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NEW YORK—The Opening Ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics came and went July 27 without a minute of silence from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in honor of the 11 Israeli team members killed by Palestinian terrorists 40 years ago at the Munich Olympics.
However, that didn’t stop Jewish leaders from remembering the 1972 tragedy on their own way.
“Rather than give excuses for not pausing for a moment of silence at the London Olympics, it is morally correct to stop everything and remember the slain Israeli athletes,” Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis, told JNS.org.
“Standing together is important,” Potasnik continued. “It is the least we should do here. The history of the Olympic Committee is shameful, going back not only to 1972, but also to 1936 [when Hitler did not want Jews or blacks to participate in the Berlin Games]. With thousands of minutes available during the course of the 2012 games, how is it possible that not one could be found to memorialize the slain athletes? For the IOC to say ‘we are not political’ is insulting to the memory of the murdered Israelis as well as to any living, intelligent, human being.”
At the initiative of Potasnik, Consul General of Israel in New York Ido Aharoni, and Jewish Community Relations Council of New York Director Michael Miller, representatives of the New York metropolitan area’s Jewish community and its friends in many other communities gathered in Manhattan July 27 to observe a “Moment of Silence” and bear witness to the memory of the Munich victims.
Jews and non-Jews, African Americans, European Americans, and Asian Americans all stood together to denounce the forces of evil exhibited in the 1972 “Black September” attack and more recently, a bombing of a bus carrying Israelis in Bulgaria and the killing of 12 innocent moviegoers in a Colorado shooting.
U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) said “take time out to pray for the innocent... seek justice, not just for the Jewish community but for all mankind.” His congressional colleague Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) said the IOC’s refusal to acknowledge the anniversary of the Munich murders is a “continuation of a dishonorable tradition” and “a deliberate act of discrimination.”
New York State Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries said people are “incredibly disturbed by the inaction of the IOC and its failure to recognize the incredible sacrifice…The IOC’s refusal to authorize a moment of silence gives aid and comfort to terrorists.” He added the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., who said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Forty years after he escaped the terrorists’ bullets, Avraham Melamed—the Israelis’ unofficial swimming coach in 1972—recalled the heroism of wrestling coach Muni Weinberg, who perished diverting the terrorists away from members of the Israeli team, and asked that “the first Olympic battlefield” be properly commemorated “so it never happens again.” He asked that the request for the minute silence—which he called “a gentle peaceful and elegant way to learn from the past, improve the future, and commemorate the victims”—be granted.
Ilana Romano and Ankie Spitzer, the widows of two of the murdered Israeli team members, carried a petition signed by more than 100,000 people from around the world asking that the IOC grant the minute of silence.
Thomas Bach, vice president of the IOC, may have offered the most honest take on why the minute of silence did not come to fruition. He told Israel’s Channel 2 that the threat of Arab states boycotting the Opening Ceremony if there would have been an official minute of silence influenced the IOC’s decision. Such Arab boycotts “had been a possibility, according to some of our advice,” Bach said.
Jibril Rajoub, head of the Palestinian Olympic Committee, termed the request for a minute of silence “racism.” According to media watchdog Palestinian Media Watch (PMW), he addressed a letter to IOC President Jacques Rogge saying, “Sports are a bridge for love, communication and the spreading of peace between nations and should not be used for divisiveness and the spread of racism.”
Other reports revealed that while the IOC refused to honor the slain Israelis, it did include a tribute for victims of the 2005 London subway bombing. NBC edited out that segment for U.S. television viewers, replacing it with a taped interview with swimmer Michael Phelps.
“It’s almost unheard of for a nation to change Olympic Opening Ceremony protocol, and the IOC often uses that as one of its excuses to deny a moment of silence for the Israelis,” wrote Christine Brennan in an op-ed for USA Today. “But then it changed protocol for others.”
NBC sportscaster Bob Costas, however, recognized the murdered Israelis while current Israeli athletes walked around the Olympic stadium during the Opening Ceremony’s parade of nations.
“For many, tonight, with the world watching, is the true time and place to remember those who were lost, and how and why they died,” Costas said on air July 27.