Munich massacre Australian Parliament June 2012
Australian legislators stand in silence Tuesday in unanimous support of a motion to support a minute's silence at the Olympic Games in London in memory of the Munich 11. Photo by Auspic
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Jewish legislator Michael Danby and Prime Minister Julia Gillard shaking hands just after the vote on Tuesday morning. Photo by Auspic

SYDNEY – A rainbow coalition of Australian politicians are calling for a minute of silence at the London Olympics in memory of the 11 Israeli athletes and coaches murdered at the 1972 Munich Games.

About 100 legislators in Canberra voted unanimously on Tuesday for a motion urging the International Olympic Committee to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the terror attack during next month's games. The motion's supporters include Australian prime minister Julia Gillard and opposition leader Tony Abbott.

As they stood to register their support, the MPs themselves observed a moment of silence, in memory of the victims of the Munich massacre.

The vote, originally scheduled to be held only in several weeks, was apparently fast-tracked in the hope that the bipartisan support could help sway international opinion in the lead-up to the Olympics.

Proposed by Liberal MP Paul Fletcher, the motion said the impact of the massacre in 1972 "has been seared on world consciousness."

Fletcher, whose Sydney constituency includes a large Jewish population, told Haaretz the motion was both a "recognition of an atrocity" and a "humanitarian call."

Joshua Frydenberg, the only Jewish federal MP in the opposition Liberal Party, seconded the motion.

The attack by Black September terrorists was "a bloody act of political violence wreaked by those with no regard for the innocence of sport and the sanctity of international competition," Frydenberg told parliament.

"It’s imperative for the Olympic movement to commemorate the death of 11 innocent Israelis at Munich in 1972," he said. "Only by remembering this tragedy can we impart the message that it must never happen again."

Politicizing the Games?

The motion was also supported by Michael Danby, a Jewish lawmaker for the governing Labor Party. Danby blasted the intransigence of the IOC, which claimed a minute’s silence would politicize the Games.

 "It doesn’t want to risk alienating countries that don’t like Israel, or cause dictatorships to walk out or boycott the Olympic games," he told parliament.

"Perhaps their reluctance to acknowledge the 40th anniversary of the massacre is not simply a desire to kowtow to the Organization of the Islamic States," he added. "Perhaps they don’t want people to remember their incompetence," he said, referring to the inadequate security arrangements at the 1972 Games.

Mike Kelly, the parliamentary secretary for defense, who is married to former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s cousin, said: "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."

But last month the IOC rejected an official request from Israel’s Foreign Ministry to allow a minute’s silence for the Munich 11 at the July 27 opening ceremony of the London Games.

"The IOC has officially paid tribute to the memory of the athletes on several occasions," IOC president Jacques Rogge wrote in a letter to Israeli officials. "Within the Olympic family, the memory of the victims of the terrible massacre in Munich in 1972 will never fade away."

However, Rogge said he expected to attend a commemoration organized by the Israeli Olympic Committee during the Games.

The Australian resolution, which is non-binding, comes less than two weeks after Canada’s parliament also passed a unanimous resolution supporting one minute’s silence.

Earlier this month the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee unanimously approved a non-binding resolution to honor the memory of the Munich victims and last week the London Assembly joined the growing chorus of organizations urging the IOC to hold the commemoration.

It also comes in the wake of a letter-writing campaign initiated by the Australian Jewish News supporting a minute’s silence.

'Silence contains no statements'

Similar to the online petition by Ankie Spitzer, the wife of one of the Munich 11, which has garnered almost 80,000 signatories, the newspaper’s letter campaign has been signed by hundreds of respondents, including Gillard and Abbott, state premiers and a host of federal MPs from the major political parties.

"Silence is a fitting tribute for athletes who lost their lives on the Olympic stage," the letter states. "Silence contains no statements, assumptions or beliefs and requires no understanding of language to interpret."

AJN editor Zeddy Lawrence, who is originally from London, said he initiated the campaign because "there was a wrong that needed to be righted."

Sydney is the first Olympic city outside of Munich to have erected a permanent memorial to the murdered Israelis. Unveiled on the eve of the 2000 Games at the Olympic stadium and funded by several local Jewish businessmen, the memorial contains the names of the 11 victims, an inscription from the Book of Samuel and the traditional prayer for the dead in Hebrew.

The 11 members of the Israeli contingent were taken hostage by Black September terrorists, who infiltrated Munich's Olympic village in 1972 and demanded the release of more than 200 Palestinian prisoners. All 11 Israelis were murdered, most of them during a botched rescue operation by German police. Five terrorists and a German police officer were also killed.

Monday night, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a resolution to recognize the 40th Anniversary of the “Munich 11”, introduced by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL).

“The Jewish Federations of North America applaud the clear call by the Senate to honor the victims of the 1972 tragedy,” said William Daroff, Vice President for Public Policy and Director of the Washington Office of The Jewish Federations of North America. “According to the Olympic Charter, ‘the goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.’ As we approach the 40-year anniversary of this massacre, we hope everyone – especially members of the IOC – will embrace that Olympic spirit and come together to honor the memory of the slain Israeli athletes and coaches.”