The 2012 Olympic Games open in London this week and will last for 17 days. That amounts to 24,480 minutes, as Emory University historian Deborah Lipstadt pointed out in an essay last week. Yet the International Olympic Committee cannot bring itself to spare even one of those minutes to remember the 11 Israeli athletes murdered at the Munich Games in 1972.
Relatives of the slain athletes have beseeched the IOC for years to honor their loved ones with a public moment of silence, but the committee has always said no. It has continued to say no this year, even as the request has become something of an international cause celebre. Both President Obama and Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney have endorsed the call for an official moment of silence during the Games' opening ceremonies this Friday. Perhaps more significant, NBC-TV's Bob Costas — who will anchor the network's coverage of the London Games — publicly described the IOC's obstinate refusal as "puzzling" and "insensitive."
Costas told The Hollywood Reporter last week that he intends to invoke his own moment of silence when the Israeli delegation enters the Olympic stadium for the first time this week. That gesture, thoughtful and humane, speaks well of Costas' judgment — and only underscores the disgraceful churlishness of IOC President Jacques Rogge, who reiterated on Saturday that "it is not fit" for "such a tragic incident" to be commemorated during the Olympics opening ceremonies.
But as Lipstadt points out, Olympic officials have hardly been so squeamish in other cases. At the 1996 opening ceremony, former IOC President Juan Samaranch spoke about the Bosnian war. And at the 2002 games in Salt Lake City — as Romney can certainly attest — the horror of Sept. 11 was vividly called to mind: American athletes entered the stadium bearing a tattered Stars and Stripes, recovered from the rubble of the World Trade Center in New York City.
Only one thing makes the Munich massacre too radioactive to be formally acknowledged, even after all these years, with the quiet dignity its victims deserve. The Black September terrorists who perpetrated the worst horror in Olympic history were committed to the destruction of Israel, a quest that in some quarters of the Arab and Muslim world is as popular as ever. A moment of silence for the 11 murdered Israelis would cast an ugly shadow on the Palestinian cause. That is an outcome too many regimes will not abide — and the IOC, it seems clear, lacks the backbone or the integrity to cross them.
(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe.)