Jeremy Corbyn is under fire for attending a tribute to two of the architects of the 1972 Munich murders, when 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team and a West German police officer were kidnapped and killed.
The attack – carried out by Black September, a terrorist organisation whose relationship with the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) is still fiercely contested by historians – saw five coaches and four athletes kidnapped, with Black September demanding the release of 234 Palestinian prisoners by Israel as well as the release of by founders of the German terrorist organisation Baader-Meinhof by West Germany, in exchange for the lives of the nine prisoners. (Moshe Weinberg, one of the team’s coaches, was killed during the hostage-taking, as was one of the athletes, Yossef Romano, who was shot and castrated, his body left on display in the room where the remaining nine athletes were imprisoned.)
The West German authorities attempted a rescue attempt, but the result was a disaster in which members of the West German police force unilaterally abandoned their part in the operation, leaving the West German “snipers” – many of whom had no specialist training and all of whom had no specialist equipment – to attempt the rescue alone. All of the eight remaining hostages died: four, in addition to a West German police officer, were deliberately killed by members of Black September, while the remaining four were killed in the crossfire. Five members of Black September were killed and three were captured.
Adding to the bad feeling around West Germany’s botched handling of the kidnapping, the three surviving terrorists were released by the West German government the following month, in October 1972, as part of demands made during the hijacking of Lufthansa Flight 615.
In response, Israel’s prime minister, Golda Meir, authorised a bombing raid on PLO facilities in Lebanon, which killed at least 90 members of the PLO and four civilians, and initiated Operation Wrath of God, a programme of assassinations by Mossad, the Israeli secret service, which targeted surviving members of Black September, including the three who were directly involved in the attacks. The operation went on for more than two decades, and one of its casualties was Atef Bseiso, an architect of the Munich kidnapping, who was killed in Paris in 1992 by Mossad agents.
Corbyn has now admitted that he was present at a laying of a wreath in memory of those killed in 1992, saying that he wanted a “fitting memorial to everyone who has died in every terrorist incident everywhere”, and calling for an end to the “cycle of violence…the only way you pursue pace is a cycle of dialogue”.
That line will enrage many of his critics because it equates Mossad’s response to a terrorist atrocity with a terrorist atrocity itself. But to his supporters in the press and in parliament it will come as a relief, because it takes the debate away from an area they are uncomfortable – the changing stories about the event over the last four days – and into one they are comfortable with – the conduct of the Israeli military in response to threats against Israel.