CANBERRA/WASHINGTON (EJP) --- Australian MPs backed Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s appeals for a minute’s silence to be held in honour of victims of the Munich Massacre at the London Olympic Games, voting unanimously in favour of an official commemoration on Tuesday.
The 100 cross-party parliamentarians registered their support for an official silence in memory of the 11 Israeli athletes and coaches murdered at the 1972 Munich Games, in the Canberra chamber, themselves rising to observe a moment of silence to honour the 40th anniversary of the atrocity. The vote was scheduled to take place in several weeks time, but was brought forward in the hope of intensifying already significant international support for the petition, which has so far been rejected by International Olympic Committee (IOC) head Jacques Rogge, who resolutely claimed “the IOC has officially paid tribute to the memory of the athletes on several occasions”.
The instigator of the bill, Liberal MP Paul Fletcher, who presides over a largely Jewish Sydney constituency, claimed the “humanitarian call” for an official commemoration “has been seared on world consciousness”.
His words were further emphasised as a UN Senate resolution in favour of a Munich silence was similarly passed unanimously in Washington on Monday night. A previous resolution had been introduced in the (US lower chamber) House of Representatives where it was passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee, but it was not brought to the House floor itself.
William Daroff, The Jewish Federations of North America’s vice president for public policy and director of the Washington office, applauded the Senate’s action.
“According to the Olympic Charter, ‘The goal of Olympics is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity,’ " Daroff said in a statement.
"As we approach the 40-year anniversary of this massacre, we hope everyone -- especially members of the IOC -- will embrace that Olympic spirit and come together to honour the memory of the slain Israeli athletes and coaches.”
Canadian parliament became the first political chamber to instigate such a vote earlier this month, when it too moved unanimously in favour of a silence, an achievement lauded by notoriously pro-Israel Canadian Liberal MP Irwin Cotler, who said: “I am delighted that the Canadian parliament is the first to unanimously support this call. I am pleased that all parties have worked together in common cause and hope the IOC will accede to our request.”
Sydney is the first Olympic city outside of Munich to have established a permanent privately-funded memorial to the murdered Israelis, which was unveiled at the opening of the 2000 Olympic Games, themselves hosted in the Australian city. The 11 Olympic victims were taken hostage by Palestinian terrorist group Black September in Munich’s Olympic village during the 1972 Games and were later murdered in a botched rescue operation by German police, during which five terrorist and a German police officer also died.
An online petition by Ankie Spitzer, widow of one of the victims of the Munich Massacre sparked off the first of the international appeals, which were led by Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), British cross-party politicians, and last week, The London Assembly.
Spitzer’s petition called for the official silence to mark the 40th anniversary in a letter stating: “Silence is a fitting tribute for athletes who lost their lives on the Olympic stage. Silence contains no statements, assumptions or beliefs and requires no understanding of language to interpret.”
Rogge’s succinct response declared that "within the Olympic family, the memory of the victims of the terrible massacre in Munich in 1972 will never fade away." The Israeli foreign ministry insinuated a political dimension to the IOC’s refusal, when it responded that “perhaps the IOC thinks anything to do with Israel is controversial. It is not a display of great courage and integrity.”
Earlier this month, the IOC responded angrily to threats by the Algerian Olympic Committee (NOC) that state policy may enforce a boycott on team members of events featuring Israeli participants at this summer’s London games.
After Algerian kayaker Nasreddine Baghdadi withdrew from a World Cup event last month in which Israeli Roei Yellin was due to compete, NOC President Rachid Hanifi insisted: “There is an obligation to ask our government if we have to meet Israel in sport.”
IOC spokesman Emanuelle Moreau meanwhile issued a statement rejecting the idea that discrimination should interfere in the “spirit of friendship and fair play” at the heart of the Olympic Games, suggesting in lieu of boycotting events on political grounds, it would be advisable for any athletes objecting to the participation of any other competitors to “stay at home”:
“Refusing to participate in an Olympic event because of a fellow athlete/team’s religion or nationality, would not only be unsporting behaviour but a serious breach of the IOC’s Code of Ethics, the principles of the Olympic Charter and the Athletes Oath”, she concluded.