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.
Throughout my time working at B’nai B’rith, I have written about a variety of topics that impact older Americans, ranging from gun reform laws, climate change, health care, social security, student debt and so forth. However, in recent years, there are few topics that inspire as much passion as voting rights. I have written blogs entitled, “Long Lines at Polling Stations During a Pandemic: It’s Time to Expand Voting from Home” and “Seniors and Voter Identification Laws” both of which advocate for greater access for seniors to the ballot box.
As many people are aware, several states have started debating and passing legislation that further regulates older Americans’ access to voting. For example, Wisconsin, Texas, Florida and Georgia have all either passed or are debating legislation that will make voting problematic. Many of these bills reduce the number of drop boxes, make absentee voting more difficult, ban drive through voting, limit assistance at the polls and forbid election officials from sending unsolicited ballots to people’s homes.
A central theme for these bills is that people with mobility issues are going to have a more difficult time participating in our elections. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, about 11.2 million people age 65 and older have self-reported travel-limiting disabilities. Legislation that increases the likelihood seniors will have to needlessly wait online to vote will only discourage people from participating in our democracy.
For example, recently passed legislation by the Wisconsin legislature requires an “indefinitely confined” individual’s absentee ballots to be returned by a family member who lives in the state, if such a person exists. This still applies even if your only family member lives on the opposite side of the state. Governor Tony Evers has indicated he is likely to veto this legislation.
In Texas, legislators are debating making it a felony, punishable by jail time, to send absentee ballot applications to voters who didn’t request one. In the last election, Texas counties sent voters 65 and older mail-in ballots unprompted. Governor Greg Abbott has indicated that he intends to sign the final bill into law.
In Florida, a recently signed law restricts drop boxes from being open 24/7. Instead the drop boxes’ hours will coincide with a county’s early voting hours so the boxes can be monitored at all times. Also, some groups are concerned the law would prohibit them from passing out food and water to people in line to vote, so as to not influence voters.
While protecting the integrity of our elections is an important objective, evidence demonstrates voter fraud is not a problem in our country. According to the New York Times, after the 2020 election, they reached out to election officials in every state, and 49 states reported no “major voting issues.” While Texas didn’t formally respond, Harris County, the largest county in Texas, reported only a few small issues and indicated that “we had a very seamless election.”
In Georgia, the secretary of state’s office reported that, during our last presidential election, not one single case of fraud was discovered during an audit of over 15,000 absentee ballots.
Presently, these bills are being challenged in court. For instance, disability rights groups in Georgia are arguing that the state’s legislation violates the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Also, the Justice Department is suing Georgia on the grounds the law is discriminatory against Black voters.
In Florida, the Alliance for Retired Americans is joining with other groups to legally challenge the state’s new voting law. “This law will make it more difficult for millions of Florida citizens to exercise their constitutional right to vote,” said Bill Sauers, president of the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans. “Older Floridians take the right to vote seriously, and we will fight any attempt to keep our voices from being heard.”
“These bills are in seek of a problem that does not exist in the state of Wisconsin,” said State Sen.. Melissa Agard, of Madison. “They’re making it harder for our friends and neighbors across the state to vote, especially our seniors, especially our people with disabilities, especially people of color.” This quote from Agard crystalizes the problem with the states’ decisions to enact new voting laws.
Why make it more difficult particularly for seniors and disabled Americans who are least able to vote when it seems clear that our elections are not being threatened by voter fraud?
This past month we celebrated Flag Day, observed on June 14 since 1916 as the anniversary of the Stars and Stripes. The date was to coincide with the 14th of June, 1777, to honor the resolution that ordered the creation of the flag by the Second Continental Congress. The flag of the United States was to be 13 alternating red and white stripes and include 13 white stars, white on a blue background.
The flag that inspired “The Star-Spangled Banner” is preserved at the Smithsonian, was created in 1813 and flew over Fort McHenry. There is detailed history of its creation and how it became an inspiration to Sir Francis Scott Key’s poem, which became the inspiration for our national anthem.
The flag is treated with reverence by its citizens, especially those who have served under it in the armed forces. There is always a sense of pride as the American flag is raised over a winner of a medal at the Olympics. We will be watching to see that happen, along with hoping to hear the national anthem played many times as the athletes compete in Japan this summer.
