LONDON — Holding Israeli and British flags, nearly 500 people gathered to memorialize the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre Friday morning in Trafalgar Square. The short service honored the 11 Israeli athletes and coaches killed by Palestinian terrorists 40 years ago.
Despite worldwide support for a minute of silence at the Opening Ceremonies as tribute to the victims, including from President Obama, the IOC rejected the proposal and created controversy in advance of the London Games. The Trafalgar gathering was a response to the IOC’s stance. Bob Costas planned his own tribute during NBC’s broadcast.
In Trafalgar Square, a handout with photos of the deceased explained the purpose of the gathering: “Forty years after the event, in the face of massive public outcry and despite calls from many world leaders, the President of the International Olympic Committee, Jacques Rogge, has refused to hold a minute’s silence for the innocent victims of a terrorist attack committed during the Olympic Games, inside the dormitories of the Olympic Village, against 11 Olympic athletes.”
On Wednesday, Rogge turned down an in-person appeal from family members of the Israeli victims.
In a statement, Ankie Spitzer and Ilana Romano said they were “outraged” by Rogge’s refusal and thought a moment of silence would show the world where the IOC “stands in the fight against terrorism.” More than 105,000 signatures were gathered online in support. And the sentiments of Spitzer and Romano were echoed by many at Friday’s memorial.
“I decided less than 10 days ago that what was being done in the community was not enough,” said Clive Hyman of London, who helped organize the gathering. “I decided I was going to come to Trafalgar with an Israeli flag and pay proper tribute. I was upset with the IOC. This is the only time athletes were murdered in the whole of Olympic history. And the IOC wasn’t prepared to do anything publicly. And I think publicly is the most important thing.”
During a light drizzle, the tribute in Trafalgar included the Mourner’s prayer in Hebrew, as well as the singing of the Israeli national anthem, “Hatikvah,” and the British national anthem, “God Save the Queen.” The content of the 15-minute service was intentionally non-political, though many in the crowd thought Rogge rejected the service for political reasons.
“It was important to stand up for what we believe was anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish discrimination,” said Ari Soffer, director of the British Israel Coalition Public Affairs Committee and one of the event’s organizers. “If it had been another country or another religion, it would have been commemorated based on the IOC’s previous actions.”
Soffer was speaking of the Opening Ceremonies at the 2010 Vancouver Games, where Rogge led a tribute to a Georgian luger killed during pre-Olympic training. At the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, 9/11 was remembered.