Just one minute! That’s all Israel is asking for. Just one minute of silence at the London Olympics to commemorate the 11 members of the Israeli team murdered by terrorists at the ’72 Munich Olympics. But this simple request has been rejected by the International Olympics Committee (IOC).
In September 1972, eight members of Yasser Arafat’s notorious Black September terror group broke into the athletes village in Munich and attacked the Israelis.
Two of the athletes were immediately killed and nine were taken hostage. They were executed by the Palestinian terrorists after the German police bungled a rescue attempt. All of this was covered by the international media.
Willi Daume, president of the Munich Olympics Organizing Committee requested the IOC to cancel the remainder of the Games as a symbol of respect to the murdered Israelis. But IOC President at that time, Avery Brundage, refused. An American Nazi sympathizer, Brundage, who only a year earlier declared that Hitler’s 1936 Berlin Games were “the finest in modern history” — insisted that “the Games must go on.” And so they did.
The families of the 11 murdered Israeli athletes, led by Ankie Spitzer and Illana Romano (the widows of fencing coach Andre Spitzer and weightlifter Yossef Romano, respectively) have requested a minute of silence at the opening ceremony of each Olympics since the ’76 Montreal Games. Just a minute of silence to convey respect and to promote peace. Each time though, their request has been turned down by the IOC.
This year, which marks the 40th anniversary of the Munich Massacre, Ankie and Ilana have started an internet petition, noting that a minute of silence “is a fitting tribute for athletes who lost their lives on the Olympic stage. Moreover, [it will] “clearly say to the world that what happened in 1972 can never happen again.”
Ankie’s and Illana’s persistent fight has now been taken up by Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, who made a formal request to the IOC to hold a minute’s silence to commemorate the slain Israeli athletes, that will send an unequivocal and public message to the world that the IOC stands against hatred and violence.
This was the first time the Government of Israel has made a formal request to the IOC to hold a minute’s silence to remember and remind the world of the 1972 massacre. But Israel’s request was promptly denied.
In his response to Ayalon last week, IOC President Jacques Rogge justified his rejection, saying that the IOC had already “officially paid tribute to the memory of the athletes on several occasions.” Yet, the record shows that the IOC has never held an official public commemoration.
Rogge adds that “[p]lease rest assured that, within the Olympic family, the memory of the victims of the terrible massacre in 1972 will never fade away” and that the IOC “strongly sympathise with the victims’ families.” His actions, however, show no sympathy and a biased attitude toward Israel.
Only two years ago, during the Vancouver Olympics, the IOC held a public minute of silence during the opening ceremony for Georgian luge racer Nodar Kumaritashvili, who died in a tragic training accident only days prior to the start of the Games. Rogge himself presided over the tribute.
Calling Rogge’s response “very disappointing” and “unacceptable,” Ayalon has refused to let the issue rest and has turned to social media to campaign for the reversal of the IOC decision.
Under the banner “Just One Minute,” Ayalon has released a one minute video — the same amount of time Israel is seeking from the IOC to “stop and remember.” He has also created a facebook page, urged people to sign Spitzer & Romano’s petition and started a twitter trend under the hashtag #justoneminute.
Ayalon’s campaign appears to be gathering public support around the world. In the U.S., House Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen has released a statement, and Congressman Eliot Engel and Congresswoman Nita Lowey have introduced a House Resolution calling on the IOC to commemorate the Munich 11 during the London Games opening ceremony. A similar motion has been filed in the British Parliament.
The eleven athletes were murdered in Munich specifically because they were Israelis. But, the IOC and Jacques Rogge have refused to acknowledge that this was also an assault on the very embodiment of the Olympic spirit — “to building a peaceful and better world by educating young people through sport practiced without discrimination.”
This was not only an Israeli tragedy, but as Danny Ayalon noted, a tragedy “within the family of nations.” Ayalon further argued that keeping a minute of silence to commemorate the slain Israelis is the basic obligation of the Olympic community towards its athletes.
With an official slogan “Inspire a Generation,” one would hope that the inspiration from the London Olympics would lead to less violence and more peace.
The 2012 Olympics will last seventeen days. That is 408 hours and 24,480 minutes. If the IOC is serious about taking a stand against hatred and terrorism and respecting the memory of the slain Israeli athletes, it must incorporate “just one minute” into the opening ceremony.
Follow Arsen Ostrovsky on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@ArsenOstrovsky