Longing for a Level Playing Field
August 3, 2012
Dear Friend of Israel,
For the past week, the world’s attention has been focused on London, where the world’s top athletes are gathered to compete in the 2012 Olympic Games. The pomp and pageantry of the opening ceremonies is always impressive, as is the spectacle of seeing teams from every nation enter the Olympic stadium with their countrymen in the stands cheering them on.
Throughout history, the Olympics have been a forum for the nations of the world to celebrate and marvel at the athletic feats humans can accomplish through discipline and hard work. Despite what’s happening off the playing fields, the athletes pledge to engage in the games “in the true spirit of sportsmanship, for the glory of sport and the honor of our teams” (from the Olympic Oath). And they do so in the shadow of the Olympic flag, with the colors of its five rings capturing at least one color from each of the worlds’ flags, and its interconnectedness symbolizing the friendship these international competitions are intended to foster.
The Olympics are meant to showcase our best — our best athletes, our best achievements, our best spirit of honor, fair play, and brotherhood. Unfortunately, where Israel is concerned, even this international celebration has become politicized.
The most extreme and terrifying example of this use of the games to advance a political agenda occurred at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, when members of the Palestinian terrorist group Black September kidnapped members of the Israeli Olympics team, demanding the release of more than 200 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails. Eventually, the terrorists killed 11 Israeli athletes and coaches. This year, the 40th anniversary of the Munich Massacre, countless individuals and world leaders petitioned the Committe International Olympic (IOC) to observe a minute of silence to honor those who were murdered. But, bowing to pressure from Arab nations, the IOC refused.
Less tragic examples of the collision of sports and radical politics at the Olympics are nonetheless disturbing. The British media giant BBC refused to acknowledge Jerusalem as the capital of Israel on their website coverage of the Olympics. Members of the Lebanese judo team demanded that IOC officials erect a barrier between the Israeli judo squad and themselves during training, a request the IOC promptly met. An Iranian judo champion mysteriously became “sick” and was unable to come to the Olympics when it was discovered that he was the one member of the Iranian team slated to face an Israeli in competition. (Iran has a longstanding policy of not allowing its athletes to face Israeli opponents). The Israeli athletes, meanwhile, remain willing and eager to compete against anyone.
This treatment at the Games is a microcosm of how Israel is treated in the political sphere: She is routinely excluded from gatherings of nations, with the recent U.N. conference on terrorism in Madrid and an international counterterrorism forum in Istanbul serving as just two of many examples. Apparently, some nations have such distaste for Israel that they’d rather not gain from her vast experience in matters of security expertise she is more than happy to share that could help save the lives of their citizens.
Over the coming week, as the Olympic Games continue to inspire us with their displays of strength, discipline, and skill, may they also inspire the world with their spirit of unity and brotherhood. And let us pray and work toward a world where all nations, including Israel, are on a level playing field.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Stand for Israel