Munich (1): “Spielberg is no friend of Israel”

December 15, 2005

* Spielberg set for an Oscar winning row
* Bill Clinton read the screenplay

This is the first of two dispatches today on Steven Spielberg’s new blockbuster film on Israel and its response to the Munich Olympics massacre. This dispatch contains articles from a wide range of people severely criticizing the film. The other dispatch presents more mixed points of view, including points sympathetic to the film.

Update: There is now a third dispatch on this subject here: Munich (3): BBC set to name woman agent who killed Olympics massacre mastermind

 

CONTENTS

1. “Munich, Spielberg’s biggest gamble”
2. “Vengeance – blood breeds blood”
3. Criticism from the Mossad: “It never happened that way”
4. Criticism from a Palestinian terrorist: “Why didn’t he consult us?”
5. “Keeping his friends in Hollywood happy”
6. “I don’t see Dirty Harry feeling guilt-ridden”
7. “Washington Diarist” (By Leon Wieseltier, New Republic, Dec. 9, 2005)
8. “Spielberg is no friend of Israel” (By Jack Engelhard, Ynetnews, Dec. 11, 2005)
9. “What ‘Munich’ Left Out” (By David Brooks, New York Times, Dec. 11, 2005)
10. “Snap Judgment: Dear Steven Spielberg” (By Calev Ben-David, Jerusalem Post, Dec. 1, 2005)



[All notes below by Tom Gross]

“MUNICH, SPIELBERG’S BIGGEST GAMBLE”

Steven Spielberg’s new feature film, “Munich,” opens in America on December 23, and in the rest of the world a short while later. (It is released in Israel in mid-January.) The film, in the words of its publicists, “examines Israel’s response to the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre, viewing Israel’s response to Munich through the eyes of the men who were sent to avenge that tragedy”.

Spielberg only began filming in July this year, and it is being rushed to the movie theaters already next week in order to meet the qualifying date to be considered for next year’s Oscar awards.

When Spielberg started filming in July, he said that “by experiencing how the implacable resolve of these men to succeed in their mission slowly gave way to troubling doubts about what they were doing, I think we can learn something important about the tragic standoff we find ourselves in today.”

The film has received extensive media coverage. In July, the New York Times described the film as “Spielberg’s biggest gamble”. Whilst the Sunday Times of London recently quipped that Spielberg was set “for an Oscar winning row”.

Spielberg has sought advice from a number of sources including his own rabbi, and from former American diplomat Dennis Ross. The script for the film was also shown to Bill Clinton.

Seven television networks, including the BBC are reported to be preparing documentaries on the making of “Munich”.

 

“VENGEANCE – BLOOD BREEDS BLOOD”

The film was originally titled “Vengeance,” and is based on the book by George Jonas titled “Vengeance: The True Story of an Israeli Counter-Terrorist Team”.

A member of the “Munich” cast, Daniel Craig, who this week starts filming in Prague as the new James Bond, told Empire magazine in June that the film is “about how vengeance doesn’t... work – blood breeds blood.”

The book, written in 1984, paints a picture of morally conflicted Mossad agents who increasingly question their mission.

Critics have claimed that the book is strewn with mistakes. The book is based on an Israeli named Yuval Aviv whose only security experience is thought to be as a security guard for the Israeli national airline El Al.

In 1986, HBO adapted the book “Vengeance” into a television movie called “Sword of Gideon”.

 

CRITICISM FROM THE MOSSAD: “IT NEVER HAPPENED THAT WAY”

Zvi Zamir, the head of Mossad in the 1970s, told Ha’aretz that Yuval Aviv is unknown to him and that he had not been contacted by Spielberg with a request for information about the subject of the film. “If it is indeed true that Spielberg is basing his film on the book, I am surprised that a director like him has chosen, out of all the sources, to rely on this particular book.”

Gad Shimron, a former Mossad officer, told the Hollywood newspaper Variety: “It’s nonsense, totally baseless.” He went on to say “This sexy plot of an epic squad composed of a German, a Frenchman, an American and a Brit sounds like a bunch of clowns playing partisans behind enemy lines. It never happened that way.”

