Olympics Opening Ceremony Honored British Terror Victims, But Not Israelis Killed at Munich Games

July 29, 2012 - 8:17 PM
Palestinian Official Thanks Olympic Chief for Not Honoring Dead Israelis

London 2012 Olympic rings

The Olympic rings at London’s Olympic Park. (Photo: London 2012)

(CNSNews.com) – The International Olympic Committee’s assertion last week that Friday’s London 2012 opening ceremony was not the appropriate setting to remember the Munich terror assault 40 years ago rang hollow after the event did include a moving tribute to others who have died, including British terror victims.

That segment of the otherwise upbeat ceremony, featuring a poignant rendition of the hymn “Abide with Me,” could easily have accommodated a reference to the 11 Israeli athletes and coaches killed by PLO terrorists during the 1972 summer games – but did not.

“We feel that the opening ceremony is an atmosphere that is not fit to remember such a tragic incident,” IOC chief Jacques Rogge said a week earlier, and declined to reconsider despite the appeals of the widows of two of the slain Israelis, who took a petition to London and held a press conference.

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon on Sunday expressed deep disappointment that the IOC did not relent.

Recalling Rogge’s earlier words about the atmosphere of the opening ceremony, Ayalon pointed out in a statement that the event, in the end, “did include moments of silence and respect for those British citizens who died during terror attacks. We can only conclude that Rogge meant that the opening ceremony was not fit to remember a tragic incident involving Israelis.”

Ayalon said Rogge had lost the ability to legitimately represent the Olympic ideal of equality.

“He was exposed as a hypocrite and as someone who was led by political interests and not the interests of the Olympic Games whose darkest moment saw eleven Israeli athletes tortured and murdered in the Olympic Village, during the Olympic Games under the auspices and supposed protection of the IOC.”

Ayalon last May wrote to Rogge, urging him “to send a clear message that we must not forget the terrible events of Munich 40 years ago so they will not be repeated.”

Rogge did hold a low-key moment of silence during a visit to the athletes’ village last Monday, and the IOC has marked the occasion in other ways over the past four decades, but never at the main Olympic venue in front of athletes, spectators and a global television audience.

Support for the widows’ 40th anniversary plea had come from lawmakers in the U.S., Germany, Canada, Australia and elsewhere, and from both President Obama and Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney.

London Olympics Opening Ceremony

Performers dance in the poignant 'Memorial Wall' segment during the London 2012 opening ceremony on Friday, July 27, 2012. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

‘Those who could not be here tonight’

During Friday’s opening ceremony, which featured everything from Rowan Atkinson gatecrashing the famous Chariots of Fire beach run scene to Paul McCartney leading the packing stadium in singing “Hey Jude,” the joviality was muted for a few minutes just before the flag parade began.

“Ladies and gentlemen, please pause to respect our memorial wall for friends and family of those who could not be here tonight,” the event announcer said, before photographs of dozens of people appeared on a digital screen.

British media reports said they included the victims of the 2005 London bombings, and that ticketholders had also been invited to send in photos of loved ones who had died. Dancers then began a choreographed routine as Scottish singer Emile Sande sang a stripped-down version of “Abide with Me.” (NBC has been criticized for cutting away during the scene and featuring an interview with swimmer Michael Phelps instead.)

Some critics of the IOC decision accused Rogge of trying to avoid upsetting Arab countries. The head of the Palestinian Olympic Committee, Jibril Rajoub, sent Rogge a letter during the week thanking him for his stance, saying that sport “must not be a cause for divisiveness and for the spreading of racism.”

(Rajoub spent almost two decades in Israeli prisons for terrorist activity, and later became Yasser Arafat’s security chief after the Oslo Accords set up the self-rule Palestinian Authority in the 1990s.)

On Thursday, members of Congress held a memorial event on Capitol Hill and made an 11th hour appeal to Rogge.

“Forty years after this tragedy, it is unacceptable that the Olympics have yet to properly recognize this atrocious event,” said Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), one of the organizers.

Noting the IOC has rejected appeals for four decades, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said, “We know why the IOC has refused: Because the murdered Olympians were Israelis, and the IOC does not want to draw the ire of foreign governments who still object to the very existence of a Jewish state in the homeland of the Jewish people.”

“Well, the leadership of the IOC needs to recognize that leadership is about doing the right thing, particularly when it’s not the easy thing. The Olympics are not about taking the path of least resistance,” she said. “The Olympics are about overcoming obstacles and going the extra mile.”

Palestinian columnist Ray Hanania, writing in the Saudi Gazette on Sunday, said he opposes calls for a Munich tribute, although he acknowledges that the 1972 events constituted “a horrendous act of terrorism.”

“Asking the world to pause to honor only the 11 murdered Israeli athletes would be an unprincipled insult to the thousands of Palestinians and Arabs who have been murdered by an unrepentant Israeli government and their political allies,” he wrote.

The 11 Israelis killed in Munich were Yossef Romano, Moshe Weinberg, Ze’ev Friedman, David Berger, Kehat Shorr, Yakov Springer, Mark Slavin, Andre Spitzer, Eliezer Halfin, Yossef Gutfreund and Amitzur Shapira.

Berger, a 28-year-old Cleveland-born weightlifter, was an American citizen and former U.S. national youth middleweight weightlifting champion.