Flags and banners are part of our heritage as Jews. We remember waving them as children on Simchat Torah, celebrating the ending and beginning of reading of the Torah. In Parshas Bamidbar, we find a description of the tribes of Israel after the exodus from Egypt. It is their second year in the desert and begins with taking a census of the assembly and the designation of the leaders of the tribes. Each of these tribes would camp by their banner according to the insignias of their father’s household. They would find their territory designated by a geographic location in the east, west, north and south and would include their banners, distinguished by the color of their tribe’s flag. Their flag color corresponded to their stone color on the Kohan Gadol’s breastplate.
In B’nai B’rith we have banners with the symbol of the B’nai B’rith menorah--our insignia--and the year of our founding proudly displayed. Lodges and units have their own banner, with their name and number shown along with the B’nai B’rith menorah logo. Their names are tributes to Jewish history or a special community leader. It also may identify their physical location. They are our signposts for B’nai B’rith around the world.
If these banners could talk, they would tell of the times they have been proudly carried at rallies and protests. They have served at parades to support Israel and other causes for the Jewish community. They appear in ballrooms and meeting rooms as part of events that are held by B’nai B’rith. I recall the room filled to capacity at district conventions with delegates, surrounded by their district, lodge and council banners hung around the border as décor. I also remember the flag parade at the B’nai B’rith International conventions, when the flags representing the delegations from around the world were brought into the ballroom as part of the opening ceremonies. The internationality continues to bring this visual to B’nai B’rith when we host ambassadors from other countries to address our gatherings. The flag of their country is proudly displayed alongside the American and Israel flags.
As our hearts break for the victims of the Surfside, Florida building collapse, we were proud to see the arrival of the IDF’s search and rescue team to help American workers and other international teams with the recovery efforts. They are the experts in engineering and have been to other disasters around the world, proudly wearing the flag of Israel on their sleeves.
We are proud of the B’nai B’rith South Florida Unit president, Gina Strauss, and her dedicated team, who collected and delivered supplies for the families and first responders.
On the same day, the Isadore Garsek Lodge in Fort Worth, Texas was honored by KRLD News Radio 1080 as a “difference maker” for feeding first responders at fire stations, police departments and hospitals and 911 operators during the pandemic. A photo of the B’nai B’rith volunteers posing with their banner shows their pride and commitment to the mission of B’nai B’rith. Long may their banner be the representation of the mission to make a difference in the world in the name of B’nai B’rith.
Between June 21 and June 28, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, addressed the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on major setbacks on human rights taking place in a number of different countries, including several in Latin America. “To recover from the biggest and most serious setbacks in human rights that we have ever seen, we must have a life-changing vision and concerted action to put it into practice,” Bachelet told members of the Human Rights Council in the first week of three of the 47th session of the UNHRC.
The High Commissioner is almost right. Almost.
There are violations of human rights in Mexico, Colombia and Nicaragua. And much worse in Venezuela and Iran, which perpetrated the horrible bombings of the Israeli Embassy in Argentina 25 years ago and the AMIA bombing 27 years ago, and still today justice has not been served in both cases. But it is very curious that the High Commissioner puts every tragedy in one bag.
Venezuela has been a dictatorship for more than two decades and has created (according to U.N. information) the second largest humanitarian crisis in the world in the last ten years after Syria, which has the first place. More than 5 million Venezuelans have fled from their country due to misery, poverty and ongoing violations of human rights. What has any U.N. High Commissioner, including the present one, done to stop the ongoing tragedy in Venezuela, except for an isolated speech here and there against the Venezuelan leader, Nicolas Maduro? Selectivity in human rights violations is a major setback of effectiveness and fairness in the UNHRC.
Bachelet is alarmed at the “high level of political violence” during the campaign for the Mexican legislative elections held at the beginning of June. “At least 91 politicians and party members, including 36 electoral candidates, were assassinated during the electoral period that began in September 2020,” Bachelet said. It is unfortunately certain and reprehensible. But like it or not, Mexico is not Venezuela. Mexico is a democracy with flaws, but a democratic country for more than a century.
Bachelet also addressed the wave of anti-government protests that broke out at the end of April in Colombia. "My office has expressed grave concern over allegations of serious human rights violations by the security forces,” she said.
Yes, there were riots in the streets and there were 59 civilians and two policemen dead. Riots were not peaceful as the High Commissioner said, and Colombia, which is a democracy, after several days of violence, addressed the confrontation and installed a negotiating table between the government and the leaders of the riots. Nothing even similar could take place in Venezuela or Iran, so, again, it is a very harmful mistake to put everything in one basket.