 

CRITICISM FROM A PALESTINIAN TERRORIST: “WHY DIDN’T HE CONSULT US?”

Abu Daoud, a close aide of Yasser Arafat, has in recent years boasted of his responsibility for the Olympic massacre. He has also revealed that Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority funded the terrorist group sent to Munich.

Daoud has complained that he was not consulted by Spielberg: “If someone really wanted to tell the truth about what happened he should talk to the people involved, people who know the truth”.

For more on the involvement of Mahmoud Abbas in the Olympic massacre please see the dispatch Abu Mazen and the Munich Olympics massacre (June 8, 2003).

 

“KEEPING HIS FRIENDS IN HOLLYWOOD HAPPY”

It is clear from the many articles in the mainstream press on “Munich” that Spielberg strove for a balanced film. In June, Spielberg spokesman Marvin Levy told Reuters that “this film has been built from many, many sources. One thing I can say is we expect this to be a balanced film.”

Spielberg appears to have followed the trend in Hollywood and has used this opportunity to deal with the moral issues of how a country responds to a terrorist attack. As a result Jack Engelhard (article attached below) writes that “‘Munich’ may just as well have been scripted by George Galloway.”

Engelhard, (who is the author of the bestselling novel and movie “Indecent Proposal”) says Spielberg has “joined the trend to the Left, and that’s the way to go if you want to do lunch in that town again… he’s produced a baby that Barbra Streisand, Vanessa Redgrave and Oliver Stone could love.”

In the film’s final scene the World Trade Center’s twin towers can be seen in the New York skyline. This suggests the film is not only a message for how Israel deals with terrorists but also America’s counter terrorism as well.

David Brooks in the New York Times (article attached below) argues that “when it is political, Spielberg has to distort reality to fit his preconceptions.”

 

“I DON’T SEE DIRTY HARRY FEELING GUILT-RIDDEN”

Michael B. Oren, an Israeli historian, told the New York Times that “It’s become a stereotype, the guilt-ridden Mossad hit man. You never see guilt-ridden hit men in any other ethnicity. Somehow it’s only the Jews. I don’t see Dirty Harry feeling guilt-ridden. It’s the flip side of the rationally motivated Palestinian terrorist: you can’t have a Jew going to exact vengeance and not feel guilt-ridden about it, and you can’t have a Palestinian who’s operating out of pure evil - it’s got to be the result of some trauma.”

In a recent online discussion on the Ha’aretz website a reader pointed out that “In Steven Spielberg’s other films, (Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Last Crusade, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan), he clearly paints Nazis as evil. There is no attempt to humanize them, or provide the German point of view.”

Whilst I have not seen this film, a number of people who generally have reliable moderate views, such as Leon Wieseltier (literary editor of the New Republic), have and they are severely critical of Spielberg for his lack of sympathy to Israel. (Wieseltier says “It is soaked in the sweat of its idea of evenhandedness” between Palestinian terrorist and the Israeli security forces.) I attach four articles with summaries first.

(Among the authors of the articles below, David Brooks, Michael Oren, Leon Wieseltier and Calev Ben David are subscribers to this list.)

[All notes above by Tom Gross]

 


SUMMARIES

[Summaries below prepared by Tom Gross]

“A MOVIE THAT WISHES TO BE SHOCKING AND INOFFENSIVE AT THE SAME TIME”

“Washington Diarist” (By Leon Wieseltier, The New Republic, December 9, 2005)

...The makers of Munich seem to think that it is itself an intervention in the historical conflict that it portrays. For this reason, perhaps, they have devised a movie that wishes to be shocking and inoffensive at the same time. It tells the story of the Israeli retaliation for the massacre at the Munich Olympics in 1972 -- specifically, of the nasty adventures of a team of five Israelis that is dispatched to Europe to destroy eleven Palestinians. The film is powerful, in the hollow way that many of Spielberg’s films are powerful. He is a master of vacant intensities, of slick searings. Whatever the theme, he must ravish the viewer. Munich is aesthetically no different from War of the Worlds...

