IOC President Rogge faces backlash at memorial service for murdered Israelis

By Marcus Dysch and Anshel Pfeffer, August 2, 2012
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IOC President Jacques Rogge

IOC President Jacques Rogge

International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge faces being barracked at a memorial service by community leaders and families of the 11 Israelis killed by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Olympics.

He is due to speak at the Guildhall event in central London on Monday evening, but his refusal to grant a minute’s silence in memory of the murdered athletes at the London 2012 Opening Ceremony has enraged the victims’ widows.

The Anglo-Jewish co-organisers of the event also admitted they faced a “dilemma”. Mr Rogge was invited to the ceremony earlier this year by the Israeli Olympic Committee, but his stance over the 1972 massacre has since infuriated Jewish communities worldwide.

British Jewish leaders said they did not feel they could withdraw Mr Rogge’s invitation, as they had not issued it, and felt his presence had been forced on them ahead of Monday’s ceremony.

It is understood that a number of speakers at the event intend publicly to admonish the IOC leader.

Ankie Spitzer, whose murdered husband Andre was the Israeli fencing coach, said: “I would prefer it if the organisers told Rogge to stay away. I have a big problem with him and the others being there. I think all the hypocrites should stay at home.

“I have been asked to speak. What I am going to say to the IOC will not be nice. But that’s too bad. I do not want to see them there.”

She criticised Mr Rogge, Israel’s IOC member Alex Gilady, and Lord Coe, chairman of the London Games, for refusing to recognise the murdered Israelis during the four-hour, £27 million Opening Ceremony.

“I will tell them they are two-faced hypocrites and they should have stayed at home,” Mrs Spitzer said.

Board of Deputies chief executive Jon Benjamin said: “It’s an opportunity to have the guy in the room and express the views that we as a community, and the families, hold. That opportunity will not be missed. If it’s uncomfortable for him, then so be it.

“The view we have taken is that if he’s coming, then there are some home truths that Monday will provide an opportunity to express. He should be prepared for that.”

Board President Vivian Wineman rejected suggestions that Mr Rogge’s invitation should be withdrawn. He said: “It’s good that he should be there to see how people feel and that he should witness it. It will bring the message home to him.”

UJIA chairman Mick Davis will speak at the ceremony on behalf of the British Jewish community. He said he was aware of the “disquiet” over Mr Rogge’s role in the ceremony.

Peter Mason, London Jewish Forum director, was among the leading British organisers of the event. He said he expected many of those who will speak to express “deep disappointment” at the IOC’s stance.

Mrs Spitzer said her anger had grown when she watched the Opening Ceremony in which there was a memorial wall, with picturers of deceased family and friends of those attending the ceremony.

It included pictures of 7/7 victims as well as those of the late fathers of both Lord Coe and ceremony director Danny Boyle. An early section remembered British war dead.

The Opening Ceremony was held just 48 hours after Mr Rogge “cruelly” rejected her and fellow widow Ilana Romano’s pleas during a face-to-face meeting in London.

Mrs Spitzer said: “We were totally surprised because Jacques Rogge said the mood of the Opening Ceremony was fun and did not allow for any moments of tragedy. But then they correctly remembered the soldiers from the two world wars, and the people killed in London on July 7. What difficulty would there have been to include us? It was like rubbing salt in the wound. It was as if he had tricked us.”

Prince Charles has sent a message of support to be read at the service, which will be attended by Prime Minister David Cameron, his deputy Nick Clegg, Labour leader Ed Miliband and Mayor of London Boris Johnson.

Candles will be lit in memory of the 11 athletes by, among others, Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

There was further criticism from Guri Weinberg, son of murdered Munich wrestler Moshe Weinberg.

Mr Weinberg told Fox News about a meeting with Israel’s IOC member Alex Gilady before the 1996 Olympics. He said Mr Gilady had told the widows and families that a minute’s silence sanctioned by the IOC for the murdered Israelis at that year’s Atlanta Games would have to be met by the same memorial “for the Palestinians who died at the Olympics in 1972”.

When Mr Weinberg’s mother challenged Mr Gilady and said no Palestinian athletes had died, asking him if he was equating the athletes with their terrorist murderers, the Israeli official offered no answer.

Mr Weinberg continued: “Ilana Romano screamed at Gilady: ‘How dare you! You know what they did to my husband! They let him lie there for hours, dying slowly, and then finished him off by castrating him and shoving it in his mouth, Alex!’

“I looked at Gilady… This man led the Israeli media delegation at the 1972 Olympics and saw this atrocity first hand. This man saw my father’s dead, naked body in front of the Olympic Village for all the world to see.”

Mr Weinberg said the current row over a silence in London had left him “with a message for the IOC. The torture inflicted by Black September on the 11 Israeli athletes took 48 hours. Your torture of the families and the memories of those athletes has lasted 40 years.

“Now I want all of you to lose your jobs and be replaced by real Olympians who care about the athletes and believe in the Olympic charter.”

Asked this week about the families’ opposition to Mr Rogge’s presence at the Guildhall, Mr Gilady attacked his fellow Israelis.

“I don’t think it’s the families’ business who is invited,” he said. “It is up to the Israeli Olympic Committee.”

On the issue of the minute’s silence, Mr Gilady claimed the families had “asked for the first time in 1996, never before that.” But Ankie Spitzer said this was “absolutely not true”.

“The first time we asked was at the next Olympics after Munich — in Montréal in 1976. The IOC refused to do it there because they said the Arab countries would walk out.”

Speaking ahead of the Guildhall event, Prime Minister David Cameron said: “This year’s London Olympics mark 40 years since one of the darkest days in the history of the Games.

"The murder in 1972 of 11 Israeli athletes was an appalling act of terrorism. It’s vital that this tragedy is properly commemorated, which is why a minute’s silence was observed at the Athletes’ Village on the Olympic Park.

"And that’s also why I want to pay my respects on behalf of the British people at the commemorative event at the Guildhall.”

Last updated: 1:01pm, August 2 2012