NEW YORK — Members of New York's Jewish community lambasted the International Olympic Committee's refusal to hold a minute of silence Friday for Israeli athletes massacred at the Munich games 40 years ago.
"There are three words I have for the International Olympic Committee," Eliot Engel, a congressman from New York state, said at a ceremony in Manhattan. "Shame on you!"
Engel was among dozens of Israeli and Jewish-American leaders holding their own minute of silence to remember the 11 victims killed at the hands of Palestinian militants in the 1972 bloodbath .
A large board with the black and white photos of the 11 stood next to the podium on a sidewalk where speaker after speaker excoriated IOC President Jacques Rogge for ruling that no official minute of silence would be held at the opening of the London games Friday.
Among them was Avi Melamed, an unofficial coach with the Israeli swimming team in Munich who narrowly escaped death.
"It's just a moment of silence we're asking for to commemorate the first Olympic battlefield," he said, recalling the terrifying moments after gunmen burst into the Israeli residence in the Olympic Village.
Rogge, who held an impromptu minute's silence when he toured the Athletes' Village in London on Monday, says that making such a gesture during the opening ceremony would politicize the celebration.
The Munich killings were the worst violence at any Olympics.
Eleven Israeli athletes and coaches, as well as a West German police officer, were killed during an attack and hostage-taking by the Black September group, which was seeking the release of Palestinian prisoners held in Israel.
Melamed, who had swum for Israel in the previous Olympics and was in Munich on an informal coaching basis, told reporters he remembered the shock of waking to gunfire. "I wasn't on a battlefield, or so I thought," he said.
His life was saved when a team member led militants past his room, steering the nightmare away. "Shots and mayhem and total disbelief," the soft-spoken former sportsman, now 68, said when asked to remember the initial moments.
Speakers ridiculed Rogge for saying he did not want to mix politics with sports and suggested the Olympics official was responding to pressure from pro-Palestinian Arab states.
"I'm convinced if it had been any other country than Israel there would have been a minute of silence," Engel said. "They don't want to offend the Arab countries, they don't want to offend the enemies of Israel."
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has also urged the IOC to back a minute of silence, a spokeswoman said Thursday.
"We are continuing to talk to them and to the British government about an appropriate way to commemorate this anniversary," spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.
Joseph Potasnik, vice president of the New York board of rabbis, said it shouldn't be that hard.
"37,360: these are the number of minutes in the entire Olympics and they didn't find one," he said.
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