The real surprise of Munich is how tedious it is. For long stretches it feels like The Untouchables with eleven Capones. But its tedium is finally owed to the fact that, for all its vanity about its own courage, the film is afraid of itself. It is soaked in the sweat of its idea of evenhandedness. Palestinians murder, Israelis murder. Palestinians show evidence of a conscience, Israelis show evidence of a conscience. Palestinians suppress their scruples, Israelis suppress their scruples. Palestinians make little speeches about home and blood and soil, Israelis make little speeches about home and blood and soil. Palestinians kill innocents, Israelis kill innocents. All these analogies begin to look ominously like the sin of equivalence, and so it is worth pointing out that the death of innocents was an Israeli mistake but a Palestinian objective...

...The Israeli response to Black September marked the birth of contemporary counterterrorism, and it is difficult not to see Munich as a parable of American policy since September 11. “Every civilization finds it necessary to negotiate compromises with its own values,” Golda Meir grimly concludes early in the film, and one is immediately grateful for the un-Cheney-like sensation of a dissonance. Yet the film proclaims that terrorists and counterterrorists are alike. “When we learn to act like them, we will defeat them!” declares one of Avner’s men, played by Daniel Craig, already with a license to kill. Worse, Munich prefers a discussion of counterterrorism to a discussion of terrorism; or it thinks that they are the same discussion. This is an opinion that only people who are not responsible for the safety of other people can hold.

 

“HOLLYWOOD IS ALL ABOUT BEING TRENDY AND ISRAEL IS NOT THE TREND”

“Spielberg is no friend of Israel” (By Jack Engelhard, Ynetnews, December 11, 2005)

It remains to be seen, literally, if Steven Spielberg has switched sides, from kosher (“Schindler’s List”), to treyf. His movie, “Munich,” will be opening in a few days and early word has it that he has indeed gone “Hollywood.” This means that he’s joined the trend to the Left, and that’s the way to go if you want to do lunch in that town again.

If advance screenings prove accurate (the movie is set to open December 23), Spielberg has used the Olympic Massacre of 1972 to send a message that brings to mind the words of MGM tycoon Louis B. Mayer: “Movies are for entertainment. If you want to send a message, send a telegram.”

Regardless, Spielberg’s message is that the bad guys who murdered 11 Israelis are not all that bad, and that the Israeli secret services that pursued the killers, the good guys, are not all that good. They’re troubled by second thoughts. There isn’t much difference, according to Spielberg’s telegram, between killers and avengers...

...Spielberg has no such problems, first because he’s Spielberg, and second, in the case of “Munich,” he’s produced a baby that Barbra Streisand, Vanessa Redgrave and Oliver Stone could love - and these people can do lunch in Hollywood any time they want, and maybe that’s what it’s all about...

Jews pioneered Hollywood. If, as our enemies say, we own Hollywood, well, here’s the plot twist - we have lost Hollywood, and we have lost Spielberg. Spielberg is no friend of Israel. Spielberg is no friend of truth. His “Munich” may just as well have been scripted by George Galloway...

 

“A NEW KIND OF ANTIWAR MOVIE FOR A NEW KIND OF WAR”

“What ‘Munich’ Left Out” (By David Brooks, The New York Times, December 11, 2005)

Every generation of Americans casts Israel in its own morality tale. For a time, Israel was the plucky underdog fighting for survival against larger foes. Now, as Steven Spielberg rolls out the publicity campaign for his new movie, “Munich,” we see the crystallization of a different fable. In this story, the Israelis and the Palestinians are parallel peoples victimized by history and trapped in a cycle of violence...

This is a new kind of antiwar movie for a new kind of war, and in so many ways it is innovative, sophisticated and intelligent.

But when it is political, Spielberg has to distort reality to fit his preconceptions. In the first place, by choosing a story set in 1972, Spielberg allows himself to ignore the core poison that permeates the Middle East, Islamic radicalism. In Spielberg’s Middle East, there is no Hamas or Islamic Jihad. There are no passionate anti-Semites, no Holocaust deniers like the current president of Iran, no zealots who want to exterminate Israelis.

