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December 19, 2014

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A minute of silence for an Olympic failure

I remember that sunny summer afternoon in 1984 when I stood on Pico Boulevard in West Los Angeles watching as the Olympic flame, on the final leg of its international journey, made its way from the Santa Monica Pier, carried there by former USC great O.J. Simpson, en route to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Rafer Johnson, the 1960 decathlon gold medalist, would rekindle the flame at the coliseum, the site of the 1932 Games.

It was an exciting moment for my neighbors and me. Truth be told, that torch symbolizes everything that is great about the Olympic spirit and the athletes who come from the four corners of the world to compete. But even before the opening ceremonies, controversies enveloped the 1984 Games.

For one thing, there was the tit-for-tat 14-nation boycott, instigated by the Soviet Union in response to the U.S.-led boycott of the 1980 Games over the USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan. Iran and Libya also stayed home from the XXIII Olympiad in Los Angeles.

And then there was the refusal of the International Olympic Committee to honor 11 Israeli athletes brutally murdered during the 1972 Munich Games by Palestinian terrorists. It was just one of many opportunities for the committee to address the pain of the families of the slain athletes and to correct its disgusting behavior in Munich, when it initially even refused to delay the games for an hour when the atrocity came to its ignoble end on a German airfield.

Back in 1984, we at the Simon Wiesenthal Center convened a public memorial led by the widow and young son of Moshe Weinberg, the Israeli wrestler who heroically held terrorists at bay at the Olympic Village complex, enabling others to escape before he was mortally wounded by the terrorists. Hundreds of other dignitaries, including athletes from around the world, came together at our memorial to light not a torch but a candle in silent tribute to the fallen Israeli athletes.

So it came as no surprise this year that the IOC is shamelessly refusing to change its position, spurning even President Barack Obama’s request and those of decent people everywhere to invest in a moment of silence at the games in London for those 11 souls. In doing so, today’s IOC leadership displays a remarkable continuity with immoral decisions dating back to 1936 in Munich when it delivered on a golden platter what Adolf Hitler desperately desired: international legitimacy despite his regime’s barbaric anti-Jewish racist laws. Four years later, there would be no Olympics. The world was at war. By the time the games restarted in 1948, the Nazis had murdered 6 million Jews and millions of other innocents.

A moment of silence in London would send a message that at the Olympics, at least, it is not geopolitical business as usual; that the memory of murdered Jewish Israeli athletes would be as valued as other Olympians; that the Olympics would not cave to a two-tiered system, driven by the Arab League and Muslim nations that demands that the United Nations and other global entities treat all states equally, save the Jewish one.

So this year, since the spineless IOC president won’t, we will join NBC announcer Bob Costas’ on-air minute of silence and suggest we all add a second minute of silence — for the death of the Olympics flame’s promise of a level playing field for all.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

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