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Editorial: A Moment of Silence Is All We Ask

[by Matt Goldberg]
Director, Jewish Community Relations Council

It has been 40 years since the world stopped during the Olympic celebration in Munich that turned into a nightmare when Palestinian terrorists burst into the rooms of 11 Israeli athletes, taking them hostage; and 40 years since the failed rescue attempt that led to the terrorists murdering them.

Israel was a nation in shock after this incident, as was much of the world, and, despite the sense of horror at these games, the events actually continued.

For 40 years, there has not been a sufficient memorial response to this tragedy. This year, at the Olympics, it seemed like the perfect time to remember and reflect.

For quite a while, there has been an expectation that at the opening ceremony of the London games, a minute of silence marking this horrible anniversary would be announced by the leadership of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), thus giving the entire world an opportunity to honor the victims for a moment. However, the IOC has steadfastly refused to make it a part of the opening ceremonies of the games.

In the past, Olympics officials have attended private Israeli or Jewish ceremonies marking the tragedy, but other than the day after the murders themselves, the IOC has not held a commemoration of its own of the Munich massacre. That pattern was followed this year as well. There was a separate ceremony on Monday, July 23, in the Olympic village marking this anniversary. IOC President Jacques Rogge attended, along with with many athletes and even Israeli government officials.

The widow of one of the murdered athletes has called this separate ceremony grossly insufficient, and is still calling for an acknowledgement during the opening ceremonies, a call that will fall apparently on deaf ears.

President Obama recently joined a chorus of world leaders (including the leadership of Germany, Australia, and Belgium) in asking that the Olympic committee reconsider and have this minute of silence at the opening ceremonies. Bob Costas, who will be the lead announcer for the opening ceremonies in this country, is baffled by the decision and is planning on calling out the IOC on air and having his own minute of silence as the Israeli athletes enter the stadium.

A minute of silence is not only acceptable, it is necessary. The whole world will be watching these ceremonies, a condition not in place during the separate ceremony in the village no matter how appropriate and solemn it might be. The whole world must be forced to confront this and reaffirm that acts of terror are to be condemned always everywhere.

The campaign for an official commemoration at the 2012 Games was born when Steve Gold and a few other volunteers at the Rockland County JCC in suburban New York decided to dedicate the Maccabi Games they were hosting to the murdered Israelis.

One of them knew Ankie Spitzer, wife of Andrei Spitzer, an Israeli fencing coach killed in the attack, and asked her to record a video promoting a petition for an official IOC moment of silence.

The petition was launched, and since April the signatures – and news stories about the effort – quickly mounted. By July 23, some 104,000 people had signed on to the petition.

Lets hope, no matter whether or not the IOC ultimately decides to commemorate the murders at the opening ceremony (and at this point it looks like there will be no commemoration), this incident will never be forgotten and certainly never be repeated.

Editor’s note: Some of the information in this story came from a JTA story by Neil Rubin.

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