Kudos to CTV’s Brian Williams and Lisa LaFlamme, anchors for the network’s coverage of the 2012 London Olympics, for their principled stand during the July 27 opening ceremonies. Commemorating 40 years since the Munich Massacre, in which 11 Israeli athletes and coaches were murdered at the 1972 Olympics – something International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge has refused to do with a moment of silence at the opening event – Williams said the following as the Israeli athletes entered the stadium:
”My position is well known and it is one that I have taken in previous Olympics. It is wrong that the IOC refuses to have a minute’s silence for the Israeli athletes that were slaughtered in Munich. It is a much bigger issue this year, as it’s the 40th anniversary of Munich. Members of the Canadian government [and] yesterday our Governor General all called for a moment’s silence. Dr. Rogge says the ceremony is not the place to remember a tragic event, but it [was] tragic. It’s one of the most significant and world-changing events in Olympic history. It absolutely should have been done here. The IOC worries about politics? This event is political by its very nature.”
LaFlamme noted: “The widow of one of the victims spoke out saying ‘they came with dreams, they went home in coffins.’ They want to be remembered here tonight.”
“And remember,” Williams added, “they died as Olympians.”
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Last Tuesday, what seemed on the surface to be a small but important gesture from Egypt’s new president Mohammed Morsi to Israel almost immediately created a storm of controversy and confusion.
What’s at issue is whether Morsi, as first announced by Israeli President Shimon Peres’ office on July 31, actually sent a letter thanking Peres for his Ramadan greetings and expressing hope in renewing the peace process “in order to achieve security and stability for all peoples in the region, including [the] Israeli people.”
The letter, which came by fax to Peres’ office from Egypt’s embassy in Tel Aviv, bore the unsigned name and title of the Egyptian president. However, as soon as its contents became public (it was printed in the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot), Morsi’s spokesman Yasser Ali denounced the letter as fake and a “slander.”
The vehemence with which his denial came was especially disconcerting to Israeli officials, some of whom interpreted the letter as an encouraging sign that, even though the Egyptian president comes from the Muslim Brotherhood which is hostile to Israel, all might not be lost, as feared, in Egypt-Israel relations. (Those relations, after all, under the “friendly” former president Hosni Mubarak, were cold at the best of times.)
According to the Israeli media, the Egyptian embassy gave permission for Peres’ office to release the letter.
This led many journalists, both in Israel and abroad, to surmise that beyond the question of Egypt-Israel relations, what’s also at play here are internal Egyptian politics, in particular the dynamic unfolding between Morsi’s office and the military. Both are vying for power and control in a period of an unclear modus vivendi following the recent democratic elections (and limitations placed on those results by the army leadership).
A Cairo-based analyst who wishes to remain anonymous offered the following observations in a private exchange: “As to the truth of the letter, it’s clear to me that the letter is genuine – that it came from the Egyptian Embassy. The only question is whether Morsi approved it. I don’t have a clear answer on that. Among the possibilities: the Foreign Ministry is still in the hands of Mubarak-era people, and this would be a way to embarrass Morsi. Israeli diplomats are well received at the Foreign Ministry, Brotherhood or no Brotherhood. The other possibility is that Morsi’s people approved it verbally and kept plausible deniability for local consumption. Note the wording that refers to peace for the Israeli people, not for Israel. I don’t know which one it is, but I’m sure that Israel didn’t forge this, and neither did Yediot Achronot.”
Paul Michaels is director of research and senior media relations for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.