A Sept. 5, 1972, file photo shows a member of the Palestinian terrorist group who seized members of the Israeli Olympic team. (Kurt Strumpf/AP)
President Barack Obama strongly supports holding a formal moment of silence at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in tribute to 11 Israeli athletes and coaches killed by Palestinian extremists at the 1972 games in Munich, the White House said Thursday.
"We absolutely support the campaign for a moment of silence at the Olympics to honor the Israeli athletes killed in Munich," National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor told Yahoo News by email.
The son of slain Israeli wrestling coach Moni Weinberg, Guri Weinberg, welcomed the news on Twitter. "I'm literally crying right now. Thank you, President Obama," he said.
The International Olympic Committee has rejected the proposal, and said that the victims—killed by extremists of the Palestinian "Black September" group—would be honored at a separate ceremony. In years past, the IOC has said that the Games are no place for what might be seen as a political statement. But supporters of the homage have not given up, and a global campaign has been under way to convince the IOC to reverse its decision. The opening ceremonies begin July 27.
The Senate unanimously approved a resolution on June 25 calling on the IOC to hold such a tribute. A similar measure sailed unopposed through the House Foreign Affairs Committee in early June, but it was not clear on Thursday whether the full House would vote on the measure before the games begin.
"I hope this is the final impetus to get the International Olympic Committee to agree that a minute should be set aside at the Opening Ceremonies next Friday to honor those murdered Olympians," said Democratic Representative Eliot Engel.
A spokeswoman for Mitt Romney, Andrea Saul, said the Republican standard-bearer had taken no public stance on the issue. When Romney ran the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, officials marked the 30th anniversary of the massacre (and, separately, American athletes carried a tattered American flag from the World Trade Center). But there was no moment of silence for the victims of Munich, despite entreaties from relatives of the victims. (The Salt Lake City games did, however, feature an elaborate dance number in memory of the late Florence Griffith-Joyner.)
NBC sportscaster Bob Costas told The Hollywood Reporter this week that he will stage his own personal protest of the IOC decision.
"I intend to note that the IOC denied the request," he tells THR. "Many people find that denial more than puzzling but insensitive. Here's a minute of silence right now."
Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, author of the Senate resolution, applauded the news.
"Observing a moment of silence at the 2012 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony, when the world's attention is focused on this symbol of international cooperation and peace, would pay tribute to the slain athletes and coaches and would send a powerful message of unity in the fight against terrorism," she said through a spokesman.
The White House's expression of support came one day after a bomb killed seven people aboard a bus carrying Israeli tourists in Bulgaria. That country has blamed a suicide bomber for the attack, and Israel has accused Iran-backed Hezbollah of being behind the violence. Iran has denied responsibility.
Obama telephoned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday to offer his condolences. The president "pledged to stand with Israel in this difficult time, and provide whatever assistance is necessary to identify and bring to justice the perpetrators," the White House said. "The president reaffirmed our unshakeable commitment to Israel's security and our deep friendship and solidarity with the Israeli people."
Contacted by Yahoo News, Weinberg, the son of the killed wrestling coach, praised Obama's "outstandingly courageous" decision to endorse the moment of silence campaign.
"No other U.S. president has ever come out this way on behalf of the Munich victims," Weinberg said by email. "Appreciation seems too small a word to describe my gratitude. I hope that more world leaders follow his example of courage and conviction, despite political fallout they might incur for doing so."