There is, above all, no evil. And that is the core of Spielberg’s fable. In his depiction of reality there are no people so committed to a murderous ideology that they are impervious to the sort of compromise and dialogue Spielberg puts such great faith in...

In 1972, Israel was just entering the era of spectacular terror attacks and didn’t know how to respond. But over the years Israelis have learned that targeted assassinations, which are the main subject of this movie, are one of the less effective ways to fight terror...

 

DEAR STEVEN SPIELBERG

“Snap Judgment: Dear Steven Spielberg” (By Calev Ben-David, The Jerusalem Post, December 1, 2005)

I hope you will not think me presumptuous, but given our long relationship I feel entitled to offer you some unsolicited advice regarding Munich, your new movie scheduled to premiere later this month...

...It was certainly surprising that in preparing for the film you chose not to personally speak with any of the surviving participants, both Israeli and Palestinian, of the events your film describes. This is even more disturbing in light of reports that one of your source materials is the George Jonas book Vengeance, whose account of the Munich massacre aftermath has been largely discredited since it was first published. No wonder that former Mossad chief Zvi Zamir, who oversaw the operation, has publicly taken your research methods to task.

Also disturbing was your choice of American-Jewish playwright Tony Kushner, an outspoken left-wing critic of Israel, to co-write the screenplay of Munich. Kushner has gone on record in declaring that “Zionism is an unappealing and problematic heritage” and “Zionism aimed at the establishment of a national identity is predicated on a reading of Jewish history and an interpretation of the meaning of Jewish history that I don’t share.”

What I really suspect, Steven, is that you are using Munich as a means of commenting, in your own way, on the situation of the United States in a post-9/11 reality. But by setting those concerns against the backdrop of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, you will cleverly sidestep having to contend with the kind of overwhelming backlash you would face if your movie made any direct politically charged controversial statements about America’s own current war on terror...



FULL ARTICLES

“A MOVIE THAT WISHES TO BE SHOCKING AND INOFFENSIVE AT THE SAME TIME”

Washington Diarist
By Leon Wieseltier
The New Republic
December 9, 2005

www.tnr.com/doc.mhtml?i=20051219&s=diarist121905

A few days before I read in Time that Steven Spielberg’s new movie is so significant that there would be no advance screenings of it, I went to an advance screening of it. The fakery is everywhere, isn’t it, though in this instance it nicely captures the self-importance of this pseudo-controversial film. The makers of Munich seem to think that it is itself an intervention in the historical conflict that it portrays. For this reason, perhaps, they have devised a movie that wishes to be shocking and inoffensive at the same time. It tells the story of the Israeli retaliation for the massacre at the Munich Olympics in 1972--specifically, of the nasty adventures of a team of five Israelis that is dispatched to Europe to destroy eleven Palestinians. The film is powerful, in the hollow way that many of Spielberg’s films are powerful. He is a master of vacant intensities, of slick searings. Whatever the theme, he must ravish the viewer. Munich is aesthetically no different from War of the Worlds, and never mind that one treats questions of ethical and historical consequence and the other is stupid. Spielberg knows how to overwhelm. But I am tired of being overwhelmed. Why should I admire somebody for his ability to manipulate me? In other realms of life, this talent is known as demagoguery. There are better reasons to turn to art, better reasons to go to the movies, than to be blown away.

The real surprise of Munich is how tedious it is. For long stretches it feels like The Untouchables with eleven Capones. But its tedium is finally owed to the fact that, for all its vanity about its own courage, the film is afraid of itself. It is soaked in the sweat of its idea of evenhandedness. Palestinians murder, Israelis murder. Palestinians show evidence of a conscience, Israelis show evidence of a conscience. Palestinians suppress their scruples, Israelis suppress their scruples. Palestinians make little speeches about home and blood and soil, Israelis make little speeches about home and blood and soil. Palestinians kill innocents, Israelis kill innocents. All these analogies begin to look ominously like the sin of equivalence, and so it is worth pointing out that the death of innocents was an Israeli mistake but a Palestinian objective. (I am referring only to the war between the terrorists and the counterterrorists. The larger picture is darker. Over the years more civilians were killed in Israeli air strikes than in the Palestinian atrocities that provoked those air strikes. The justice of Israel’s defense of itself should not be confused with the rightness of everything that it does in self-defense.) No doubt Munich will be admired for its mechanical symmetries, which will be called complexity. But this is not complexity, it is strategy. I mean of the marketing kind: I note that the filmmakers have nervously retained the distinguished services of Dennis Ross to guide the film through the excitable community of people who know about its subject. Munich is desperate not to be charged with a point of view. It is animated by a sense of tragedy and a dream of peace, which all good people share, but which in Hollywood is regarded as a dissent, and also as a point of view. Its glossy caution almost made me think a kind thought about Oliver Stone. For the only side that Steven Spielberg ever takes is the side of the movies.

