Forty-eight hours before the start of the Olympic Games in London, a coalition of Jewish leaders made a last-minute appeal for a moment of silence in memory of the 11 Israeli athletes murdered by Palestinians in Munich 40 years ago.
In a July 25 conference call with reporters arranged by the Jewish Federations of North America, community activists joined three members of Congress in urging Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee, to reverse a decision against allowing a tribute to the fallen athletes during the games’ opening ceremony.
The participants agreed that a tribute by Rogge held July 23, before 100 audience members at the athletes’ village, was an inadequate homage to the victims.
William Daroff, JFNA’s vice president for public policy, said Rogge’s gesture “is not enough. It is clear there is a need for a larger moment to reflect that the world can participate in.”
Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) said “a minute of silence would be a reminder that we must be constantly vigilant against prejudice, hatred, and intolerance.” She launched a congressional drive to press for such a moment. “It is our hope that the IOC has a last-minute change of heart so that the opening ceremonies include a tribute to the victims and their families on this important anniversary.”
During the ceremony at the athletes’ village, Rogge paid homage to the Israelis, saying, “We owe it to them to keep the spirit [of peace and solidarity] alive and to remember them.”
But the IOC president has refused to allow a similar tribute during the opening ceremony on July 27, saying the opening ceremony “is an atmosphere that is not fit to remember such a tragic incident.”
For those of the IOC who say, ‘This is political, that we don't want to have politics in the Olympic Games,’ I would say the opposite,” argued Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) in the conference call. “It is political not to have a moment of silence. If this were any other nation but Israel, there would have been a moment of silence a long time ago. This is a moment of decency…. If it doesn't happen, shame on the International Olympic Committee.”
Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) said, “The fact that the IOC will not take one moment while the eyes of the world are watching flies in the face of the very spirit of fraternity the Olympic Games represent.”
Lenny Krayzelberg, a Jewish-American swimmer who won gold medals at the 2000 and 2004 Olympics, also joined the call, saying he represented “the voice of an exclusive worldwide fraternity” of athletes.
“We can all understand and relate to this,” he said. “When we walk through the Olympic Village there is no politics involved. There is freedom. There is understanding. There is camaraderie, no matter what country you are from. That peace was forever interrupted on Sept. 5, 1972.”
Beyond saluting the Israelis who died that day, Krayzelberg — who has coached swimming at New Jersey Y camps and at the JCCs in Whippany and Scotch Plains — said it was important “to recognize the Olympians who were killed. All the Olympians who ever took part in the Olympic Games will certainly understand and appreciate the moment and the respect to those who were killed in 1972.”
Daroff also voiced appreciation for Bob Costas, the NBC sportscaster who said he would “call out” the IOC on the issue as the on-air host of the games. NBC executives said a final decision has not yet been made on whether he will be permitted to do so.
“We are grateful to him for that desire,” said Daroff, calling Costas “a man of conscience. Certainly he has to work through whatever issues he has with his employer. We encourage him to follow through, and we encourage NBC to do the right thing.”
The movement to encourage the minute of silence began with an on-line petition drive led by members of the Rockland County, NY, JCC.
Steve Gold, its vice president, chairs the Minute of Silence Munich 11 Petition.
“No one understands why the IOC said no,” he said on the conference call. “Maybe the real reason that no one is saying is because they were Israelis. We hope that is not the reason, but after 40 years and so many different excuses, what else could it be?”
Gold said Ankie Spitzer, the widow of the slain Israeli coach Andre Spitzer, has been working for 40 years to have the Olympians’ deaths memorialized.
“One year, president Rogge said his hands were tied,” Gold said. “Ankie Spitzer’s rebuttal was, ‘Your hands aren’t tied. My husband’s hands were tied and so were his feet when he was murdered.’”
Meanwhile, widows of the Israelis murdered at the Munich Olympics are asking the crowd at the opening ceremonies of the London Games to stand for a minute of silence, regardless of whether the IOC recognizes it.