Latest update: July 25th, 2012
One of the best known sportscasters in America may soon make history by defying the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) decree that it would not honor the memory of the murdered 1972 Israeli Olympic team, and conducting an on-air memorial of his own.
Bob Costas, famed NBC sportscaster and regular frontline broadcaster of the Olympic games, told The Hollywood Reporter that he would not stand behind the IOC’s “baffling” decision to deny Israel’s request for a moment of silence to acknowledge the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes and coaches by Palestinian terrorists 40 years ago at the 1972 games in Munich, Germany, and that he would take it upon himself to highlight the injustice during his broadcast of the London games opening ceremonies on July 27.
If officials of the Olympics continue to refuse to honor the victims with a moment of silence, Costas says “I intend to note that the IOC denied the request,” he tells THR. “Many people find that denial more than puzzling but insensitive. [So] Here’s a minute of silence right now.”
Costas intends to take his stand for the slain Olympians as the Israeli delegation enters the 80,000-seat Olympic Stadium.
IOC president Jacques Rogge rejected Israel’s call on Saturday for a special observance to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the murder. “We feel that the opening ceremony is an atmosphere that is not fit to remember such a tragic incident, Rogge was reported as saying by Sports Illustrated.
Rogge said the IOC will honor the memory of the victims at a reception in London during the games on August 5th, and that IOC officials would attend a ceremony at the military airfield of Furstenfeldbruck in Germany on September 5, the location at which most of the Israelis were killed.
During the second week of the summer games in Munich, eight members of the Black September Palestinian militant organization entered the Olympic Village, killed wrestling coach Moshe Weinberg and weightlifter Yossef Romano, and took 9 members of the Israeli team hostage.
Due to a botched rescue attempt by German police and intelligence officials, the terrorists killed all of their hostages – weightlifters Ze’ev Friedman, David Berger, and Yakov Springer, wrestlers Eliezer Halfin, Mark Slavin and Yossef Gutfreund, track coach Amitzur Shapira, fencing master Andre spritzer, and shooting coach Kehat Shorr – at the Furstenfeldbruck airport, where they had transported the hostages after demanding the release of 234 Arab prisoners held in Israeli jails and all members of the German Red Army Faction being held in German prisons.
During the operation, German police killed five of the eight assassins. Israeli agents later tracked down and killed the other three.
The effort to win the victims a minute of silence at the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games has been underway since the attack took place in 1972. Led by Ankie Spitzer – widow of Andre Spitzer – with support from widow of Yossef Romano, Ilana, awareness for the cause has grown, with a petition placed on Change.org garnering over 100,000 signatures from around the world.
In an exclusive interview with the Jewish Press’s Yishai Fleisher, Ankie said that while she is not obsessed with the Munich massacre and does much with her life other than fight for the memorial, “There’s no way around it…. 40 years have passed but it goes with me, I think probably until the last day of my life. I was there, I saw what happened in the room, I saw how they were tortured and how they killed one of them in the Olympic village, just a few hours after it happened, and the memory of this will never go away.”
“Right after the massacre, those who survived were asked to pick up the personal belongings of those who were killed, and I asked to be the one to go and gather Andre’s stuff. So they didn’t want to let me go there, because they were held hostage for 21 hours in his room, and that’s also where they killed Yossef Romano and physically tortured him. But I insisted by I wanted to do that, but when I came to the building where the Israelis were housed in the Olympic village in Munich, I opened the front door and I wanted to go upstairs because that is where Andre’s room was, and I looked at the staircase, which the blood of Yossef Romano… came down the stairs… I decided that I have to see the place where Andre and his other teammates spent the last hours of their lives. So I did go up and the chaos was just indescribable. You cannot imagine, Yishai…”
“I said to myself, if this is the place where Andre and his friends spent the last hours of their life, I cannot shut up, I have to talk about it, I have to tell the world what happened in the Olympic village, the symbol of peace and brotherhood and good will and fair play, that this could happen in front of the eyes of billions of people and that nobody is even talking about it anymore. So this is my mission.” Ankie has been at the head of the mission ever since. All the while, she has raised the daughter she shares with Andre – Anuk, who was only 2 months old when Andre was killed – and the three children she had with her new husband, who she married a decade after the murder.
“My life goes on,” Ankie told Fleisher. “The only reason for this is to make sure that this will never happen again. That is the mission.”
In a rare display of solidarity with Israel, leaders from around the world have urged the Olympic committee to grant Israel the short moment of silence. US National Security Council spokesman Tommmy Vietor has said that President Barack Obama’s position is that “We absolutely support the campaign for a minute of silence at the Olympics to honor the Israeli athletes killed in Munich”. The statement of support followed a condolence call President Obama placed on Wednesday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, following the murder of 5 Israeli tourists in Bulgaria
Last week, some 140 Italian parliamentarians signed a letter to Rogge calling for the memorial minute. Australian President Julia Gillard, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, and Flemish Sport Minister Philippe Muyters have also come out publicly in support of the memorial at the opening ceremony. In June, Canada’s House of Commons unanimously adopted a measure to remember the “tragic terrorist events of the 1972 Munich Olympics wherein 11 Israeli athletes were murdered.”
