Congressional push for Olympic commemoration of Munich athletes began as hasbara

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Ankie Spitzer asking for a minute of silence honoring her deceased husband and other Israeli athletes killed at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

For the last 40 years, Ankie Spitzer has pressed the International Olympic Committee for a moment of silence to honor the death of her fencing coach husband and ten other Israelis taken hostage during the 1972 Olympic games in Munich. Her repeated requests have gone unanswered. Then in 2010 the Jewish Community Center of Rockland County, New York launched a campaign for a memorial in the opening ceremony. The “minute of silence” took off. Today Spitzer’s wish for a commemoration has backing from both Congress and lately President Obama.

“We absolutely support the campaign for a minute of silence at the Olympics to honor the Israeli athletes killed in Munich,” said National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor.

The president’s endorsement follows a June 25, 2012 Senate bill 504 titled, “To recognize with a minute of silence at the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony the athletes and others killed at the 1972 Munich Olympics.” The resolution’s sponsor is listed as Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), who is supported by a hefty 33 co-sponsors. The text asks the IOC “to promot[e] a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.” The one mention of Palestinians comes in the introduction as a matter of historical background. “Members of the Black September Palestinian terrorist group murdered eleven members of the Israeli Olympic Team consisting of athletes, coaches, and referees.”

Though there is some dispute as to whether German snipers accidentally killed some of the athletes during the botched rescue mission, generally the bill’s synopsis is straightforward. The word “terrorist” is only affixed to those who actually carried out the hostage attack.

But the original draft of the bill sought to condemn the Palestinian leadership. In the first draft submitted on May 17, 2012, to the House of Representatives, most of the Palestinian leadership cited. Both the Palestinian Liberation Organization and Fatah party are name-called “terrorists.”

Additionally the bill conflates Judaism and Zionism by stating the attack was against “the Jews and Israelis.”  This phrasing obfuscates the hostage-takers’ political objectives, to gain the release over 200 Palestinian political prisoners.

For another thing, the original resolution proposed honoring the murdered Israelis at every future Olympic game, not just the one in London.

Take a look a the difference between the first and final drafts [full text]. The red indicates changes in copy. The approved bill is on the left:

Screen shot 2012 07 20 at 4 36 24 PM
Passed legislation, Senate Resolution 504 (left), originally introduced to the House as Resolution 663 (right).
Screen shot 2012 07 20 at 4 39 42 PM
Passed legislation, Senate Resolution 504 (left), originally introduced to the House as Resolution 663 (right).

Side by side, the early version has the appearance of hasbara cloaked in sheep’s clothing. That is because noted Islamophobe Nita Lowey and Eliot Engel, a Democrat running for re-election against a sympathizer of the Palestinian cause, introduced it.

Lowey and Engel picked up the appeal last spring after the Rockland County JCC enlisted support from the Jewish establishment and launched an online campaign. Over 100,000 have signed the petition calling for a minute of silence at the Olympics. There is also a website,, with background information and a video appeal from Spitzer herself. It is worth mentioning the Jewish Federation of North America lists the bill on its website under the header “Israel Advocacy.” And another supporter, the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), for years has lobbied against moments of silence on the ground of “religious freedom.” “JCRC will continue to maintain its traditional support of a clear separation between church and state. JCRC will continue to oppose the moment of silence in public schools.”

Spitzer wants the moment of silence to begin at this year’s Olympic games. “There is no way they are going to do the Olympics this time without mentioning Munich,” she said to the Jewish Federation of Rockland County earlier this spring. Continuing, “I think it might make it this time; if there is a petition with a lot of response, maybe it will get through their skulls what we are trying to do.” Members of the Israeli government echoed her push for London and the 40th anniversary of the Munich murders. Danny Ayalon, the foreign minister, even made a one-minute YouTube video asking for social media support. “Please sign the petition, like our Facebook page, and share the hashtag #justoneminute on Twitter.”

Following suit, members of the German, Canadian, Australian and British parliaments all endorsed the minute of silence. But despite the global attention, advocates for the memorial will likely be disappointed. Since Spitzer made her first pitch to the IOC four years after her husband’s murder, the Olympic committee rejected the appeal, citing a policy against political ceremonies during the games.

Even so, representatives from the Olympics committee have attended an annual commemoration hosted by the Israeli team many times since the 1970s. Jacques Rogge, president of the IOC said in a letter earlier this month, the Olympic committee “has officially paid tribute to the memory of the athletes on several occasions and will continue to do so in close coordination with the National Olympic Committee of Israel.”

. . .

Separately, Palestinians will take part in the Olympic games this year for the first time since 1996. Their participation comes as part of an outreach program designed to include athletes from countries that historically have been left out of the competition. 


About Allison Deger

Allison Deger is the Assistant Editor of Follow her on twitter at @allissoncd.

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