Former Canadian justice minister implores IOC to remember Munich 11 at closing ceremony

Irwin Cotler, in letter to Jacques Rogge, says rejection of international campaign is ‘offensive, dishonorable’ and seems to stem from fact that victims were Jewish and Israeli

President of the International Olympic Committee Jacques Rogge. (photo credit: Image capture from Channel 1)
President of the International Olympic Committee Jacques Rogge. (photo credit: Image capture from Channel 1)

Irwin Cotler, the former Canadian justice minister and attorney-general, has issued a last-minute plea to the president of the International Olympic Committee, Jacques Rogge, to take a moment at Sunday’s closing ceremony for the London Olympics to remember the 11 members of the Israeli team at the 1972 Munich Olympics who were murdered by Palestinians terrorists.

In a letter Thursday to Rogge, who rejected a concerted international campaign for a moment of silence for the Munich 11 at the London Games opening ceremony, Canadian MP Cotler writes that “the refusal of the IOC to observe a moment of silence on the 40th anniversary of the Munich massacre – the slaughter of 11 Israeli athletes and coaches for no other reason than that they were Israelis and Jews – is as offensive as it is incomprehensible.”

Irwin Cotler speaking to a Knesset Committee in March. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Irwin Cotler speaking to a Knesset Committee in March. (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“It is not hard to infer,” he charges, “that not only were the athletes killed because they were Israeli and Jewish, but that the moment of silence is being denied them also because they are Israeli and Jewish.”

Cotler notes that “these 11 Israeli Olympians were part of the Olympic family, they were murdered as members of the Olympic family, they should be remembered by the Olympic family at these Olympic Games themselves.”

The IOC’s “steadfast reluctance” to do, he writes, “not only ignores – but mocks – the calls for a moment of silence by Government leaders, including US President Barack Obama, Australian PM Julia Gillard, Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird, and most recently by his Excellency the Canadian Governor General David Johnston; the calls by various Parliaments including resolutions by the US Congress as well as by Canadian, Australian, German, Italian and UK Parliamentarians; and the sustained international public campaign and anguished civil society appeals.”

Cotler adds that such a memorial, “as you best know,” is not without precedent. “Two years ago during the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, the IOC, observed a moment of silence – over which you presided, appropriately enough – in memory of the Georgian athlete, Nodar Kumaritashvili, who died tragically in a training accident. Ten years ago, in 2002, the IOC memorialized the victims of 9/11, though that terrorist atrocity neither occurred during the Olympic Games nor had any connection to them. The duty of remembrance was justification enough.

“In particular,” Cotler goes on, “after eschewing a memorial for the murdered Israeli athletes and coaches at this year’s opening ceremony, the IOC then – and again, rightly – memorialized the victims of the 2005 London Bombings, though this terrorist atrocity, as well, had no nexus to the Olympic Games.”

The IOC decision ignores the fact that the Munich massacre occurred at the Olympic games — “precisely because the Olympic games provided a venue of international resonance for such an attack,” Cotler writes.

He continues: “The decision ignores that, as Der Spiegel put it, the killings were facilitated by the criminal negligence and indifference of Olympic security officials themselves.

“And finally, and most disturbingly, it ignores and mocks the plaintive pleas – and pain and suffering – of the families and loved ones, for whom the remembrance of these last 40 years is an over-riding personal and moral imperative, as expressed to you yet again in London this week.”

He quotes Professor Deborah Lipstadt, “a distinguished historian of antisemitism and one normally understated in her attribution of anti-Jewish or anti-Israel motifs.” As she put it, Cotler notes: “The IOC’s explanation is nothing more than a pathetic excuse. The athletes who were murdered were from Israel and were Jews—that is why they aren’t being remembered. … This was the greatest tragedy to ever occur during the Olympic Games. Yet the IOC has made it quite clear that these victims are not worth 60 seconds. Imagine for a moment that these athletes had been from the United States, Canada, Australia, or even Germany. No one would think twice about commemorating them. But these athletes came from a country and a people who somehow deserve to be victims. Their lost lives are apparently not worth a minute.”

He also quotes Ankie Spitzer, widow of the murdered Israeli fencing coach Andre Spitzer, who said, regretfully, “I can only come to one conclusion or explanation: This is discrimination. I have never used that word in 40 years, but the victims had the wrong religions, they came from the wrong country.”

Cotler then personalizes the appeal: “Dr. Rogge, you, as a bearer of memory as a Belgian Olympian yourself in the 1972 Munich Games, have poignantly remarked just days ago, ‘the Munich attack cast terrorism’s dark shadow on the Olympic Games. It was a direct assault on the core values of the Olympic movement.'”

This Sunday, Cotler ends by saying, “when the London 2012 Olympic Games conclude, let us pause to remember and recall each of the murdered athletes. Each had a name, an identity, a family – each person was a universe: Moshe Weinberg, Yossef Romano, Ze’ev Friedman, David Berger, Yakov Springer, Eliezer Halfin, Yossef Gutfreund, Kehat Shorr, Mark Slavin, Andre Spitzer. Amitzur Shapira.

“Dr. Rogge, it is not too late for the IOC to remember these murdered Olympians as Olympians at the London Olympic Games this Sunday – it is not too late to be on the right side of history.”

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