By Aaron Blevins, 8/02/2012
Jewish leaders called for moment of silence at Olympic ceremony
Hours before the Olympics opened in London last Friday, officials across the Atlantic called for the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to honor the 40th anniversary of the 1972 Munich massacre with a moment of silence during the Games’ opening ceremonies.
While their request, which coincided with similar international efforts, went unanswered, officials in Los Angeles held their own moment of silence for the 11 Israeli athletes that were murdered by terrorists during the 1972 Summer Games in Munich.
“These athletes, like their colleagues from all over the world, went to the Olympics to represent the best of their country and the Olympic spirit,” David Siegel, the consul general of Israeli, said outside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. “They were targeted and slaughtered because they were Israelis and Jews.”
He said the IOC seems to be refusing to honor their memory for that same reason. Siegel referred to the terrorist attack as “one of the most ruthless, cowardly and appalling terrorist attacks at that time.”
“The International Olympic Committee’s refusal to observe a moment of silence on the 40th anniversary of the Munich massacre, despite having done so in other circumstances, is a shameful and offensive act of cowardice, and is a permanent stain on the IOC,” he added. “This is a double tragedy.”
On Sept. 5, 1972, masked gunmen from the Palestinian group Black September entered the Olympic Village in Munich, shot two athletes and took nine hostages, demanding the release of more than 200 prisoners held in Israeli jails. During a failed rescue operation on Sept. 6, the hostages were killed.
“We will remember them, we will commemorate them and we will not rest until the IOC fulfills its responsibilities,” Siegel said. “This is a press conference that shouldn’t have needed to take place.”
He added that, because the athletes were killed on Olympic grounds, they should also be commemorated on Olympic grounds. In 1984, when the Games were in Los Angeles, officials requested a moment of silence to pay tribute to the victims, but the IOC refused then as well, Siegel said.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, 3rd District, referenced the words of ABC sports correspondent Jim McKay, who broke the news of the Israeli athletes’ fate: “They’re gone.”
“It brings a chill to my spine 40 years later — to remember those words,” Yaroslavsky said.
He also mentioned the city’s attempts to erect a plaque in the Coliseum Court of Honor in conjunction with the opening of the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles. The IOC vetoed that attempt, so officials placed it at city hall until the Games were over, Yaroslavsky said, adding that the IOC wanted nothing to do with memorializing the athletes.
“What message does that send around the globe? One has to ask the question: Had it been British athletes or Argentinean athletes or Russian athletes, would those nations have to virtually beg to have their athletes remembered? I doubt it,” he said. “It’s not enough to just remember them. We need to fight the scourge of terrorism and de-humanization that is based on religion, national origin — any other category of human being. It’s a struggle and a fight that goes on to this very day, and I’m sorry to say, will go on beyond our lifetimes. Their deaths will not have been in vain if we remember them by acting, not just remembering.”
City Councilman Eric Garcetti, 13th District, authored a resolution calling on the IOC to honor the victims with a moment of silence. The resolution stated that the effort had the support of the White House, and that 100,000 people had signed a petition calling for the moment of silence.
Garcetti said the Games are a celebration that crosses ethnic and religious lines. He said that, when an athlete is determined to be the fastest runner on the planet, the entire world rejoices.
“The IOC must understand that we too, as human beings, come together at those times of tragedy,” Garcetti added. “As a Jew, as an Angeleno, as an Olympic fan, I’m appalled to see their behavior continue.”
Barry Sanders, the chairman of the Southern California Committee for the Olympic Games, recited several examples of the Olympic charter, including this passage: “The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.”
“This is why I support the Olympics, whatever its flaws, whatever its inability to adhere to these from time to time,” Sanders said, adding that this is what the Israeli athletes stood for. “They were great Olympians. …We honored their memory, and we always will.”
Judge Stephen Reinhardt, the secretary of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee for the 1984 Summer Games, likened the current refusal to the one the city heard almost 30 years ago.
“The plaque was designed to be a permanent installation here, and it will be a permanent installation [that] will commemorate the brave athletes who died for their country 40 years ago,” he said. “But ironically, the plaque stands at the physical marker of the Games that refused to pay them tribute. …I hope that I.O.C. will learn some day, that the bigotry, the prejudice that it has allowed to dominate the Games must change.”
Guri Weinberg, whose father, Moshe, was killed in the attacks, said he was thankful for those supporting the effort to have the IOC recognize the victims in the opening ceremonies. He also recited the words to the famous statement, “First they came…”
“There [are] absolutely no words that can express my appreciation,” Weinberg said.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, praised the efforts of Moshe Weinberg, who saved several lives by holding a terrorist at bay, enabling several others to escape.
“Guri’s dad, Moshe, was not only a victim, he was a hero,” Cooper said.
The rabbi then chanted a memorial prayer in Hebrew and English, calling out the names of the deceased: David Berger, Ze’ev Friedman, Eliezer Halfin, Amitzur Shapira, Kehat Shorr, Mark Slavin, Andrei Spitzer, Yakov Springer, Yossef Romano, Yossef Gutfreund and Moshe Weinberg.
With Guri Weinberg, Cooper lit a memorial flame, and the audience observed a moment of silence as cameras clicked and seagulls chirped quietly overhead.
“May their resting place be in the Garden of Eden,” Cooper said.
In response, the IOC said its president, Jacques Rogge, paid tribute to the victims during the unveiling of the Olympic Truce Wall in the Olympic Village on July 23. Representatives also said there will be a full commemorative service in London on Aug. 6.
Further, the organization will be represented at a memorial service at a military airport to remember the 40th anniversary of the tragedy on Sept. 5, on the anniversary of the incident.
“The IOC has paid tribute to the memory of the Israeli team members who tragically died in Munich in 1972 on several occasions and will continue to do so,” the statement reads. “The memory of the victims of the greatest tragedy in Olympic history is not fading away and will not be forgotten by the IOC.”
The organization also referenced the memorial service on Sept. 6, 1972, other past events and annual remembrance ceremonies.
However, the office of the Consul General of Israel and the families of the victims have asked for a moment of silence during the opening ceremonies, when the entire world is watching. While the IOC has said that the opening ceremonies are an inappropriate place for a moment of silence, the organization observed such a moment for those lost in the 2005 bombing of the London subway during the opening of the 2012 Games, according to the consul general’s office.