The newly elected president of the International Olympic Committee heads a German-based organization that helps companies to guarantee that their products do not contain anything from Israel.
Thomas Bach, a German who was elected Tuesday for an initial eight-year term at an IOC session in Buenos Aires, is chairman of Ghorfa, the Arab-German Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which was set up in the 1970s by Arab countries to boycott trade with Israel.
“It betrays the principles of sportsmanship and fair play for the IOC to be headed by someone who actively participates in ongoing Israel boycott campaign measures,” said Deidre Berger, director of the American Jewish Committee Berlin Ramer Institute.
Ghorfa helps German companies ensure that products meet the import requirements of Arab governments, some of which ban products and services from Israel.
The group continues to issue certificates of German origin for trade with Arab countries. Its earlier practice of certificates verifying that no product parts were produced in Israel stopped in the early 1990s when Germany enacted trade regulations forbidding the use of certificates of origin to enable de facto trade boycotts, according to the AJC.
The Guardian said Bach had long coveted the presidency, and “ran a sophisticated lobbying campaign in which the Kuwaiti Sheikh Ahmad al-Sabah played a controversial role.” It said al-Sabah, an influential figure in IOC circles, “admitted to lobbying on Bach’s behalf in a breach of the IOC’s rules.”
Bach, 59, who most recently served as IOC vice president, won a fencing gold medal in the team foil in 1976 before entering sports marketing and politics. He supported the refusal of the IOC, led by Jacques Rogge, to hold a moment of silence during the 2012 Summer Olympics for the 40th anniversary of the murder of 11 members of the Israeli athletics delegation by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Munich Games.
Bach’s candidacy for one of the most powerful jobs in world sport came under criticism in Germany in past weeks because it was strongly supported by Arab leaders. But Charlotte Knobloch, president of the Jewish Community of Bavaria and former head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said in a statement that Bach “stands for central values such as tolerance, fairness — sportsmanship in the best sense of the word — and cosmopolitanism.”
Nine new IOC members also were elected Tuesday, including Bernard Rajzman, a Brazilian Jew. Rajzman, a native of Rio de Janeiro, where the 2016 Summer Olympics will be held, won one gold and one silver medal in volleyball. He is the president of Brazil’s National Commission of Athletes and a state congressman.
At last summer’s Olympics, the widows of Israeli athletes killed in the Munich games led a chorus of bitter attacks on Bach’s predecessor Rogge over his refusal to allow a minute of silence at the opening ceremony.
“Sometimes I wonder if I’m the only person left who still believes in Olympic ideals,” Ankie Spitzer told an audience at a London memorial ceremony, which included Rogge. “Is the IOC only interested in power, money and politics?”
“Shame on you, IOC,” said Spitzer, who was married to fencing coach Andre Spitzer. “You have forsaken the 11 members of your Olympic family. You are against them only because they are Israelis and Jews.”
Ilana Romano, widow of weightlifter Yossef Romano, told Rogge to a standing ovation at the same event in August 2012 that “today, you submitted to terrorism.
“You will be written down on the pages of history as a former athlete who became a president who violated the Olympic charter that calls for brotherhood, friendship and peace.”
The widows’ campaign for a minute of silence at the opening ceremony to mark the 40th anniversary of the 1972 attack, gained more than 111,000 signatures from over 100 countries, and attracted support from US President Barack Obama and other world leaders. However, Rogge refused to allow the memorial to go ahead.
Around 600 people attended the London service, which was organized by National Olympic Committee of Israel, the Jewish Committee for the London Games and the Israeli embassy in London. Guests included British Prime Minister David Cameron, London Mayor Boris Johnson, Israeli Minister of Culture and Sport Limor Livnat and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.
Rogge, who spoke before the Munich widows, did not refer to the Munich minute of silence. He said that “we are all here today because we share the duty of remembering the victims and to make sure the lessons of 1972 are never forgotten… We are here to speak with one voice against terrorism. There is no justification for terrorism, ever.”
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.