Australian parliament stands in silence in memory of Israeli athletes
The Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Anna Burke, this morning called members to stand in silence in memory of the eleven Israeli athletes murdered by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
The move came after a motion was passed unanimously in parliament last night calling “on the International Olympic Committee to observe one minute’s silence at the 2012 Olympic Games in honour of the 11 Israeli athletes murdered by terrorists at 1972 Munich Olympics.” The parliament decided that although the decision to hold a minute’s silence in London was yet to be reconsidered, the Australian parliament would hold one today.
The silence lasted almost a minute. The members of the House of Representatives were asked to stand in silence by the Deputy Speaker “in support and respect” of the motion.
Today Parliament stood in silence before the start of the day’s business.
Speeches were made last night supporting the motion:
Paul Fletcher as reported on J-Wire yesterday moved the motion. The following is the text of his speech:
I am very pleased to speak to the motion which I have moved in support of the memory of the 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team who were murdered in a terrorist attack at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games. The motion calls upon the International Olympic Committee to honour the memory of those slain with one minute of silence at the 2012 London Olympic Games. The events of September 1972 have been seared into world consciousness. The Israeli Olympic team attended the Munich Olympics with a delegation of 30—16 athletes, two referees and 12 other delegates including coaches.
On 5 September 1972 at around 4 am, members of the Black September organisation, disguised as athletes, scaled a fence at the Olympic village and made their way into the apartments housing the Israeli athletes. The terrorists broke into the Israeli accommodation and rounded up sleeping Israeli athletes. Two managed to escape, two were killed and there were nine remaining hostages. The Black September organisation then demanded the release of 234 Palestinians and other nationalities jailed in Israel, together with two radicals in German jails. Israel immediately and steadfastly indicated that it would not negotiate. As negotiations continued during the day, the deadline kept being extended. Meanwhile, the games continued and it was not until some 12 hours after the raid that the games were suspended under mounting pressure.
The terrorists secured the supposed agreement of the authorities to safe passage them and their hostages to a third country. Unfortunately, in the process of this supposedly occurring, the German authorities chose to intervene and the result was a horrific and absolute disaster. There was a substantial loss of life. In fact, all of the hostages ultimately were killed even though heart-rendingly at one point the media were told that all the hostages had been saved. The sad truth was conveyed some hours later at 3:20 am on 6 September when an Indian journalist announced, ‘They are all gone.’
It is important that this horrific event is not forgotten and that is the point of the motion before the House today. For some 40 years the families of those killed in Munich and the Jewish community around the world have been asking the International Olympic Committed to observe a minute of silence at Olympic Games in memory of those killed in Munich. To date this is not a request which the International Olympic Committee has seen fit to accede to. Accordingly, the point of this motion is for the Australian House of Representatives to add to the call for the International Olympic Committee to agree to a minute of silence at 2012 London Olympic Games.
One of those who has been leading the call has been Ankie Spitzer, the wife of a victim of the attack, Andre Spitzer. Ankie has spearheaded a petition and an internet campaign seeking a minute’s silence. Let me quote from some of what she has had to say:
Silence is fitting tribute for athletes who lost their lives on the Olympic stage. Silence contains no statements, assumption or beliefs and requires no understanding of language to interpret.
The Israeli government, I understand, has also added to the call for a minute’s silence at London Olympics. In recent weeks a motion in similar terms has been passed by the Canadian parliament. So to date the International Olympic Committee has declined to facilitate such a memorial, either at past Olympics or at the upcoming London Olympics. The evident reason that the International Olympic Committee has taken this position is due to a concern that such a memorial might alienate certain participants in the Olympic Games. In my view this is not a question of creating division or of opening up old wounds; it is simply a matter of recognising the memory of those who lost their lives in the course of participating in an Olympic event. It is entirely appropriate that this should be acknowledged and recognised at an Olympic games and it is entirely appropriate that the International Olympic Committee should facilitate a gesture that allows the memory of the victims of this terrorist atrocity to be acknowledged and for there to be recognition of this event. Accordingly, I commend this motion to the House
Liberal member for Kooyong, Josh Frydenberg said:
In 32 days time we celebrate the Games of the 30th Olympiad in London. Two weeks of intense competition and interstate rivalry is sure to provide a lifetime of memories and, in many cases, a lifetime of friendships. But, unless the International Olympic Committee has a change of heart, there is likely to be in London something significantly amiss.
