A View From Israel: Just one minute

Forty years of silence can be reversed in one minute. If only the International Olympic Committee would care.

London Olympics 2012 logo (photo credit: Reuters)
London Olympics 2012 logo
(photo credit: Reuters)
Israel has competed at the Olympic Games since 1952. Forty years later, in 1992, Israeli athletes won, for the first time, the silver and bronze medals and Israel has since gone on to win a total of seven medals, including a gold by Gal Fridman in the 2004 sailing competition in Athens.
But this year, the number 40 has special significance for a different reason.
Israel’s participation and success in the Olympic games has remained overshadowed by the Munich Massacre in which 11 Israeli athletes were murdered by members of the Black September terrorist group during the 1972 Olympics – 40 years ago.
And the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has never held an official memorial service in their memory.
Ankie Spitzer, the widow of murdered athlete Andrei Spitzer, and Ilana Romano, the widow of murdered athlete Yossef Romano, have been trying for years to convince the IOC to honor the dead in a minute of silence.
Teaming up in 2010 with the Jewish Community Center of Rockland, New York, they have doubled their efforts and are now leading a campaign through the website munich11.org to get 100,000 people to sign a petition.
Spitzer writes, “Silence is a fitting tribute for athletes who lost their lives on the Olympic stage. Silence contains no statements, assumptions or beliefs and requires no understanding of language to interpret.”
In a parallel but unrelated effort to help raise awareness, students from the Catholic University of America have taken action and created a YouTube video in which they declare their support for one minute of silence at the 2012 London Olympics.
A student tells viewers, “As a generation of young people affected by the September 11 attacks, we feel it is important to raise awareness and to stand in solidarity with victims of terrorism anywhere.”
Another student says, “It is our charge, our call, to reach out to others... to promote values of respect and justice throughout the world, and I think the Olympics share those ideals.”
And another student says, “In the 40 years since this massacre occurred, the International Olympic Committee has failed to properly memorialize this event. It is important that we remember and we learn from this tragedy as a global community – send a message that we stand together in solidarity with all of the victims of violence and terror, whoever and wherever they may be.”
And the best place to do that is at the Olympics.
Aside from grassroots campaigns, governments have taken up the cause as well.
The American, Canadian and Australian parliaments have all passed a resolution calling on the IOC to hold a minute’s silence.
As reported by JTA, the US Senate unanimously passed a resolution on Monday urging the IOC to observe a moment of silence at the 2012 London Olympics for the Munich 11.
A similar resolution introduced in the US House of Representatives by Reps. Eliot Engel (D-NY) and Nita Lowey (D-NY) was passed unanimously by the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “We are not persuaded by arguments articulated by members of the IOC and others that a minute of silence would politicize the Olympic Games or risk alienating countries that have disagreements with Israel,” Engel and Lowey said.
THE ROLE of the IOC, according to the Olympic Charter on its website, includes:
• To encourage and support the promotion of ethics in sport as well as education of youth through sport and to dedicate its efforts to ensuring that, in sport, the spirit of fair play prevails and violence is banned;
• To cooperate with the competent public or private organisations and authorities in the endeavour to place sport at the service of humanity and thereby to promote peace;
• To act against any form of discrimination affecting the Olympic Movement;
• To oppose any political or commercial abuse of sport and athletes;
• To promote a positive legacy from the Olympic Games to the host cities and host countries;
• To encourage and support initiatives blending sport with culture and education.
AS EXPLAINED in an editorial in this paper last month, the horror of the Munich tragedy was amplified by the fact that the terrorists ruthlessly exploited an atmosphere of mutual brotherhood and peace among the nations that is at the heart of the Olympic Games.
Their actions went completely against the values in the charter and a minute of silence at the games next month would reinforce these values.
But the IOC has rejected the ongoing worldwide petition seeking a moment of silence at the London Games.
While it has, over the years, attended side events memorializing the murdered athletes, the IOC has never made it an official part of the Olympic ceremonies.
Last month, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon asked the IOC in an official letter to commemorate those killed on the 40th anniversary of their deaths. This was the first time the government of Israel has ever made a formal request concerning this issue.
But in his written response, IOC President Jacques Rogge did not specifically address the request of a minute’s silence.
Ayalon said, “The terrorist murders of the Israeli athletes were not just an attack on people because of their nationality and religion; it was an attack on the Olympic Games and the international community.
“This rejection told us as Israelis that this tragedy is ours alone and not a tragedy within the family of nations,” he added. “This is a very disappointing approach and we hope that this decision will be overturned so the international community as one can remember, reflect and learn the appropriate lesson from this dark stain on Olympic history.”
Forty years of silence can be reversed in one minute. If only the IOC would care.