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Speaking at Munich Massacre memorial, Herzog draws parallel to present-day terror

President promises Israel will persist in fight against terrorism; International Olympic Committee head Thomas Bach calls 1972 attack one of the ‘darkest days in Olympic history’

President Isaac Herzog addresses an event in Tel Aviv marking 50 years since the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre, in which 11 Israeli athletes and a West German police officer were killed by Palestinian terrorists, September 21, 2022. (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)
President Isaac Herzog addresses an event in Tel Aviv marking 50 years since the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre, in which 11 Israeli athletes and a West German police officer were killed by Palestinian terrorists, September 21, 2022. (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

President Isaac Herzog addressed an event in Tel Aviv on Wednesday marking 50 years since the Munich Olympics massacre, holding the “same dark hatred” responsible for both the killing of Israeli athletes and the recent alleged murder of an elderly woman in the Tel Aviv suburb of Holon.

In his speech, Herzog paid tribute to the 11 Israelis slain in 1972 as well as to Shulamit Rachel Ovadia, 84, who was killed on Tuesday in a suspected terror attack, and vowed Israel would continue to defend its citizens.

“Yesterday’s awful terror attack in Holon, in which Shulamit Rachel Ovadia, an elderly woman, a family woman, was shockingly murdered by a Palestinian terrorist, comes from the same dark hatred of the depraved murderers at Munich. The same blind, awful hatred that we will not allow to win,” Herzog said.

The head of state recalled the “so-called ‘Cheerful Games'” — noting the motto for the 1972 games — as “the darkest nadir in the history of world sports.”

“This was the moment the Olympic torch was snuffed and the five-ringed flag was smeared with blood.”

Palestinian terrorists from the Black September group broke into the Olympic Village, killed two athletes from Israel’s national team, and took nine more hostages on September 5, 1972. The attackers hoped to force the release of Palestinian prisoners held by Israel as well as two left-wing extremists in West German jails. All nine hostages and a West German police officer died during a rescue attempt by German forces.

In this Sept. 5, 1972 b/w file photo, a member of the Arab Commando group which seized members of the Israeli Olympic Team at their quarters at the Munich Olympic Village appears with a hood over his face on the balcony of the village building where the commandos held members of the Israeli team hostage. (AP Photo/Kurt Strumpf,file)

The body of Mousa Sarsour — a 28-year-old Palestinian suspected of killing Ovadia — was discovered on Wednesday in an abandoned building in Tel Aviv. Police believe that he died by suicide.

Herzog and his wife Michal were joined at the service by Culture and Sports Minister Chili Tropper, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach, National Olympic Committee of Israel President Yael Arad, victims’ families and athletes.

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach addresses a ceremony on the 50th anniversary of the deadly attack on the Israeli Olympic team at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich by a Palestinian terrorist group, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

In his own speech at the event, Bach said the attack in Munich was one of “the darkest days in Olympic history” and an assault on the Olympic Games and its values.

“Everything that the Olympic Games stand for was shattered 50 years ago with the horrific attack on the Israeli Olympic team.” He apologized for the many years it took the International Olympic Committee to commemorate the Israeli victims “in a dignified way.”

A moment of silence was held at the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Games last year — the first time the Olympic Games’ organizers marked the killing of the Israeli athletes in nearly half a century.

A multimedia presentation is shown at a ceremony for the 50th anniversary of the deadly attack on the Israeli Olympic team at the 1972 Olympics in Munich by a Palestinian terrorist group, at the port of Tel Aviv, Israel, Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)

Earlier in the day, Bach made his first-ever visit to Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust memorial center, alongside his wife Claudia, Arad, and the site’s chairman Dani Dayan.

As a gift to Bach, Dayan presented the book, “To Bear Witness: Holocaust Remembrance at Yad Vashem,” a collection of information about the genocide.

“Words cannot capture the unspeakable horror of the Shoah. It is here in Yad Vashem, that I solemnly reaffirm the commitment of the entire Olympic Movement to non-discrimination and peace,” Bach wrote in the memorial’s guestbook, and added, “every human being must do everything in their power that such a heinous crime against humanity can never happen again.”

From left to right: Claudia Bach, Yad Vashem Chairman Dani Dayan, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach and National Olympic Committee of Israel President Yael Arad in the Hall of Names at Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, September 21, 2022. (Yad Vashem/Jorge Novominsky)

During the tour, Dayan emphasized the importance of learning about the Jewish athletes who were persecuted under the Nazi regime.

“Part of learning about the Holocaust is knowing what Jewish life was like before the atrocities; understanding what role competitive sports and culture played in Jewish life,” Dayan said.

Earlier this month, Herzog visited Germany to attend a commemoration of the Munich Massacre, which he led alongside German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. The president also delivered a speech at the German Bundestag and rounded off his trip with a visit to the site of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

The state visit went ahead after a compensation deal between the victims’ families and the German government was finally reached after the bereaved relatives had threatened to boycott the memorial ceremony over their long-standing dispute.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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