Though Rogge said “We also pay big attention to recommendations coming either from the political world, or cultural world, or world of enterprise,” the option of taking 60 seconds to memorialize the Israeli team was again rejected.
Yet organizers on behalf of the effort press on. Philanthropist, businessman, and staunch Jewish Republican Stanley Tate has initiated a campaign to place print ads in US and European newspapers in a last-ditch effort to force the memorial.
Already appearing in the Wall Street Journal, the ads will also be printed in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, London Times, LA newspapers, and elsewhere. According to NewsMax, Tate is quoted a saying that “one newspaper told me, ‘Don’t send money — we’re publishing for free.’”
Jewish organizations are also taking up the banner of the “Munich 11”, and throwing their weight behind the campaign for a moment of silence at the Olympic opening ceremonies. United With Israel, an organization highlighting a wide array of multimedia meant to showcase the greatness and positive spirit of Israel – with over 1.1 million “Likes” on Facebook – has executed the “Minute for Munich” campaign during which participants will stop for a moment of silence at 11:00 am on July 27, the morning of the opening ceremonies. Nu T-shirts, which makes T-shirts for charitable causes and donates 20% of all proceeds to the registered non-profit behind each cause, is selling a special “Just One Minute” T-shirt, made in Israel.
During the Games, Rogge said the IOC will investigate any claims of athletes who claim to pull out of competitions with Israelis because of alleged injuries. In the past, Iranian athletes have used this tactic to avoid competing with Israelis without facing Olympic sanctions. Plain refusal to compete against a particular competitor is “totally forbidden by the Olympic Charter,” according to Rogge, and subject to punishment.
In an interview by the Jewish Chronicle publicized by Huffington Post, Israeli International Olympics Committee member Alex Gilady said that the real reason the Olympic committee refuses to hold a memorial at the opening ceremonies is because officials thought a minute’s silence “may harm the unity of the Olympics” and “could cause some countries to boycott the Games.”
That theory was backed up by Ankie, who told Fleisher than when she and Ilana Romano attended the 1976 Montreal Olympics – the first Olympics following the fateful games in Munich – they were told by Olympic officials that “look, there are 21 Arab delegations, and if we are going to have a minute of silence, they will all get up and go, and I said…. let them go. If they don’t understand what the Olympics are about, they shouldn’t be here at all.”
“Now, just recently, when I travelled to Lausanne in Switzerland to be at the headquarters of the International Olympic Committee, [they said] then in Montreal there were 21 Arab delegations, today there are 46 Arab delegations. Our hands are tied, and there’s nothing we can do at this moment, it’s too early yet.”
After what she called their “lame excuses” Ankie says she came to one conclusion “it’s pure discrimination. The athletes, they came from the ‘wrong ‘country, and they had the ‘wrong’ religion because otherwise there is no reason. If it was the American Dream Team, I’m sure they would have said something.” Two years ago, Ankie said, one of the Georgion lugers was killed in a training accident and at the opening ceremony, they had a minute of silence and lowered the flags and mentioned what happened and sent condolences to the families and to the friends and to his country – why can we not get this?” In 1992, she was told at the Olympics in Barcelona that there is a very strict protocol for the opening ceremony, and they can’t the minute of silence for the Israeli team in the protocol. I said ‘well, I’m sure it wasn’t in the protocol either that my husband and his friends went home in coffins, so what is this nonsense?”
British officials have instated special security for Israeli athletes, keeping them in quarters apart from the general athletes’ village. On Sunday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Israel is prepared and on alert for terror attacks at the London Olympics. Barak made the statement at the Tel HaShomer army base, during a discussion of the volatile situation in Syria and the possibility that Hizbullah will hijack Syrian chemical or advanced weapons systems.
According to a report by Yahoo News, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has not issued a statement for or against the measure.
In 2002, on the 30th anniversary of the Munich massacre, the IOC rejected a request by families of the slain Israelis to commemorate the tragedy while Romney was CEO of the organizing committee for the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
Funding for the Black September attack on the Israeli delegation in Munich was provided by then-Fatah official Mahmoud Abbas. According to Abu Daoud, an attacker who survived the mission and who managed to thwart Israeli attempts to assassinate him, the mission was supported by PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, who sent the team off with the blessing “Allah protect you”.
Abu Daoud died on July 3, 2010 in Syria of kidney failure at the age of 73.
About the Author: Malkah Fleisher is a graduate of Cardozo Law School in New York City. She is an editor/staff writer at JewishPress.com and co-hosts a weekly Israeli FM radio show. Malkah lives with her husband and two children on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem.
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