The screenplay is substantially the work of Tony Kushner, whose hand is easily recognizable in the crudely schematic quality of the drama, and also in something more. The film has no place in its heart for Israel. I do not mean that it wishes Israel ill; not at all. But it cannot imagine any reason for Israel beyond the harshness of the world to the Jews. “The world has been rough with you,” the oracular gourmand godfather of an underground anarchist family, a ludicrous character plummily played by Michael Lonsdale, tells Avner Kauffman, the Israeli team leader. “It is right to respond roughly to such treatment.” Avner’s mother, whose family was destroyed by the Nazis, preaches this about the Jewish state: “We had to take this, because no one was going to give it to us. Whatever it took, whatever it takes.” Zionism, in this film, is just anti-anti-Semitism. The necessity of the Jewish state is acknowledged, but necessity is a very weak form of legitimacy. There are two kinds of Israelis in Munich: cruel Israelis with remorse and cruel Israelis without remorse. One of the Israeli killers recalls a midrash about God’s compassion for the Egyptians drowning in the Red Sea, and keeps on killing. Another one of the Israeli killers protests that “Jews don’t do wrong because our enemies do wrong. ... We’re supposed to be righteous,” and keeps on killing.

All this is consistent with Tony Kushner’s view that Zionism, as he told Ori Nir of Haaretz last year, was “not the right answer,” and that the creation of Israel was “a mistake,” and that “establishing a state means fucking people over.” (If he really seeks to understand Middle Eastern terrorism, he might ponder the extent to which statelessness, too, can mean fucking people over.) When Avner’s reckoning with his deeds takes him to the verge of a breakdown, he joins his wife and child in Brooklyn and refuses to return to Israel, as if decency is impossible there. No, Kushner is not an anti-Semite, nor a self-hating Jew, nor any of those other insults that burnish his notion of himself as an American Jewish dissident (he is one of those people who never speaks, but only speaks out). He is just a perfectly doctrinaire progressive. And the progressive Jewish playwright Tony Kushner’s image of Israel oddly brings to mind the reactionary Jewish playwright David Mamet’s image of Israel: For both of them, its essence is power.

The Israeli response to Black September marked the birth of contemporary counterterrorism, and it is difficult not to see Munich as a parable of American policy since September 11. “Every civilization finds it necessary to negotiate compromises with its own values,” Golda Meir grimly concludes early in the film, and one is immediately grateful for the un-Cheney-like sensation of a dissonance. Yet the film proclaims that terrorists and counterterrorists are alike. “When we learn to act like them, we will defeat them!” declares one of Avner’s men, played by Daniel Craig, already with a license to kill. Worse, Munich prefers a discussion of counterterrorism to a discussion of terrorism; or it thinks that they are the same discussion. This is an opinion that only people who are not responsible for the safety of other people can hold.

[Correction on The New Republic’s website: This article originally stated that Time wrote there would be no advance screenings of Munich. In fact, Time wrote there had been no advance screenings. We regret the error.]

 

“HOLLYWOOD IS ALL ABOUT BEING TRENDY AND ISRAEL IS NOT THE TREND”

Spielberg is no friend of Israel
You never want to be labeled a fan of Israel in today’s Hollywood
By Jack Engelhard
Ynetnews
December 11, 2005

www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-3182751,00.html

It remains to be seen, literally, if Steven Spielberg has switched sides, from kosher (“Schindler’s List”), to treyf. His movie, “Munich,” will be opening in a few days and early word has it that he has indeed gone “Hollywood.” This means that he’s joined the trend to the Left, and that’s the way to go if you want to do lunch in that town again.