Some 40 years ago, at the 20th Olympiad in Munich, West Germany, the world was shocked when 11 Israelis —six coaches and five athletes—were murdered by the Palestinian terrorist group Black September. But since that time the international Olympic Movement has refused calls to devote one minute of silence before the start of every Olympics to remember the tragic events of 1972. This Olympics in London is the perfect opportunity to right the wrongs of the past. Indeed, the slogan for the 2012 Olympics is ‘Inspire a Generation’. Now it is time to live up to these words. Plaques and memorials only go so far. What is now needed is a minute of silence.
This is what the motion before the chamber today, moved by my friend and colleague the member for Bradfield and seconded by me, is all about. We in the Australian parliament, in a bipartisan manner, Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition alike, join with our parliamentary colleagues in the United States, the United Kingdom, Israel and Canada in calling upon the International Olympic Committee to at last pay a proper tribute to the innocent lives lost at the Munich games in 1972. To deny this commemoration is to deny the reality of what happened and the urgency of ensuring it never happens again.
The IOC needs to understand that the terrorists who carried out the attacks of 5 and 6 September 1972 took more than the lives of talented Israeli athletes and coaches, devoted fathers and husbands. They also took with them the innocence of the entire Olympic Movement, a movement which from its origins at Athens in 1896 was known as a noble sporting competition devoted to the goal of ‘citius, altius, fortius’—faster, higher, stronger. But thereafter it became the scene for a bloody act of political violence wreaked by those with no regard for the innocence of sport and the sanctity of international competition. Ironically it was in Germany too, at the Berlin Olympics of 1936, that an ascendant Hitler turned his back on the victorious American black athlete Jesse Owens, but the events of Munich were of a different scale and nature, with the loss of so many lives. This is what the IOC must understand and acknowledge in the appropriate way.
The Olympic Charter itself states emphatically in paragraph 1:
The goal of the Olympic Movement is to contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport practised in accordance with Olympism and its values.
Those values are clearly outlined as the rejection of discrimination and the preservation of human dignity. The act of terrorism was a direct repudiation of these values and of the Olympic Charter itself, thereby making it incumbent upon the IOC to step up and do more than it has been prepared to do to date.
It must be remembered there are precedents which have seen the Olympic Movement acknowledge tragedies of the past. In 2010, at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, there was a minute of silence following the earlier death of an athlete in training, and at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics there was a special tribute to the victims of September 11. The question therefore has to be asked of the IOC: what is it that makes commemorating the events of 1972 so different? If indeed it is a fear of antagonising countries that are not friendly with Israel then this is even a greater reason for the IOC to take a stand. Sport must be above politics and divorced from political violence of any kind. A minute’s silence at the London Olympics for the 11 Israelis and one German police officer killed at Munich will send a strong message to the world. Never again.
I commend all those individuals, including the member for Bradfield, the member for Melbourne Ports and the member for Eden-Monaro; the media outlets, including the Australian Jewish News; and national governments from around the globe who have worked tirelessly to ensure that the Olympic Movement does not forget the victims of Munich. My heart goes out to the families of those lost, particularly to Mrs Ilana Romano and Mrs Ankie Spitzer, whose husbands, weightlifter Yossef Romano and fencing master Andre Spitzer, were killed at Munich. Together, those two women have worked hard to promote this important cause. I say to you all, on behalf of my many colleagues in this place: we feel your pain and we will do all we can to promote the memory of those who so deserve their one minute of silence.
