Maccabiah Hall of Shame
by Gad Nahshon
The following information is based on the cry out of the Australian Jewish community as to the response of Israel to the collapse of the bridge near the Ramat Gan Stadium during the opening ceremony of the Maccabiah Games in the summer of 1997. It is the cry out of the families of the Jewish-Australian victims of this shocking, terrible tragedy: 370 Australians came to participate in this 15th Maccabiah. When they started to walk toward the gate of the Stadium on July 14, 1997, the temporary bridge over the Yarkon River collapsed. 70 Australians were injured. The disaster has been traumatic since four Australians died: Greg Small, Yetty Bennett, Elizabeth Sawicki and Warren Zines. We should never forget them and their legacy. We should, at least, erect a monument in Ramat Gan to keep their memory alive. We still remember the unique heroism of their 15 year old athlete, Sasha Elterman. She fought for her life. She was operated on 22 times. She spent almost a year in hospitals. Thank God she survived.
One can learn about the cry out and the protests of the Australian Jewry from an open letter to the Jewish Press World Wide (July 21, 1998) and from a special supplement which was published by the Australian Jewish News (Editor: Vic Alhadeff). The supplement is entitled The Maccabiah Tragedy one year on. This supplement included a special report (advertisement) by Colin Elterman, the father of Sasha Elterman. Any one who wants to help or contact the victim's families can call: 61-2-9313-4844, fax: 61-2-9669-2137. The following is the open letter followed by some of Mr. Elterman's demands representing the victims' families and may supporters:
AN OPEN LETTER TO THE JEWISH PRESS WORLD WIDE
MACCABIAH BRIDGE DISASTER ONE YEAR AFTER
Enclosed is a copy of what the Australian Jewish News published in its 8 page supplement last week together with a tape by the prestigious Australian Broadcasting Corporation's current affairs programme known as Four Corners.
A year has passed since the Maccabiah Bridge Disaster and the Australian Community is angry that nothing has been done in Israel. Steps that should have been taken in the normal course of doing the right thing have been neglected and avoided primarily because of the economic and political clout of Maccabi World Union (MWU).
There have been no resignations from MWU by senior MWU executives
We have had to fight and are still fighting for the establishment of an Independent Knesset Inquiry known as a Parliamentary Inquiry Committee
The issue of compensation has not even been raised. The government of Israel once and for all needs to take charge of this entire matter and a first step is the creation of a Parliamentary Inquiry Committee
After a year of pressing this issue our patience is running out. If there be no Parliamentary Inquiry Committee, resignations of the key MWU Executives and proper compensation paid, Australia should and in all probability will not send a team to what we will call The 2001 Games of Shame. We will actively canvass worldwide against the Israeli Government, the Jewish Agency and corporate sponsors of these Games and any participant, organizer or sponsor from Australia or elsewhere will be inscribed in the Maccabiah Hall of Shame...
Australia has been alone in expressing the outrage at the shabby treatment by Israel of the victims and Australian Jewry. It is time for other diaspora countries to stand up and be counted and join the fight for justice and accountability in Israel. You could be next...
Some of Mr. Elterman's ideas for bringing justice to the victims and dismantling tensions between Israel Maccabi World Union or AMWU and the Australian Jewish community and especially its Zionist segment. It is a cry out for justice against cop-outs, omissions and lack of responsibility, of course, from the Australian point of view. Are the victims being discriminated against by Israel's pattern of behavior? Do they get a different treatment because they are not Israeli citizens but only Jews from abroad? These are hard questions. Many say in Australia that they would not participate in the next Maccabiah games.. We hope to solve the problems as soon as possible. We need Jewish solidarity world wide. But this issue is a legal one. It is also a matter of courts. Let's hear Mr. Elterman's most important demands:
The Independent Knesset Inquiry (The Inquiry)
The families are very grateful to the many prominent Australians who have, on our behalf, lobbied Knesset leaders to press for the Inquiry. Our thanks also go to Alexander Downer and Federal Parliament Speaker Ian Sinclair who, during their recent parliamentary delegation to Israel, raised the issue of the Inquiry with Mr. Netanyahu and Israeli Speaker Tichon.
The vast majority of Knesset members support the Inquiry and Israel's Minister of Communications, Mrs. Limor Livnat, had promised us and the broad Australian community during her recent visit to Sydney, that the Inquiry would be established. Many prominent Israelis support this cause.
MWU should stop attacking the victims for the problems it has brought upon itself. It should face reality and accept its role in the disaster. Only then will it be able to start rebuilding its movement. A pre-condition for all of this, of course, is a proper apology, the implementation of all organizational and safety changes which will no doubt be recommended following the Knesset Inquiry, the resignations of senior MWU executives and thereafter the new executive reconciling all differences with the victims and Australian Jewry.
It is clear that there is no intention of anyone accepting liability or paying proper compensation. If, after a year, Maccabi World Union still refuses to even accept basic responsibility and still insists it=s all an accident and have only paid $US125,000 of its $US500,000 loan commitment, we are fooling ourselves if we believe those responsible will settle this matter speedily and amicably.
Without government intervention, the families will be fighting for many years to achieve compensation - a fight that will take them well past the next Maccabiah. This long drawn-out fight will be very traumatic for all of us
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