International Olympic Committee president, Jacques Rogge, bowing to pressure and threats from U.S. and Israeli officials, paid tribute on July 23 to the 11 Israeli athletes and coaches killed at the time of the Munich Olympics 40 years ago. He led a minute of silence in the athletes’ village. Rogge had rebuffed calls to do so during the London Games’ opening ceremony.
He and the IOC also honored the slain Israelis at a private reception in London during the games on Aug. 6 and will participate in a ceremony in Germany on Sept. 5, the anniversary of the killings at the Furstenfeldbruck military airfield. But nothing is being said about the Palestinians who were also killed at that time.
What happened at the Munich Olympics in 1972? Why is imperialism’s “big lie” about it being repeated and retold today?
The ancient Olympic Games were revived in 1896 by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, a French nobleman, to take the minds of the world’s workers off their oppressive working conditions and their daily struggle to survive. In that year, Theodore Herzl published “The Jewish State,” which introduced the big lie of Zionism, which advocated occupation of a territory and displacement of its inhabitants to setup a Jewish homeland — as supposedly the only cure for international anti-Semitism.
In 1936, the games were held in Nazi Germany. There, millionaire Avery Brundage, IOC president then and still president at Munich in 1972, defended the Nazi propaganda parades, speeches and activities as “national pride.” When Hitler refused to shake gold medal winner Jessie Owens’ hand because Owens was Black, there wasn’t a murmur of protest from the IOC.
But at the 1972 Munich games, the IOC expelled Black runners Vince Matthews and John Collet for “disrespectful and disgraceful” conduct, merely for talking during the opening ceremony.
In the U.S., 1972 was a presidential election year. The U.S. imperialist war against Vietnam was still raging. The “peace” candidate, Democrat Sen. George McGovern, was calling for an end to the Vietnam War. His opponent was President Richard Nixon, called by many “the Mad Bomber” for his genocidal attacks on the Vietnamese people.
But McGovern, like Nixon, was a hawk when it came to the Middle East. Like every member of Congress then and today, he supported imperialism’s policy there, specifically its support of Israel.
Despite all the claims of Zionism, the 1948-created state of Israel was not set up as a refuge for Jewish Holocaust survivors, 80 percent of whom really wanted to go to the U.S., according to a May 5, 1948, New York Times poll. The plight of the Jewish Holocaust refugees pushed into Palestine when no other country wanted them has been compared to a person jumping from a burning building only to land on another person’s back.
The capitalist political establishment in the U.S. supported the Zionist settler state, which was built on land stolen from the Palestinian people, because, at a time of rising national liberation movements in the Arab world, they saw Israel as a strategic partner that would protect U.S. corporate interests in the oil-rich Middle East.
In September 1972, a group of Palestinians — who were banned from competing in the Olympics — took Israeli athletes hostage to draw attention to the Palestinian people’s suffering. They wanted to exchange the Israeli athletes for 200 Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners held in Israeli jails.
The U.S., West German and Israeli governments were united in refusing to negotiate with the Palestinians.
Workers World Party swam against the stream then. A leaflet written by this reporter, “What every worker should know about the violence at the Olympics,” explained: “This time the West German government got its orders from the Israelis, specifically from an Israeli general [Moshe Dayan] and Israeli representatives at the scene of the bloodshed. Accordingly, the West Germans flew the Palestinians and their Israeli hostages to an airport at a NATO base, as sure a deathtrap for both the Jewish athletes and the Arabs as a bed of quicksand.
“West German police and military forces had surrounded the area before the helicopters carrying the Palestinians and Israelis even landed. Almost immediately, the police fired directly into the vehicles containing both Arabs and Jews, and in the end, everyone was killed. Just like [New York Gov.] Rockefeller’s Attica stormtroopers of a year ago , the Israeli state, with the help of the West Germans, had ruthlessly sacrificed their athletes as expendable Jewish blood, so they could have an excuse to bomb Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon and Syria.”
WWP dispatched squads, which included many Jewish comrades, including this reporter, to distribute the flier. Zionists tried to tear them up because their big lie was threatened by the message.
Golda Meir, the Israeli head of state in 1972, once said, “There is no such thing as the Palestinian people.” Forty years later, the indomitable spirit and struggle of the Palestinians, who have stood up to Israel and U.S. imperialism, have inspired a much larger movement than existed 40 years ago. The world’s workers and oppressed have answered Meir’s racist big lie with the solidarity message of “Long live Palestine!” n