Mike Kelly, the Labor member for Eden-Monaro also spoke saying:
I commend the previous speakers and, in particular, I commend the member for Bradfield for having initiated this motion about the 1972 Munich massacre. In doing so, the member for Bradfield has done a very fine thing and I am proud that we can unite in supporting this motion.
It is a sad day, as the member for Kooyong has mentioned, for the families of the 11 athletes and the German policeman killed by the Black September terrorists. It is as well to remember that some of those victims were survivors of the Holocaust—people like Yaakov Springer, the weightlifting judge, whose entire family was annihilated in the Holocaust but who himself managed to survive it. The Munich massacre was a double tragedy in that respect. The murdered athletes were there in support of the Olympic ideal we have heard referred to. There was one poignant incident exemplifying the attitude of these fine athletes at the games—Andre Spitzer approaching members of the Lebanese team, saying, ‘I want to reach out to these people, exchange pleasantries as athletes and build a bond.’ To him, that was what the Olympics were all about. That was the spirit in which these athletes entered into those Olympic Games.
The 1972 games mark a loss of innocence for the Olympics. After that, for many years, the Olympics were regularly used as a platform for politics and they were further perverted by the doping scandals that followed as well. Instead of being a place of coming together, a place of celebration of diversity and common humanity, the 1972 Olympics became a scene or carnage. The irony is that the Black September group which perpetrated this massacre were named after an event in Jordan in September 1970 in which Jordanian forces massacred large numbers of Palestinians—an event Israel had nothing to do with.
The complicity of other nations in the Munich massacre should be recalled as well. The terrorists trained in Libya —and how appropriate it was that Colonel Gaddafi finally met the same end he had effectively meted out to so many others through his support for terrorist groups over the years. The terrorists were facilitated in their penetration of Europe by the Bulgarian intelligence service, who became the outsourcing mechanism for the KGB in supporting international terrorism. They were also facilitated in their reconnaissance of the village by the athletes on the East German team. For many years, these were the mechanisms of the KGB at work.
The incompetence of the German authorities has been commented upon. At that time—and what took place was shameful—they rejected an offer from the Israeli authorities to provide a rescue team and they demonstrated a cavalier approach to the operation. In doing so, they failed their own personnel, many of whom were injured —and one was killed—on the night. The athletes could well have been saved by a more effective approach to that operation. The incompetence of the Germans extended to allowing their first attempts at an approach to be filmed by the television channels; to allowing the roads to be blocked, preventing the armoured vehicles from getting there; to positioning their snipers badly; to not being properly equipped; and, ultimately, to the personnel positioned on the aircraft, the one the terrorists and the hostages were moving towards, taking a vote on abandoning the mission because they felt they were too much at risk and walking off the plane a couple of seconds before the terrorists were to enter that aircraft—thus triggering what occurred. As mentioned by the member for Melbourne Ports, that was followed by revelations about the neo-Nazi connection and, after that, by the German government orchestrating a Lufthansa hijacking so that they could hand over the remaining three terrorists with plausible deniability cover. That was a shameful episode—the Germans trying to avoid future terrorist attacks through this mechanism.
This did give rise to the formation of the GSG 9 and many other counterterrorist units around the world, including ours in 1978 through the assigning of a counterterrorism mission to the SAS. In addition, the Munich experience drove me to try and achieve the reforms we needed for own counterterrorism response in the lead-up to the Sydney Olympics of 2000. I am proud to say that the Labor and coalition members of parliament at that time collaborated to produce that result, a result that was opposed at the time by the Greens, saying that Australia would never be a terrorist target and that we would never have to worry about terrorism. So I am proud of the work that we did together and the bipartisan approach to achieve that reform. It also goes to show, of course, that nations must be prepared and ready to face these threats at any time.
We must have a minute’s silence in London to remind the world of the loss of these fine Israeli athletes and to inspire our rededication to the implacable fight against terror, the attainment of peace in the Middle East and our pursuit of the Olympic ideal.
Michael Danby was the fourth speaker and his speech was reported last night on J-Wire. Read it here