If advance screenings prove accurate (the movie is set to open December 23), Spielberg has used the Olympic Massacre of 1972 to send a message that brings to mind the words of MGM tycoon Louis B. Mayer: “Movies are for entertainment. If you want to send a message, send a telegram.”

Regardless, Spielberg’s message is that the bad guys who murdered 11 Israelis are not all that bad, and that the Israeli secret services that pursued the killers, the good guys, are not all that good. They’re troubled by second thoughts. There isn’t much difference, according to Spielberg’s telegram, between killers and avengers.

Observers of our culture may conclude that Spielberg has bought an even bigger script than the one at hand, featuring moral equivalency as a sub-title.

No doubt Spielberg is serious, and that’s the problem. People aren’t buying popcorn as much as they used to and altogether box office numbers are down. People want to laugh, or cry. They don’t want to be sold. I know this from experience. I still get questions about “Indecent Proposal.” Why did I let Hollywood make those changes?

Well, when you sell a novel to Hollywood it’s gone with the wind. Hemingway suggested that we (writers) throw our novels over the Hollywood border, grab the money and run. That’s more or less what I did.

The interior voice of my novel - “what would you do for a million dollars – would you sell your wife for a night?” - was the Arab-Israeli conflict, mostly on the side of Israel. For Paramount Pictures, that was too much of a message, so they made changes, and guess what, I agree.

What about Exodus?

Or rather, I agreed then, not so much now. For some time I’ve asked this question - would Leon Uris get “Exodus” to the screen in this climate? I keep coming up with the same answer. No! Things have changed and not only for movies but for books as well. Again, personal experience, as with my latest, “The Bathsheba Deadline, ” that’s running as a serial on Amazon.com. Lucky for me that Amazon.com came along, the largest of them all put together.

But not so fast. The novel was turned down by a dozen New York publishers for being too pro USA and much too Jewish, too pro-Israel. One top publisher said it plainly, or half plainly: “I really got caught up in your novel; enjoyed it very much; powerful stuff. But I will not make an offer, and I think you know why.”

Yes, I knew why and I know why.

Don’t look at me. A thousand other writers of my persuasion have had similar brush-offs from New York and Hollywood. Tom Clancy writes a novel that features Arabs as the bad guys, but Hollywood, for reasons of sensitivity or box office, conveniently changes these villains to neo-Nazis. “The Sum of all Fears” may well have been titled “The Fear of all Sums.”

French-Israeli filmmaker Pierre Rehov travels deep into jihad territory, exposes the universe that indulges and glorifies terrorism, and he’s been getting some attention, but he is struggling to find a major distributor for his eye-opening documentaries.

Spielberg has no such problems, first because he’s Spielberg, and second, in the case of “Munich,” he’s produced a baby that Barbra Streisand, Vanessa Redgrave and Oliver Stone could love - and these people can do lunch in Hollywood any time they want, and maybe that’s what it’s all about.

Telegrams should go back and forth

In Hollywood today, where David is Goliath and Goliath is David, you never want to be labeled a conservative or a fan of Israel. Hollywood is all about being trendy and Israel is not the trend. You won’t get invited to the right parties and you won’t win any Oscars if your heart bleeds for a nation that is always on the verge of being wiped off the map.

My problem? If Uris could not get “Exodus” funded in an atmosphere that still reeks of “Durban” (and where is the movie about all that, Steve?) then Spielberg should not be green-lighted for “Munich.” Sure, Hollywood, go ahead, make your day. Show us their side of the story, but what about our side?

Where is the counterpoint? If you are trending toward political themes, yes, that is your right, but where is our Right, in which decidedly I mean the Right side of politics that has us walking with a target on our backs, meaning those of us who differ on moral equivalency and other trends?

Jews pioneered Hollywood. If, as our enemies say, we own Hollywood, well, here’s the plot twist - we have lost Hollywood, and we have lost Spielberg. Spielberg is no friend of Israel. Spielberg is no friend of truth. His “Munich” may just as well have been scripted by George Galloway.

