Canada: A Moment of Silence at the 2012 Olympics

Editorial Comment

“Their lost lives are apparently not worth a minute.”

Irwin Cotler

Irwin Cotler is a respected Canadian Member of Parliament, a former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, Canadian Law Professor, Constitutional and Comparative Law Scholar and International Human Rights Lawyer.

Last week, Cotler sent a letter to Count Dr. Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee giving details of a motion which was unanimously passed by the Canadian House of Commons on June 13, 2012. The motion called for a moment of silence at the 2012 London Olympics, in memory of those Israeli Olympians killed 40 years ago.

As we now know, Rogge rebuffed Canada’s and the international community’s plea for a mere one minute of silence.

“We feel that the opening ceremony is an atmosphere that is not fit to remember such a tragic incident,” Rogge responded. 

As reported on the Palestinian Media Watch web site, to nobody’s surprise The Palestinian Authority delivered their two cents by supporting Rogge’s decision:

“Sports are a bridge to love, interconnection, and spreading of peace among nations; it must not be a cause of division and spreading of racism between them [nations].” – Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, July 25, 2012.

Love? Spreading of peace? From those who honoured Palestinian terrorist Muhammad Daoud Oudeh, known as the planner, architect and mastermind of the Munich massacre?

“President Mahmoud Abbas sent a telegram of condolences yesterday over the death of the great fighter Muhammad Daoud Oudeh, ‘Abu Daoud,’ who died just before reaching 70. The telegram of condolences read: ‘The deceased was one of the prominent leaders of the Fatah movement and lived a life filled with the struggle, devoted effort, and the enormous sacrifice of the deceased for the sake of the legitimate problem of his people, in many spheres. He was at the forefront on every battlefield, with the aim of defending the [Palestinian] revolution. What a wonderful brother, companion, tough and stubborn, relentless fighter.” – Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, July 4, 2010.

 Here’s what Cotler had to say to Rogge: 

Office of the Hon. Irwin Cotler, MP (Critic for Justice and Human Rights)

Bureau de l’hon. Irwin Cotler, député (critique en matière de la justice et des droits de la personne)

Montréal. Thursday, August 9, 2012.

Count Dr. Jacques Rogge
President
International Olympic Committee
Château de Vidy
C.P. 356 – CH-1007
Lausanne, Switzerland

Dear Doctor Rogge:

I am writing you as a Member of the Canadian Parliament and mover of a parliamentary motion which was unanimously passed by the Canadian House of Commons on June 13, 2012. The motion, which called for a moment of silence at the 2012 London Olympics in memory of those Israeli Olympians killed 40 years ago – where you yourself were an Olympic athlete – read as follows:

That the House offers its support for a moment of silence to be held at the 2012 London Olympics in memory of those killed 40 years ago in the tragic terrorist events of the 1972 Munich Olympics wherein 11 Israeli athletes were murdered.

Indeed, civil society groups, Parliaments and political leaders around the world have been calling on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to hold a moment of silence at the London Games, with the Canadian Parliament the first to unanimously support this call – an expression of our responsibility to remember – le devoir de mémoire.

Nor is such a memorial, as you best know, 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, 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 (as it happens, I was in London at the time visiting as Minister of Justice), though this terrorist atrocity, as well, had no nexus to the Olympic Games.

The refusal of the IOC, therefore, 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. These eleven (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.

This steadfast reluctance 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.

As well, the IOC decision ignores that the Munich massacre occurred at the Olympic games not par hasard, but precisely because the Olympic games provided a venue of international resonance for such an attack; 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 forty years is an over-riding personal and moral imperative, as expressed to you yet again in London this week.

Accordingly, it is not hard to infer – as many have done – 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. Professor Deborah Lipstadt – a distinguished historian of antisemitism and one normally understated in her attribution of anti-Jewish or anti-Israel motifs – makes the connection. In her words:

“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.”

As Ankie Spitzer, widow of the murdered Andre Spitzer put it, 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.”

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, 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.

Sincerely,

Irwin Cotler, P.C., O.C., M.P.

Former Minister of Justice & Attorney General of Canada

Professor of Law (Emeritus), McGill University

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