One minute at the Olympics

July 25, 2012 by Emily Gian
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Emily Gian writes on Bulgaria, the Olympics, BBC bias and the one minute’s silence witnessed by a few hundred people instead of billions…

Emily Gian

Just under a week ago, a large group of Israelis was boarding four buses in Burgas, Bulgaria to begin their holiday following a chartered flight. A suicide bombing attack was carried out on the second of the four buses, which was to have transported Israeli tourists from the airport to hotels in the city. Five Israelis were killed in the attack and over 30 were wounded. The five Israelis killed were Maor Harush z”l, Yitzchak Kolangi z”l, Amir Menashe z”l, Elior Preis z”l and Kochava Shriki z”l.  The Bulgarian bus driver, Mustafa Kyosov was also killed in the attack (see more).

Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman stated that “Hizbullah terrorists undertook this attack, aided by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards”.  Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared “All signs point towards Iran. Over the last few months we have seen Iran’s attempt to attack Israelis in Thailand, India, Georgia, Kenya, Cyprus and other countries. Exactly 18 years to the day after the horrendous attack on the Jewish Community Centre in Argentina, deadly Iranian terrorism continues to strike at innocent people. This is a global Iranian terror onslaught and Israel will react firmly to it” (see more).

Just a week or so earlier, a Swedish national of Lebanese origin was detained in Cyprus on suspicion of tracking the movements of Israeli tourists. Cypriot Justice Minister Loucas Louca stated that “there are some similarities between the behaviour of the suspect and the terrorist attack in Bulgaria”.  He is being held on suspicion of espionage and conspiracy to commit a crime. PM Netanyahu said he has “rock-solid” intelligence that Hezbollah, backed by Iran, was responsible (see more).

The attack in Bulgaria as well as attempted attacks around the world should serve as a reminder to us all that unless Iran, Hezbollah and their proxies around the globe are condemned in the strongest possible manner, terrorist attacks on innocent Israelis will continue to take place.

This brings me to the 2012 Olympic Games, which officially open in London on Friday evening (Saturday morning our time).  There have been reports that the attack in Bulgaria was a rehearsal for a bigger attack to take place during the Olympics. PM Netanyahu stated “we are vigilant about the possibility that they (Iran and its agents) would attack elsewhere, but I can’t give specific details”. Asked to comment directly about reports that Israel feared an attack would take place in London he stated, “I’m not confirming any information that we have on the Olympics… I can’t give you any substantiation” (see more).

At the same time, it has now come to light that three weeks before the Munich Olympics in 1972, where 11 Israelis were murdered by Palestinian gunmen, officials were warned that “an incident would be staged from the Palestinian side during the Olympic Games in Munich” (see more). It is no wonder that more than $2 billion went into the security of this year’s Olympic Games to ensure that such an incident could not happen again in London (see more).

Back in May, we covered the Olympics and the fact that the International Olympic Committee was refusing to hold a minute’s silence to commemorate 40 years since the Munich Olympics, where 11 Israelis were murdered.  An international campaign has been underway for many months, spearheaded by widows of the Israelis murdered, to commemorate them at the Opening Ceremony of the Games. IOC President Jacques Rogge has repeatedly rejected these calls. As recent as Saturday he stated, “we feel that the opening ceremony is an atmosphere that is not fit to remember such a tragic incident” (see more). He had said they would be honoured at a reception during the games on 6 August, and that IOC officials would attend a ceremony in Germany on the anniversary of the attack on 5 September.

Mr Rogge had the opportunity to stand up publicly at a ceremony where the whole world would be watching to send a clear message that terror was never to be tolerated, particularly against sportsperson of any nationality whilst under its auspices. Eleven athletes were murdered during a sporting event that is supposed to bring the world closer together, not tear it further apart. Instead of commemorating them at the Opening Ceremony, Rogge chose a smaller event at the athlete’s Olympic village yesterday to remember those murdered in Munich.

He stated “I would like to start today’s ceremony by honouring the memory of 11 Israeli Olympians who shared the ideals that have brought us together in this beautiful Olympic Village… the 11 victims of the Munich tragedy believed in that vision. They came to Munich in the spirit of peace and solidarity. We owe it to them to keep that spirit alive and to remember them” (see more). It is really nice sentiment, which still would have been more powerful, had he have said those words while billions of people all over the world were actually watching. He did state that he could not “speak here about peace and sport without reminding what happened 40 years ago”. Which is reason enough in my eyes to do it at the opening ceremony. To do it elsewhere away from the eyes of the world is a shameful betrayal of the Olympic spirit and the athletes who perished forty years ago in Munich.

The worldwide campaign to commemorate the Israeli athletes was supported by our own Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, who back in June sent a letter to Mr Rogge stating “On behalf of the Commonwealth of Australia, I am writing respectfully to express support for the observation of a moment of silence to be held at the 2012 London Olympic Games opening ceremony, or at an appropriate time during the Games, so that the Olympic movement can honour, before the world, the memory of those whose lives were lost during that horrific event” (see more).  A few days earlier, Australian Parliament stood in a minute’s silence.

Last Friday, US President Barack Obama also put his weight behind the campaign with White House National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor declaring “we absolutely support the campaign for a minute of silence at the Olympics to honor the Israeli athletes killed in Munich (see more).

Also joining the campaign is NBC’s lead Olympic anchor Bob Costas, who has said that if the IOC fails to allow a minute of silence during the opening ceremony, he will hold one on NBC’s telecast as the Israeli team enters the arena. He stated, “I intend to note that the IOC denied the request… many people find that denial more than puzzling, but insensitive, [so] here’s a minute of silence right now” (see more).

Ankie Rekhess-Spitzer, a widow of the Munich Olympics said that the IOC “told us the Arab delegations will get up and leave. To which I said, ‘It’s OK; if they don’t understand what the Olympics are all about, let them leave’.”

Controversy has also followed the Israeli team with the BBC coverage of Israel. Initially, in its description of “Key Facts” of Israel, the BBC had omitted the capital city of Israel, while it listed East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine. Public outrage ensued and Mark Regev, a spokesman for the PM sent a letter to the BBC. Responding to the controversy, the BBC then amended the Israel page with a “Seat of Government” and wrote that it was in “Jerusalem, though most foreign embassies are in Tel Aviv”. Meanwhile, the Palestine page was changed to “Intended seat of government” being listed as “East Jerusalem. Ramallah serves as administrative capital”. Regev has since sent a second letter, demanding that the BBC ends its discrimination of Israel. You can join the campaign, by clicking here. The BBC has for years demonstrated its bias against Israel and this seems unlikely to change.

In the meantime, Israeli has a number of Olympic hopefuls this year – Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs shines the spotlight on just a few here!

I would also like to draw your attention to sailor Nufar Edelman, whose mother, Shibolet Shofet Edelman was a shlicha for Habonim Dror and a big part of the Melbourne Zionist community during her 3 year shlichut.

I will leave you with a clip from the Athens Olympics in 2004, where the aptly named windsurfer Gal (Hebrew for wave) Fridman became the first Israeli to win a Gold Medal at the Olympics. As Australians, we are lucky enough to hear the Australian anthem played a number of times throughout the games, but it was a very proud moment to hear the Hatikvah finally being played. Hopefully we hear it again this year!

 Emily Gian is the Israel Advocacy Analyst at the Zionist Council of Victoria and a PhD Candidate in Israeli Literature at the University of Melbourne

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