Jeremy Hunt: Olympic silence is none of my business

By Jessica Elgot, June 28, 2012

Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, has refused to back calls from the US Senate and the Australian, Canadian and German governments for a minute’s silence at the 2012 London Olympics to remember the 11 Israelis murdered in Munich in 1972.

The widow of one of the Israeli athletes — murdered by five Palestinian terrorists — said London 2012’s refusal to arrange a 40th anniversary memorial was “discrimination” based on their religion and nationality.
Ankie Spitzer, widow of murdered fencer Andrei Spitzer, said that she had been reluctant to accuse the International Olympic Committee (IOC) directly of discrimination.

But this week she told the JC: “Now, I call it by its name: it’s discrimination in my opinion. There have been other memorials at the opening ceremony, it has been done before. Two years ago, before the Vancouver Winter Olympics, athlete Nodar Kumaritashvili died in a training accident.

“So at the opening ceremony, members of the Olympic committee stood up, gave a speech, and sent their condolences. And rightly so. So what is the problem? Is it because [the Munich athletes] were Israelis and Jews? I can only come to that conclusion.”

A spokesman for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport said: “The decision as to whether a minute’s silence is held during the Games lies with the IOC. Jeremy Hunt will be representing the government at a ceremony being held at the Guildhall — a joint initiative between the Israeli embassy, Israeli National Olympic Committee and the Jewish community.”

But an angry Ms Spitzer said the only response she had had from Lord Coe, chair of the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games, had been an invitation to the August 6 memorial event at the Guildhall. “That’s the memorial that we are organising ourselves! And he wrote to tell me about it?”

She described the Guildhall event as a “way out” for the Olympic organisers. “It means the event doesn’t have to be in the Olympic Village or during the opening ceremony, so it will let them off the hook.”

Ms Spitzer said she had been told privately for many years by the IOC that Arab nations would object to a memorial event. “I think I am the only fool left who believes in the Olympic ideal. But all the people who represent the Olympics are bending to these threats and intimidation. That’s very upsetting. The Palestinian Olympic Committee said: ‘Well, there are also five Palestinians who died in Munich’. How crazy is this?”

Two separate memorial events are planned this summer for the Munich athletes. One is organised by the Israeli Olympic Committee on August 6, which Israeli President Shimon Peres, Lord Coe and Mr Hunt are expected to attend, and the other, organised by the Zionist Federation a month later, will mark the anniversary of the massacre.

A memorial plaque will be unveiled on July 22 in one of the Olympic boroughs, organised by Martin Sugarman and Linda Kelly.

Alan Aziz, executive director of the ZF, said: “We strongly support the call for a minute’s silence at the London Olympics and it would be appalling if the reason that the IOC will not approve this is because of objections from the Arab countries. This would be an affront to the innocent people murdered in 1972, and totally against the principles of the Olympic movement, and totally against the principles of the Olympic movement, which the IOC must uphold.”

Pressure has been mounting on the IOC and London 2012 after an international campaign and petition, co-ordinated by a New York-based Jewish Community Centre, attracted more than 80,000 signatures.

Last month the IOC rejected an official request from Israel to allow a minute’s silence at the July 27 opening ceremony of the London Games. IOC president Jacques Rogge told Israeli officials: “The IOC has officially paid tribute to the memory of the athletes on several occasions. Within the Olympic family, the memory of the victims of the terrible massacre in Munich in 1972 will never fade away.”

More than 50 British MPs, led by Tory Bob Blackman, have signed an early day motion calling for a minute’s silence.

This week, the German Bundestag backed the silence. About 100 Australian MPs — including Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Opposition leader Tony Abbott — did the same and stood in silence as a mark of respect.
Two weeks ago Canada’s parliament passed a unanimous resolution supporting a silence.

In the US Senate, the same move was made this week and last week the London Assembly and Shadow Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell joined the call.

Last updated: 9:55am, June 29 2012