of athletes or Olympic officials who had died recently. In no way am I saying that these people are not deserving of a memorial at the opening ceremony. But why could there not have been pictures of the slain Israelis who were members of the Olympic family? Why was Israeli blood worth so little to the IOC?

Guri Weinberg, son of murdered wrestling coach Moshe Weinberg, remembered meeting Alex Gilady of the IOC in 1996 when they asked for a moment of silence. Gilady replied that if they remembered the Israeli athletes then they would have to remember the Palestinian terrorists who died. It was this disgusting attitude, this absolute disrespect for morality and the obscene equivalence of innocence with evil, which has scarred our psyche and reminds the Israeli people that so many others consider their lives worth less than those of others.

Over the course of the next two weeks, the world will come together. The major problems of the world, war, disease, famine and ethnic strife, will be quietly put to one side so the people can come together in bars, villages and town squares to watch their country compete. It is truly a time of national unity for every country regardless of the value it places on sport. That is one of the more meaningful aspects of the Olympic Games and something that we should all cherish. It is understandable that the IOC would not want to tarnish these couple of weeks with the messy politics of the Middle East. However, eight Palestinian gunmen invaded the serenity of the Olympic Games 40 years ago and brought blood and politics to the doors of the IOC. It is time for the memory of the victims, members of the Olympic family, to be revered and because it wasn’t, I was left watching the Opening Ceremony with a bitter taste in my mouth.

This is how I ended my first opening ceremony as an Israeli. It is not how I will continue, as the competition gets underway. I, and all Israelis, will cheer on our competitors in the hopes that those who fell in Munich will be remembered. I will adopt the attitude with which the Munich Olympians began: peace, joy, and sportsmanship. This is the attitude that all Israelis should have as we cheer on our team members and hope that, in the face of adversity, they triumph.

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