Hunt: Olympic silence none of my business

By Jessica Elgot, June 28, 2012
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National flags fly at half-mast around the Olympic torch at the games in Munich, 1972, in memory of the 11 Israeli athletes killed by terrorists

National flags fly at half-mast around the Olympic torch at the games in Munich, 1972, in memory of the 11 Israeli athletes killed by terrorists

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.

Additionally the London Jewish Forum plans a plaque to be unveiled in Hackney, one of the Olympic boroughs, on July 22.

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,

which the IOC must uphold."

Pressure has been mounting on the IOC and London 2012 to organise the memorial 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 Conservative Bob Blackman, have signed an Early Day Motion calling for a minute's silence.

This week, the German Bundestag backed the Israeli government's request for a minute's silence.

About 100 Australian MPs - including Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Opposition leader Tony Abbott - voted in Canberra on Tuesday for a motion supporting a call for the memorial, by standing in silence as a mark of respect to the 11 athletes.

Michael Danby, a Jewish MP for Australia's governing Labour Party, said of the IOC: "Perhaps their reluctance to acknowledge the 40th anniversary of the massacre is not simply a desire to kowtow to the Organisation of the Islamic States. Perhaps they don't want people to remember their incompetence."

The Australian resolution comes less than two weeks after Canada's parliament passed a unanimous resolution supporting a one-minute silence. In the US Senate, a resolution was passed this week urging the IOC to observe the silence and, last week, the London Assembly and Shadow Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell joined the growing chorus.

Additional reporting by Dan Goldberg

Last updated: 3:40pm, June 28 2012