Bachelet also stressed that in Colombia, “although the majority of demonstrations were peaceful, there were some episodes of violence” and encouraged “dialogue to resolve the crisis.” Dialogue is what is going on these days, something that is unthinkable not only in Venezuela but also in Nicaragua. Colombian President Duque suffered an attack against his helicopter when he was on an official mission with his closest aides on June 29, but even this very serious incident did not stop the negotiations with the civil society to keep the democratic dialogue in Colombia.
Daniel Ortega, the Nicaraguan dictator, has decided to have elections by the end of this year but in the meantime, he is sending every possible candidate to jail, and other candidates have fled the country due to the persecution. Ortega and his wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, fear defeat in November. Although he still leads the Sandinista party, rather than adhere to its socialist past, Ortega has, since 2007, ruled with nepotism and dynastic pretensions. While taking control of the legislature, the judiciary and the electoral authority and muzzling the media, he kept support among the poor with social programs paid for by Venezuela. When this dried up, austerity prompted a national uprising in 2018 and more than 300 people were murdered. Will the Ortegas get away with this? The Organization of American States (OAS) has condemned the persecution of political leaders. Bachelet has also condemned the farce of an election the Ortegas are preparing, but at the end of the day, Nicaragua and Venezuela receive condemnations and sanctions, but stay still because Iran or some big powers, and sometimes both together, help these rogue dictatorships to stay in power and of course, for Iran, Venezuela is a “democratic friend.”
Why did we write in the beginning of this article that the High Commissioner is “almost right” when she speaks out about violation of human rights all over the world? Mixing riots in democratic countries with crimes in dictatorships is not a fair way to expose the weak and poor situation of human rights. We fully agree that from the Office of the High Commissioner, violations of human rights are denounced. But it is far from enough to selectively denounce human rights violations.
Serial human rights abusers in Latin American can say with high hypocrisy that the allegations against their governments are “illegal interference in their internal affairs,” but the truth of the matter is that the allegations show the unacceptable and cruel reality their people are suffering.
What the U.N. and the High Commissioner can't forget is that terrorism must be strongly condemned, and the fact that there was no mention of the terrorist attacks with rockets from Hamas to the Israeli civilians in the most recent conflict, was a dangerous form of incitement. Worse, there was a rude comment from the High Commissioner against the “Israeli disproportionate use of force.”
These are the U.N. attitudes and comments that erodes, day after day, the credibility of this international U.N. agency. Why is the High Commissioner loud and clear with some dictatorships, but when Israel is defending its citizens from a terrorist attack, the disproportion comes from the attacked country and not from the aggressor?
This narrative harms the necessary credibility that the international agencies must have to combat the evil of dictatorships violating human rights. Venezuela, Nicaragua, Iran, all of them are aware that there can be investigations and speeches about their regimes, but at the same time, they are also aware that after the speeches and maybe some sanctions, they will keep their power fully. Without credibility and trust, the future will be more and more speeches, no real sanctions and more impunity.
(July 1, 2021 / JNS) Last month, I participated in a conference for young adults on the current Jewish agenda, hosted by the Jewish community of Oporto, Portugal.
Three of the speakers were asked if they thought there could ever be another Holocaust.
The answers were uniformly “not likely,” the reasoning being that we are now living, after two millennia, in an era when there is not only a sovereign Jewish state, but one with the wherewithal to be a haven for those escaping oppression and the ability to project its military and other forces to save and protect those in danger.
The upcoming 45th anniversary of the rescue of Israeli hostages being held by terrorists at Entebbe, Uganda, is perhaps the best case in point.
That story began on June 27, 1976, when terrorists connected to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Germany’s radical Revolutionary Cells organization hijacked, on a stopover in Athens, an Air France Airbus A300 flight from Tel Aviv to Paris. The terrorists demanded the plane fly to the airport in Entebbe, where demands were made for the release of 53 Palestinian prisoners being held in Israel and several other countries.
At Entebbe, 148 non-Jewish hostages were separated from the 94 Jewish passengers, most of them Israeli nationals, and the Air France crew. The non-Jewish hostages were released within two days; the terrorists made clear the Jewish passengers would be killed if their demands were not met. The Ugandan government, led by its infamous leader Idi Amin, announced its support for the hijackers, punctuated with an appearance by Amin himself in the airport terminal hall in which the hostages were being held.
