Clinton tells IOC: Hold memorial for Murdered Israeli Olympians

U.S. Sec. of St. joins int’l calls on Olympic Committee to honor slain Israeli athletes when games open on Friday • Athletes’ widows meet with chief to hand over petition, & call on spectators to stage silent protest at opening ceremony.



U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is calling on the International Olympic Committee to commemorate the massacre of 11 Israelis by Palestinian gunmen at the Munich Games in 1972 with a moment of silence at Friday’s opening ceremony of this year’s games in London.

Ankie Spitzer, widow of an Israeli Olympian killed by Palestinian gunmen in 1972 Munich Olympics: We are outraged, we are angry, we are sad.
Photo credit: AP

A senior State Department official said Wednesday that Clinton wrote to IOC President Jacques Rogge to ask the committee to hold an “appropriate memorial event” in London for the victims, after the committee repeatedly rejected such pleas from Israel and other bodies on the grounds that the opening ceremony “is an atmosphere that is not fit to remember such a tragic incident.”

Also Wednesday, the widows of two of the murdered Olympians met with Rogge to hand over a petition calling for a moment of silence, and urged spectators to stage a silent protest during Friday’s opening ceremony.

A diplomatic source familiar with the letter sent to Rogge on Tuesday said Clinton specifically urged the IOC to reverse its decision.

The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to describe the private correspondence.

Though Rogge has been steadfast in rejecting a moment of silence at the opening ceremony, the IOC was preparing to honor the 11 Israeli athletes and coaches killed in Munich at other events. Rogge participated in one such event on Monday.

In London, IOC spokesman Mark Adams confirmed receipt of Clinton’s letter and said his organization had responded without providing details of the response. But, he noted that the IOC was already “marking this moment — the blackest in the history of the Olympic movement in a number of ways.”

Clinton is the latest in a number of U.S. officials, including President Barack Obama, who have weighed in on the matter. Israel has been pushing the IOC for a moment of silence, as have political figures in Germany and Jewish groups around the world.

Ankie Spitzer and Ilana Romano, whose husbands were murdered in Munich, are in London to demand that organizers honor the memory of the 11 men at the Olympic Stadium 40 years after the terror attack.

The two women have asked audience members to stand in silence when Rogge rises to speak at Friday’s ceremony.

“They were not accidental tourists,” Spitzer told reporters Wednesday, her hoarse voice rising with indignation. “They came with dreams and came home in coffins.”

In 1972, Spitzer and her fencing coach husband, Andrei, had just had a daughter, Anouk, who is also pressing the fight for the silent protest. They say Andrei Spitzer was thrilled to be an Olympian and firmly believed in the higher goals of the games.

Romano, meanwhile, had had a bad feeling about her husband Yossef’s trip to the games. Romano, Israel’s middleweight weightlifting champion, had injured his knee and dropped out after the clean-and-jerk event. He was set to return to Israel on Sept. 6 for an operation.

Romano tried to escape during the siege. Although injured and using crutches, Romano lunged at one of his captors, slashing him with a paring knife and grabbing his gun. Another militant shot him, and he was left to bleed to death in front of his bound teammates.

The widows took their message to the public in a news conference Wednesday, saying they were tired of hearing about how the hands of the IOC were tied by protocol. They voiced hope that the committee would take notice and decide to act.

They were not moved by a tribute Monday at the athletes’ village, when Rogge in a surprise move led a solemn minute of silence. They were also not satisfied by the plan to honor the victims at a private reception in London on Aug. 6.

Adams defended the organization and Rogge, saying that the comittee recognized the deaths as a dark time for the Olympics.

“We are marking the moment in a number of ways that we think are the most appropriate,” Adams told The Associated Press. “The president made a moving speech in the village, there will be a ceremony next week in cooperation with the Israeli NOC where the president will speak, and we will mark the exact anniversary in Munich … The IOC will mark and will continue to mark the darkest moment in its history.”

The families flatly reject the official reasons they have been given over the years for why this cannot happen. At Montreal, they said they were told the reason was that the Arabs would leave. At Barcelona, it was about an unwillingness to bring politics to the games. At Atlanta, the reason was protocol. At Athens, organizers said it was not the appropriate time.

The widows have asked themselves: Would they have been facing similar problems if the slain athletes had been on the U.S. Dream Team? Or hailed from any other country?

“They came from the wrong country and the wrong religion,” Spitzer said at the news conference.

Now is the time, they say. And they promise that if the IOC keeps saying no, they will keep fighting, into the next generation if necessary. They met with Rogge later Wednesday to present the petition.

“We are outraged, we are angry, we are sad,” Spitzer said of Rogge’s refusal.

Romano and Spitzer say the years have only strengthened their resolve. They note that organizers in Vancouver held a moment of silence at the opening ceremony for Nodar Kumaritashvili, a Georgian luge athlete killed during a high-speed training run in Whistler just hours before the opening of the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

The families say the circumstances may be different but the principle is the same. The Olympics should honor their own, the members of the so-called “Olympic family.” They say the Olympics are just not like anything else — they are about sportsmanship, peace and goodwill. And when the Israeli athletes were attacked, the entire Olympic movement was too.

“It is not just a competition,” Spitzer said. “It is an idea.”

Jewish organizations around the world were outraged by the IOC’s decision. Maccabi World Union President Giora Esrubilsky has written to the organization’s branches around the world and called on them to commemorate the massacre. More than 60 Maccabi branches and synagogues, including in the U.S., Finland, Australia, Argentina, South Africa and Hungary, will hold special prayers in memory of the 11 in addition to observing a minute’s silence.

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