Subscribe to Print Edition | Wed., August 13, 2008 Av 12, 5768 | | Israel Time: 01:53 (EST+7)
Haaretz israel news English
  Back to Homepage
Rosner's Domain
Defense Jewish World Opinion National
Print Edition
Car Rental
Books Haaretz Magazine Business Real Estate Easy Start Travel Week's End Anglo File
Last update - 16:19 09/08/2008
Why Grandpa boycotted the Olympics
By Saul Newman
Tags: Olympics, Boycott

My father often spoke of the day my grandfather, Rabbi Louis I. Newman, brought the legendary Yankees player Lou Gehrig to speak to the children of the Temple Rodeph Sholom Sunday school in New York. Knowing what a passionate sports fan my grandfather was, I can imagine the great pleasure he must have derived from that experience. For the same reason, I can imagine how difficult it must have been for him to take up the mantle of calling for a U.S. boycott of the 1936 Olympics in Germany.

In the lead-up to today's opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics, I have been thinking a lot about my grandfather's role in the 1936 boycott movement. One can catch a glimpse of his steely personality in a photograph that appears in the current exhibit about the 1936 Games at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. There he is, on the speakers platform at an Olympic boycott rally in the 1930s, ready to fight the good fight, even when it meant clashing with one of his true loves, the world of sports.

The International Olympic Committee awarded the 1936 games to Germany prior to the rise of Adolf Hitler. But even after the Nazis came to power and began persecuting Germany's Jews, the IOC refused to move the games. It argued that sports and politics should not be mixed, and it accepted at face value Hitler's promise to allow Jewish athletes onto the German teams.
A number of prominent Americans urged a boycott of the Games. The boycotters included not only Jewish leaders such as my grandfather, but also some members of Congress, as well as organizations such as the Catholic War Veterans and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). They argued that participation in the Berlin Olympics would help legitimize the Hitler regime, and that the Nazis would exploit the games to improve their international image and divert the world's attention away from their human rights violations.

Very few American athletes joined the boycott, according to new research by Rafael Medoff, of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies. It's not easy to sacrifice something for which you have been training for years, perhaps your entire life. Still, it's regrettable that the names of those who stayed away have been forgotten, amid the understandable attention showered upon Jesse Owens, the African-American track star whose Olympic victories showed up Hitler's theory of Aryan racial superiority. (Owens' Jewish teammate Marty Glickman traveled to Berlin, but was pulled from the 4x100 meter relay race by the coaches of the U.S. track team to please their Nazi hosts.)

One can hear echoes of the arguments of the 1930s in today's debates regarding China's policies. For all the differences between modern China and 1930s Germany, the fact is that by suppressing the people of Tibet and those who wish to promote democratic ideals and human rights in China, supporting the government that is perpetrating genocide in Sudan, and helping Syria build nuclear weapons sites, Beijing has given its critics ample reason to protest.

Some advocate quiet diplomacy, or business as usual; they say that criticism will only provoke the Chinese to dig in their heels. On the other hand, Hollywood figures such as Mia Farrow and Steven Spielberg, and journalists such as Nicholas Kristof and Nat Hentoff, have energetically sought to draw attention to China's outrageous policies. Joey Cheek, a 2006 Olympic gold medalist in speed skating, helped create Team Darfur to generate criticism of Beijing from within the sports world. For his efforts, his visa to attend the games was revoked by the Chinese government the day before he was to leave for Beijing.

If my grandfather were alive today, he might have gone further and urged a boycott of the Games, as he did in 1936. My guess is that he would have rejected the "don't mix sports with politics" argument, on the grounds that it is Beijing that is doing the mixing, by asking the nations of the world to treat it like a freedom-loving regime when its policies reflect the opposite.

Reasonable people have differed on the question of whether a boycott of these Games is the most effective tactic. But by now, the lesson we have learned is that silence is not effective. In order to be granted the Games, China made commitments to freedom of information and human rights that it has not fulfilled. Inside China there are many activists yearning for greater freedoms and they need to know that we stand with them precisely at this time when the world, and the Chinese government, is watching. China's tremendous economic growth in the past decade means that the social preconditions for democratization are falling into place. A few well-chosen words while the whole world is watching could show symbolic support for the freedom of one-fifth of the world's population.