That set into motion an intricate rescue plan conceived by the Israel Defense Forces and the Mossad, which sent, on July 3 and 4, some 100 commandos over 2,500 miles, flying at night, to rescue those being held. The 90-minute raid was successful, though Lt. Col. Yonatan Netanyahu, who led the raid on the ground, and three hostages, including Dora Bloch — a passenger who had been taken earlier to a local hospital and later killed — lost their lives in the operation. In the raid, seven terrorists were killed.
Without exaggeration, it was a glorious moment in Jewish history — one of those “where were you when you heard about…?” instances that you recall as if it were yesterday.
That day, I was at Boston’s Hatch Memorial Shell on the Charles River, on the first date with my wife-to-be, taking in the Boston Pops Orchestra celebrating America’s bicentennial. (It was an extraordinary month for Israel; Miss Israel, Rina Messinger, would be crowned Miss Universe at the competition being held in Hong Kong a week later.)
The message of the Entebbe rescue immediately resonated.
The separation of Jewish passengers from all others, coming 31 years after the Holocaust, recalled Nazi-like tactics still fresh in the minds of Jews, and especially survivors of that barbarity.
This was an era of airline hijackings and high-profile terrorist attacks, many of which were carried out in Europe. The message that Israel’s long arm could be projected anywhere to rescue not only Israelis but Jews in danger reset the counter-terrorism table.
The rescue also instilled pride in Israel among Jews worldwide. Even today, people still shake their heads in amazement that daunting logistical challenges were overcome in such a short period to allow the operation to take place. This came only three years after the Yom Kippur War, which, though Israel was ultimately victorious, had shaken the confidence of some after setbacks for the Jewish state in the early days of fighting in that conflict.
That said, the rescue at Entebbe should not have come to us as a complete surprise. The biblical injunction “Pidyon Shvuyim,” or redemption of those taken prisoner or hostage, was clearly on the minds of those who planned and carried out this historic mission.
I can think of other Israeli-organized or led operations, perhaps somewhat less daring but equally essential, that redeemed Jews in peril: Operation Magic Carpet (also known as Operation on Eagles’ Wings), which airlifted more than 50,000 Jews, mainly from Yemen, to Israel in 1949; more than 120,000 Jews were airlifted from Iraq in Operation Ezra and Nehemiah; and 1991’s Operation Solomon, which in a 36-hour timeframe brought nearly 15,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel.
For two millennia, Jews lived either at the sufferance of potentates, autocrats or dictators, or in societies where they were tolerated minorities. Occasionally there were benevolent leaders who protected the Jewish minority, but pogroms, harsh discriminatory restrictions and other limits on basic freedoms consigned Jews to life on the edge.
For those fortunate to have immigrated to the U.S. or to some countries far from the horrors of World War II, the idea of being “protected” became less of an issue, but for millions of others, there was no place to turn. The rise of Hitler and the Holocaust that followed, when collaboration with the Nazis, apathy or indifference to their fate were the attitudes of the day, underscored the tragic powerlessness of Jewish communities in Europe. This, notwithstanding the tremendous courage of Jews who fought as partisans or who rescued other Jews from annihilation.
The re-establishment of the State of Israel changed that equation.
There is a photo that constantly stands out in my mind when asked the question, “Do you think it can happen again?” The photo shows Israeli F-15 fighter jets flying in formation over Auschwitz on Holocaust Remembrance Day in 2003. The crew members were all children of or related to victims of the Holocaust.
One of the pilots involved in the flyover that day, Avi Maor, said, “I felt that I was in the skies with the strength of the IAF, the IDF and the entire State of Israel, and that down there were the relics of our people. It hit us when the flyby ended, and there was silence on the radio and in the cockpit. Each one of us was absorbed in thoughts about the sortie and its significance.”
Forty-five years on, the memory of those two overwhelmingly intense July days, when four Israeli Hercules transports emerged in darkness at Entebbe Airport to free nearly 100 captives who were being held and threatened simply because they were Israelis and Jews, needs to be conveyed to new generations as an object lesson in Zionism and the need for a Jewish state.
Our people should never again be placed in such danger. But just knowing that the “Entebbe principle” is there to be exercised should the need arise again is a comfort to us all.
Read CEO Mariaschin's expert analysis in JNS.
Daniel S. Mariaschin is CEO of B'nai B'rith International.
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