With the one-year delay of the 2020 Olympics due to COVID-19, the Tokyo Games of 2021 are one year closer to the 50th anniversary of the Munich Massacre by the Palestinian terror group Black September. In 1972, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) promised to remember, even declaring, "We will never forget." But that message, too commonly repeated since the Holocaust, never seems to sink in.
Days before the opening of the Tokyo Olympics, the IOC maintains its history of rejecting any "moment of silence" for the Munich 11, which arguably introduced the free world to international terrorism. The lobbying effort by victims' families, at least in the past decade, has been rejected or ignored by the IOC. In contrast, the IOC allowed American athletes in 2002 to enter the stadium with a flag from the recently torpedoed and collapsed World Trade Center. The IOC maintains that, under Avery Brundage's leadership, it memorialized the 11 murdered Israelis with a service a day after the September 5, 1972 murders.
In place of a moment of silence every four years, host countries today spend fortunes—600 million pounds at the 2012 Games in London and $895 million at the Rio Games of 2016—to ensure the safety of more than 200 national athletic delegations. The Olympic Games, founded in the spirit of international harmony, were once considered bulletproof from a hostage-taking episode.
War was reserved for military battlefields—not the well-kept apartments of an Olympic village. American distance runner Kenny Moore, then 28, recalled in 2012: "I had believed the Olympics immune somehow to the threats of the larger world. It was an illusion, but it had been a hell of a strong illusion and it rocked me personally to have that shattered."
The 1972 games were supposed to be the games of peace—an example of German redemption from the 1936 Games in Berlin, which coincided with the heinous Nazi era that led to the systemic extermination of 11 million innocents, including at least 6 million Jews. In Munich, Germany wanted to show the world that it had reformed its image; that these Olympics could be peacefully policed without the menacing muscle of German force. They were unprepared and were barely armed.
Today, following 9/11, all major sporting events—not just the Olympics—prepare for the possibility of terrorism.
Just as the Nazis introduced the world to gas chambers and the reduction of atrophied bodies to dust through crematoria, so too did the Palestinians introduce the world to international terrorism at the Munich Games.
Almost 50 years later, many still remember the image of a white ski-masked gunman standing on a balcony of the Olympic Village, brandishing a machine gun. In what today is just part of a history of hostage-taking and hijacking for the purposes of trading Israeli Jews for hundreds, if not thousands, of Palestinian captives, the Munich mission sought 200 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for 11 Israeli Olympians.
Two Jews were shot initially to underline the threat. Negotiations led to an attempt to facilitate the release of the hostages, but the Palestinians took advantage of a bungled rescue attempt by German police, allowing one fleeting moment for a terrorist leader to toss a grenade into a helicopter, killing the remaining nine Israelis. Five of the terrorists were killed during a failed attempt to rescue the hostages, as was a West German police officer. The three Palestinian survivors were arrested and released by West German officials less than two months later.
Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan directed Mossad to lead a retaliation effort. With the assistance of European intelligence agencies, 10 Palestine Liberation Organization bases in Syria and Lebanon were bombed. This was part of a broader Israeli assassination campaign, dubbed Operation Wrath of God, that eliminated all perpetrators and planners of the Munich raid by 1979.
Forty-five years after the massacre, a memorial at Munich's Olympic Park was unveiled with families of the victims in attendance. Reuven Rivlin, then-president of Israel, proclaimed the Munich Games as "the blood Olympics." Then-German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said, "It should never have happened."
The IOC insists that Olympics opening ceremonies are inappropriate moments for remembering the Munich victims. But, if not every four years, when?
The IOC executive board agreed in 2015 that the Rio de Janeiro Games in 2016 would offer "a mourning place" to remember "all those who have lost their lives at the Olympic Games." The monument included two stones from ancient Olympia and a memorial for Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili, who died in a luge track crash the day before the 2010 Vancouver Games began. The IOC acknowledged that the moment of reflection could include the murdered Israelis in Munich. An engraved base with the interlocking Olympic rings reads: "We will always remember you forever in our hearts."
Remember who, for what, and why?
The IOC must put forward a gold-medal effort after almost 50 years to remind the world of the Munich Massacre.
Read President Kaufman's analysis in Newsweek.
Among the tenets most central to the practice of Judaism are kosher religious slaughter (shechita) and circumcision (brit milah). Both are based on our history throughout the millennia and have been codified in Jewish law. The first references to the practice of kashrut, or kosher dietary practices, appear in the biblical book of Deuteronomy. And some 4,000 years ago, Genesis tells us, G-d directed Abraham to be circumcised, creating the founding covenant with the Jewish people.
