International support is growing for a moment of silence at the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games to honor the memories of the 11 Israeli athletes who were murdered by Palestinian terrorists on the final day of the games 40 years ago. The committee that runs the quadrennial event, however, continues to turn a deaf ear to the pleas. The Olympics begin in London on July 27.
Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), said several times in the last few months that such a tribute has no place at the games themselves. Nonetheless, “within the Olympic family, the memory of the victims of the terrible massacre in Munich in 1972 will never fade away,” he wrote in a letter on May 1 rejecting the request.
According to several reports by the British Broadcasting Company and other outlets, the IOC believes that memorials to the Munich 11, as the slain athletes often are called, are best left to off-site commemorations that will not offend Muslim states.
This belief is not shared in many capitals throughout the world. Significantly, late last week, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle added his country’s voice to the effort. In a letter to Rogge, Westerwelle underscored the fact that the Munich massacre took place in his country. “This tragic terrorist attack in my country was directed not only at the Israeli Olympic team,” he wrote. “It was also an attack on the Olympic Games and the Olympic idea of promoting peace and friendship among the nations.”
Another significant voice in favor of the moment of silence was that of the sports minister of Belgium’s semi-autonomous Flemish region, which includes Rogge’s hometown of Ghent. In a mid-June letter to Joods Actueel, Belgium’s main Jewish publication, Philippe Muyters, the Flemish sports minister, wrote, “One does not need to take a stand on the Israeli-Palestinian question to find the events of September 1972 heinous.”
Halfway around the world, in late June Australia’s parliament unanimously backed a motion supporting the call for a moment of silence. It was proposed by Liberal lawmaker Paul Fletcher, who said the impact of the killings “has been seared on world consciousness.”
Joshua Frydenberg, the only Jewish federal lawmaker in the opposition Liberal Party, seconded the motion. “Only by remembering this tragedy can we impart the message that it must never happen again,” he said.
Michael Danby, a Jewish lawmaker for the governing Labor Party, blasted the IOC’s intransigence. “Perhaps their reluctance to acknowledge the 40th anniversary of the massacre is not simply a desire to kowtow to the Organization of the Islamic States,” he added. “Perhaps they don’t want people to remember their incompetence.”
The nonbinding Australian resolution came in the wake of a similar one passed by Canada’s parliament.
“Given the impact of this tragedy, on the Olympic community as a whole and the world, it should be marked publicly,” the Canadian foreign minister, John Baird, wrote in a letter to the IOC after the unanimous vote in the House of Commons.
In the United States, the Senate last week unanimously passed its own bipartisan resolution, which was introduced by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). Reps. Eliot Engel and Nita Lowey (both D-N.Y.) introduced a similar one in the House of Representatives. Although it was passed unanimously by the Foreign Affairs Committee on June 7, the House leadership has yet to bring the measure to the floor for a vote.
Perhaps the most interesting group of supporters of the measure is made up of students at the Catholic University of America. The group wrote to Rogge last December and followed that with a YouTube video urging viewers to sign the petition in favor of the moment of silence. CUA President John Garvey recently supported the students’ letter in his own letter to the IOC officials.
“This is not about politics, this is not even about religion,” said one of the students who appeared in the YouTube video. “This is about 11 victims who lost their lives by an act of terror.”
The IOC does have its supporters, as well. Among them, most notably, is Jeremy Hunt, Britain’s secretary for sports. Although more than 50 British members of Parliament signed a motion calling for a moment’s silence, Hunt said last week through a spokesman that he will not support the move because the decision “lies with the IOC,” a spokesman for Hunt told the weekly London Jewish Chronicle newspaper. The spokesman added that Hunt will represent the government at a private ceremony Aug. 6 at the Guildhall, “which is a joint initiative between the Israeli embassy, the Israeli National Olympic Committee, and the Jewish community,” the newspaper reported.
The IOC also will attend. A spokesman told the BBC last week that the Guildhall event was “the most appropriate way to pay tribute to the athletes.”
Ankie Spitzer, widow of murdered Israeli fencer Andrei Spitzer, who is spearheading the effort for the moment of silence, disagrees. She called the Guildhall event a “way out” for the Olympic organizers, according to the Jewish Chronicle. “It means the event doesn’t have to be in the Olympic Village, or during the opening ceremony, so it will let them off the hook,” she is reported to have said.
Perhaps the strangest supporter of the IOC’s position is Alex Giladi, Israel’s representative to the games’ governing body. The daily newspaper Maariv quoted Giladi as saying that the timing for such a commemoration was not right.
This article contains information from various news sources, including JTA.