Yes, Hollywood, send a telegram, but, to communicate and to get the message fair and straight, telegrams should go back and forth.

(Jack Engelhard is the author of the bestselling novel and movie “Indecent Proposal”)

 

“A NEW KIND OF ANTIWAR MOVIE FOR A NEW KIND OF WAR”

What ‘Munich’ Left Out
By David Brooks
Op-Ed Columnist
The New York Times
December 11, 2005

Every generation of Americans casts Israel in its own morality tale. For a time, Israel was the plucky underdog fighting for survival against larger foes. Now, as Steven Spielberg rolls out the publicity campaign for his new movie, “Munich,” we see the crystallization of a different fable. In this story, the Israelis and the Palestinians are parallel peoples victimized by history and trapped in a cycle of violence.

In his rollout interview in Time, Spielberg spoke of the Middle East’s endless killings and counterkillings. “A response to a response doesn’t really solve anything. It just creates a perpetual motion machine,” Spielberg said. “There’s been a quagmire of blood for blood for many decades in that region. Where does it end?”

The main problem, he concluded, is intransigence itself. “The only thing that’s going to solve this is rational minds, a lot of sitting down and talking until you’re blue in the gills.”

“Munich” the movie is a brilliant representation of this argument. Its hero, Avner, has been called in by Golda Meir to assassinate the terrorists responsible for the murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics. Over the course of the movie, as assassination piles upon assassination, Avner descends into a pit of Raskolnikovian hell. Israelis kill Palestinians and Palestinians kill Israelis and guilt piles upon paranoia. Eventually, Avner loses faith in his mission, in Zionism, in Israel itself.

This is a new kind of antiwar movie for a new kind of war, and in so many ways it is innovative, sophisticated and intelligent.

But when it is political, Spielberg has to distort reality to fit his preconceptions. In the first place, by choosing a story set in 1972, Spielberg allows himself to ignore the core poison that permeates the Middle East, Islamic radicalism. In Spielberg’s Middle East, there is no Hamas or Islamic Jihad. There are no passionate anti-Semites, no Holocaust deniers like the current president of Iran, no zealots who want to exterminate Israelis.

There is, above all, no evil. And that is the core of Spielberg’s fable. In his depiction of reality there are no people so committed to a murderous ideology that they are impervious to the sort of compromise and dialogue Spielberg puts such great faith in.

Because he will not admit the existence of evil, as it really exists, Spielberg gets reality wrong. Understandably, he doesn’t want to portray Palestinian terrorists as cartoon bad guys, but he simply doesn’t portray them. There’s one speech in which a Palestinian terrorist sounds like Mahmoud Abbas, but beyond that, the terrorists are marginal and opaque.

And because there is no evil, Spielberg gets the Israeli fighters wrong. Avner is an American image of what an Israeli hero should be. The real Israeli fighters tend to be harder and less sympathetic, and they are made that way by an awareness of the evil implacability of those who want to exterminate them.

In Spielberg’s Middle East the only way to achieve peace is by renouncing violence. But in the real Middle East the only way to achieve peace is through military victory over the fanatics, accompanied by compromise between the reasonable elements on each side. Somebody, the Israelis or the Palestinian Authority, has to defeat Hamas and the other terrorist groups. Far from leading to a downward cycle, this kind of violence is the precondition to peace.

Here too, Spielberg’s decision to tell a story set in the early 1970’s makes “Munich” a misleading way to start a larger discussion.

In 1972, Israel was just entering the era of spectacular terror attacks and didn’t know how to respond. But over the years Israelis have learned that targeted assassinations, which are the main subject of this movie, are one of the less effective ways to fight terror.

Israel much prefers to arrest suspected terrorists. Arrests don’t set off rounds of retaliation, and arrested suspects are likely to provide you with intelligence, the real key to defanging terror groups.

Over the past few years Israeli forces have used arrests, intelligence work, the security fence and, at times, targeted assassinations to defeat the second intifada. As a result, the streets of Jerusalem are filled with teenagers, and the political climate has relaxed, allowing Ariel Sharon to move to the center.