During times of dispersal, exile, persecution and discrimination—right down to the present—the ability to carry out the biblical injunctions to engage in these practices has served to hold the Jewish community together and has contributed greatly to shaping its collective identity.
In recent years however, there have been attempts—some of which have been successful—to curb the right of Jews in Europe to observe these obligations. Animal rights groups and anti-circumcision activists are lobbying throughout the continent, pressing parliaments and governments to ban shechita and brit milah.
Circumcision, the first right of passage for Jewish males, is a practice observed and venerated down through the generations by religious and secular Jews alike. From Moses to Einstein to untold millions of others, it is the act that ensures the continuity of our people.
The first intent of kosher ritual slaughter is to act in a humane way toward animals. Those who perform these acts are highly trained and specifically instructed to avoid inflicting undue suffering. The stunning of animals, which normally precedes non-kosher slaughter, is prohibited precisely because of the uncertainty of whether or not the animal would be suffering.
In 2014, Denmark banned non-sedated slaughter. Finland's Animal Protection Act demands stunning as well, with an exception for concurrent sedation and religious slaughter—which, again, is contrary to the very laws of shechita. Sweden's law banning religious slaughter goes back to 1937 and makes no exception for those who do not allow for either stunning or sedation. Last year, Belgium's Flanders region followed its Walloon region in adopting decrees that require electric stunning.
Belgian officials are quick to note that the import of kosher meat is permissible, which seems to accomplish two negatives: It places an undue burden on its Jewish communities and effectively says, "let this be some other country's problem, not ours."
In 2018, the Belgian Jewish community brought the prohibition of shechita in Flanders to the Belgian Constitutional Court, which in turn submitted the case in 2019 to the European Court of Justice in order to clarify EU law on the matter.
Despite an opinion issued by the Court's Advocate General Gerard Hogan, which stated that the Flanders law flies in the face of EU laws regarding religious freedom, countries are at this time still permitted to massively impinge on religious slaughter requirements. The case is now back before the Belgian courts.
To make matters worse, and in a blatant display of hypocrisy, the Court's decision allows an exception for hunting: "the Court points out that cultural and sporting events result at most in a marginal production of meat, which is not economically significant. Consequently, such events cannot be understood as a food production activity."
Indeed, if food production is the measure by which this is being judged, the total production of kosher meat on an annual basis in Europe is infinitesimal. And as for hunting, many might be forgiven for thinking this was supposed to be all about the humane treatment of animals.
Five years ago, then-United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief Heiner Bielefeldt issued a report on his visit to Denmark. Speaking about the ban on shechita and the growing public opposition to brit milah, Bielefeldt said, "In order to find out what actually matters religiously to various communities, the culture of trustful communication between state authorities and religious communities is crucial and should be further cherished." He recommended that the Danish government reconsider its ban on ritual slaughter without requiring stunning.
But this discussion is not only about decrees and legislation, or even about the rights of states to declare this or that practice legal (or not). It is about the fundamental right of religious freedom—and beyond that, the long-term sustainability of Jewish communities across Europe.
These are unwelcome challenges for Europe's Jewish communities and another step on the anti-Semitism ladder. When the Holocaust ended 76 years ago, most of the storied Jewish communities of Europe had been decimated. Reconstituting the Jewish place in Europe has been a tenuous affair, but it has occurred in places that had been given up for lost. That even tiny communities can celebrate our biblical tradition of brit milah, or that those who seek to live by our laws of kashrut are able to do so, have been hallmarks of that communal rehabilitation. Without guarantees to maintain these practices, what kind of future is in store for those communities affected by decrees that transgress these fundamental religious obligations?
The Jewish communities of Europe are not seeking to force our laws and traditions onto others. Whether it be for Jews or other religious minorities, where is the sensitivity to their freedom to observe religious practices that, in fact, predate by millennia the modern European states that have enacted such odious bans?
Modern democracies should not be bartering away religious freedom. Protecting it, rather, should be their first priority. The European Union and its member states need to revisit this issue, make exceptions for those who seek to observe their religion without interference and ensure, at the same time, the future of its Jewish communities, only decades removed from near extinction.
Read CEO Mariaschin's expert analysis in Newsweek.
Daniel S. Mariaschin is CEO of B'nai B'rith International.
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