Earlier this year, a number of world leaders said they were considering staying away from the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics, to protest Chinese actions in Darfur and elsewhere. This would have been a symbolic protest, to be sure, but certainly appropriate. Symbols are important, both to the Chinese government and those who resist their policies. As the Games drew closer, however, most leaders, including President George W. Bush, decided to attend the opening. The most prominent international leader to boycott the opening ceremony is German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Surely, Germany understands the implications of international silence. The rest of the freedom-loving world would do well to learn from the past, too.

Prof. Saul Newman teaches political science in the Department of Government at American University.
Bookmark to  
An astounding 'no'
Palestinians reject PM's offer to return 93% of West Bank, calling it a 'waste of time.'
No friend of ours
Iranian VP gets summoned by parliament for saying Iran is a friend of Israel's.
  1.   boycott 00:46  |  aj 13/08/08
 Read & React
Olmert gives Abbas plan for Israeli pullout from 93% of W. Bank
Responses: 311
Aluf Benn: Hamas could still turn Gaza into the Taiwan of the Mideast
Responses: 41
Editorial: IDF is prepared to turn blind eye to illegal shooting of bound Palestinian
Responses: 56
Iranian VP summoned by parliament after saying Iran is a friend of Israel, U.S.
Responses: 20
Moshe Arens: Iran has blinded Israeli leaders to Hamas, Hezbollah threat
Responses: 23

More Headlines
00:21 Barak: Dedicate each day of Gaza calm to freeing Shalit
01:21 Georgia agrees to modified France's modified peace proposal
00:37 Israeli journalist seriously hurt while covering Georgia clashes
22:10 'We've reached a safe haven,' say Israelis returning from Georgia
01:31 Dichter joins Kadima race, fires opening salvos at Mofaz, Livni
20:54 Iranian VP summoned by parliament after saying Iran a friend of Israel, U.S.
21:41 'Zohan' actor Rob Schneider learns to haggle at Jaffa flea market
08:14 Haaretz newsletter: All the news from Israel direct to your inbox
16:32 PA rejects Olmert's offer to withdraw from 93% of West Bank
20:59 Beijing Olympics / Tennis hopes dashed as Israeli swimmers break records
23:12 Syria's top cleric: Middle East peace starts in Syria
17:01 Bar-On's 2009 budget proposal: More money for defense, welfare, education
15:01 Israel grants war vet status to woman raped by British troops in Mandate Palestine
22:03 Government to move illegal outpost Migron to existing settlement
Previous Editions
Special Offers
Fattal Hotel Chain
Perfectly located hotels on best resorts of Israel.
Isaac Maimon at Dreamshoppe
Special summer sale. Make an offer now. You will be surprised.
MBA in Israel in English
APPLY NOW! Limited spaces available
Israel's Premier Real Estate Website
Yossi Avrahami Presents:
New Luxurious Projects in North Tel Aviv & Eilat
Your vacation starts here
Israel Travel Center Guaranteed Lowest Rates
Hebrew Summer courses
From $39.95
Israel bonds - a multi-purpose way to celebrate Israel's 60th
Eldan Rent a Car
Israel's leading car rental company offers you a 20% discount on all online reservations
Junk a car - get free towing nationwide and a tax-deductible receipt
Home | TV | Print Edition | Diplomacy | Opinion | Arts & Leisure | Sports | Jewish World | Underground | Site rules |
Real Estate in Israel | Travel to Israel with Haaretz | Hotels Israel | Restaurants Israel | Tourist attractions Israel | Shops Israel
birthright Israel | Search engine marketing, the online edition of Haaretz Newspaper in Israel, offers real-time breaking news, opinions and analysis from Israel and the Middle East. provides extensive and in-depth coverage of Israel, the Jewish World and the Middle East, including defense, diplomacy, the Arab-Israeli conflict, the peace process, Israeli politics, Jerusalem affairs, international relations, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the Israeli business world and Jewish life in Israel and the Diaspora.
© Copyright  Haaretz. All rights reserved