SYDNEY (JTA) — Australian Jews criticized the Maccabi movement for continuing to employ officials responsible for the deaths of four Australians at the 1997 Maccabiah Games.
As this year’s games launched in Israel this week, Peter Wertheim of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry said, “It is hard to believe that a Jewish organization would behave with such callous disregard for the value of human life.”
Yoram Eyal, the chairman of the organizing committee of the 1997 games, was convicted in 2000 of criminal negligence for his role in the disaster that claimed the lives of Warren Zines, Yetty Bennett, Greg Small and Elizabeth Sawicki.
He is now general manager of the Maccabiah village, the headquarters of Maccabi World Union and a nerve center of the so-called Jewish Olympics.
His colleague, Ronald Bakalarz, president of the union in 1997, resigned in 2000 following three years of pressure from Australia and an ultimatum by the Knesset inquiry into the incident. Today he is chairman of the board of the Maccabiah village.
“It’s disgraceful but hardly surprising,” said Colin Elterman, whose daughter Sasha survived 28 brain operations after ingesting toxins at the Maccabiah. She and others fell into the heavily polluted Yarkon River when a bridge collapsed.
“There is nothing that the organization will not do to protect its insiders,” Elterman said. “Sadly it’s endemic in their system.”
Maccabi Australia President Lisa Borowick suggested it was time to move on.
“We can’t stop someone from earning a living,” she said. “Why can’t they [the media] focus on honoring those who lost their lives as we did at the memorial service held earlier this week?”
Eyal said he had no “organizational involvement” in the Maccabiah, although he is responsible for all guests, whether or not they are connected to the Maccabiah.
“No day has passed since then without my profound regret and respect for the lives that were lost and for their families, and it will be so to the end of my days,” he said.
Australia has a team of more than 400 athletes at the games, which opened Thursday night in Jerusalem.