LONDON (JTA) — Was the only Israeli on the International Olympic Committee instrumental in stopping a tribute to the Munich 11 at the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Games?
In the past few weeks, a war of words has erupted between the official, Alex Gilady, and the families of the 11 Israeli athletes and coaches murdered by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Munich Games. They allege that his opposition hurt their cause.
Gilady actually covered the Munich Games for Israel TV and today is senior vice president of NBC Sports, where he focuses on international business. In 2006 he was inducted into Israel’s International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame and was given a lifetime achievement award from the Hall.
The families failed in their bid for a minute of silence during the London Olympics opening ceremonies to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the terror attack. Their campaign could not persuade the IOC despite garnering more than 111,000 signatures on a petition from more than 105 countries, as well as support from President Obama and numerous other national leaders and legislators around the world.
Even after meeting with two of the Munich 11 widows, IOC President Jacques Rogge refused to budge on his opposition to the moment of silence.
Some Jewish activists point the finger directly at Gilady for the outcome.
“I believe he was part of the decision” not to go ahead, said Steve Gold, chair of the Munich 11 Minute of Silence Petition and vice president of the JCC Rockland in suburban New York. “By having an Israeli who’s on the IOC not supporting the minute of silence, it gave the IOC a bit more credibility.”
For his part Gilady, who refused to specifically discuss the issue with JTA, told Insidethegames.biz in May that when it came to the moment of silence, “The unity of the Olympic movement is the most important one” and “Therefore, I am not supporting such a move.” He added that “Such an act may harm the unity of the Olympics.”
Days before the London Olympics opened, Gilady told the Chicago Tribune that he was acting “in [the] best interest of Israeli sport. For me, the most important thing at the moment is that Israel have (sic) stages to compete on.” He recalled for the Tribune how Israel was thrown out of the Asian Olympic Association in 1981 and did not regain a continental sports affiliation until Rogge, among others, helped Israel become a member of the European Olympic Committees in 1994.
There would not be an “appropriate commemoration in the Olympic stadium,” Gilady told the Tribune, until “there is peace.”
Others, to put it lightly, disagree.
In a recent Foxnews.com piece that went viral, Guri Weinberg, son of the murdered wrestling coach Moshe Weinberg, published his own account of a meeting with Gilady in Atlanta in 1996, two years after Gilady was appointed to the IOC and as that city was hosting the Olympics.
Weinberg, an actor who is in the cast of the next installment of the hit movie series “Twilight,” alleged that Gilady told him that any memorial for the Israelis would necessitate a similar one for the Palestinian terrorists who died in the attack.
As one of the Munich 11 widows recalled her husband’s torture and murder, Gilady listened “stone cold with no emotion,” then excused himself from the meeting “without a hint of empathy,” Weinberg wrote.
Asked about the article in a telephone interview with JTA, Gilady angrily quoted Rudyard Kipling’s 1895 classic poem “If.”
“If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken,
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools …,” he said.
In denying Weinberg’s story, Gilady said, “The Fox News story was misquoted already 16 years ago.”
Weinberg did not reply to an interview request for this article, but Ilana Romano, widow of murdered weightlifter Yossef Romano, was at the Atlanta meeting. She told JTA that Weinberg’s account was accurate, although it was her and another widow, Ankie Spitzer, who walked out and not Gilady.
“We got up and went because he was so insulting and hurtful,” she said.
As for Gilady’s opposition to the minute of silence, she said, “I think it’s terrible idiocy. It’s a lack of consideration, a lack of respect for those who were murdered. It’s giving in to terror.”
If he doesn’t believe in the minute of silence, she added, “I expect him to say, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t push it forward,’ but don’t say it’s not necessary. It’s necessary.”
Gilady, born in Tehran in 1942, was a sports journalist who covered the Munich Olympics for Israeli television. He later became executive producer of Israel TV special events, winning the 1977 Israel Broadcasting Association Award for coverage of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem.
Four years later he moved to New York City to join NBC Sports, where he quickly rose up the ranks, focusing on building international business. Much of his work centered on the Olympics; he helped NBC buy broadcast rights to successive Olympic Games, winning four Emmy Awards for Olympic TV coverage along the way. Along wit being a senior vice president of NBC Sports, he remains active in the Israeli media as president of Keshet Broadcasting, a Channel 2 franchisee he helped found in 1993.
Gilady’s IOC involvement dates back to 1984, when he joined its radio and television commission, which advises on working conditions for the broadcast media. He was appointed an IOC member in 1994 and has been on the Coordination for the Games Committee for every Olympics since 2004.
Much of the Jewish anger against Gilady stems from the expectation that as an Israeli he would have the country’s interests at heart.
At a ceremony for Israel’s Olympics delegation in July, Sport and Culture Minister Limor Livnat bluntly complained about him.
“Davka, our only Israeli representative on the IOC, davka he is meant to stand at the spearhead of the state of Israel’s battle to commemorate our sportspeople … We would have expected him to have been the representative of the bereaved families, the representative of the entire Israeli society,” she said, according to the official text of her speech and using the Hebrew word that loosely means “wouldn’t it figure?”
Gilady, however, insists that his critics have it wrong.
“I was elected to the IOC on a private basis,” he told JTA. “I do not represent countries — I represent specifics the IOC is concerned about. I happen to be an Israeli.”
Romano only partially accepts the explanation.
“I think he has a commitment to the IOC, he represents their interests — I can’t argue with that,” she told JTA. “But I can’t understand it either, because Alex came back with the coffins … Could it really be that he has no heart or feeling?” she said of Gilady.
In Israel, Romano said, Gilady does occasionally come to the periodic Munich families’ ceremonies and that he “tries to be very nice.”
Still, she is puzzled at his failure to “repent” his longstanding objection to the silence.
One government official familiar with Livni’s views said the reasoning is simple: Gilady genuinely believes that a moment of silence would be a mistake.
The official noted that Livnat and others acknowledge that Gilady had done much for Israel and its athletes. In fact, the week before the Olympics, Gilady was said to be among those who pushed the BBC to reverse a decision not to list Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in its online guide to the Olympics. Others have credited the efforts to the push of the Israeli government and a Facebook campaign.
“Limor Livnat turned to Gilady, and he quickly expressed willingness to help,” the official said. “A few hours later, the IOC press officer wrote a letter of complaint to the BBC, asking them to act in accordance with the definitions of the IOC.”
The BBC eventually changed its listing to show Jerusalem as Israel’s “seat of government.”
“When it comes to the subject of the murder of the athletes, there is a disagreement,” the official continued. “But even if [Livnat] had the power, she would not remove Gilady from his IOC position. She very much appreciates his work, his ability, his effort. It’s unprecedented in Israeli sports, and you can’t take that away from Alex.”