Recent history teaches what Spielberg’s false generalization about the “perpetual motion machine” of violence does not: that some violence is constructive and some is destructive. The trick is knowing the difference. That’s a recognition that comes from reality, not fables.

 

DEAR STEVEN SPIELBERG

Snap Judgment: Dear Steven Spielberg
By Calev Ben-David
The Jerusalem Post
December 1, 2005

www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1132475663600&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull

I hope you will not think me presumptuous, but given our long relationship I feel entitled to offer you some unsolicited advice regarding Munich, your new movie scheduled to premiere later this month.

Our relationship began of course back in 1971 when I saw your first feature film, the thrilling made-for-TV movie Duel, and later enthusiastically described it in detail to my friends. It continued during my years at the NYU film school, when I defended Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T. - and yes, even 1941 - as the works of a true cinematic artist, and not simply the proficient technician some of my fellow movie mavens initially took you for.

I felt vindicated when you deepened the range of your creative palette by tackling such darker and more complex material as The Color Purple, Empire of the Sun and Amistad. And how personally gratified I felt when you finally grappled with your own Jewish background by making the brilliant and wrenching Schindler’s List.

Now you are preparing to release Munich, which focuses on the Mossad operation that set out to track down and assassinate the Palestinian perpetrators of the terror attack on the 1972 Olympics that left 11 Israeli athletes dead. Sight unseen, the movie is already raising serious concerns - and no wonder.

It was certainly surprising that in preparing for the film you chose not to personally speak with any of the surviving participants, both Israeli and Palestinian, of the events your film describes. This is even more disturbing in light of reports that one of your source materials is the George Jonas book Vengeance, whose account of the Munich massacre aftermath has been largely discredited since it was first published. No wonder that former Mossad chief Zvi Zamir, who oversaw the operation, has publicly taken your research methods to task.

Also disturbing was your choice of American-Jewish playwright Tony Kushner, an outspoken left-wing critic of Israel, to co-write the screenplay of Munich. Kushner has gone on record in declaring that “Zionism is an unappealing and problematic heritage” and “Zionism aimed at the establishment of a national identity is predicated on a reading of Jewish history and an interpretation of the meaning of Jewish history that I don’t share.”

Nor, Steven, was I reassured by your one official media statement issued during the filming of Munich last summer: “Viewing Israel’s response to Munich through the eyes of the men who were sent to avenge that tragedy adds a human dimension to a horrific episode that we usually think about only in political or military terms. By experiencing how the implacable resolve of these men to succeed in their mission slowly gave way to troubling doubts about what they were doing, I think we can learn something important about the tragic standoff we find ourselves in today.”

Steven, I can’t imagine who in the world you believe thinks about the Munich massacre “only in political or military terms.” Nor is there any real evidence that the Israeli agents who carried out the retaliatory attacks “gave way to troubling doubts.”

One such agent was the Mossad’s legendary blonde femme fatale Sylvia Rafael, who took direct part in the most undeniably tragic episode of that mission - the 1974 killing in Lillehammer, Norway, of an innocent Moroccan waiter mistaken for Ali Hassan Salameh, the Black September’s operations chief in Europe. Even though Rafael expressed deep regret for that error after she and five others were subsequently caught and jailed in Norway, she went to her grave last year in her native South Africa never having expressed any doubts, public or private (according to her husband, the Norwegian lawyer who represented her in the Lillehammer case), about the overall worth of her mission.

And what is the “tragic standoff” you are referring to? Surely not the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Even though that situation may still be far from a resolution, it is equally far from a “stand-off”; there has been in fact tremendous progress made since 1972, when neither the Israeli nor Palestinian leaderships even recognized each other’s right to national self-determination.

What I really suspect, Steven, is that you are using Munich as a means of commenting, in your own way, on the situation of the United States in a post-9/11 reality. But by setting those concerns against the backdrop of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, you will cleverly sidestep having to contend with the kind of overwhelming backlash you would face if your movie made any direct politically charged controversial statements about America’s own current war on terror.

For example, I certainly think it unlikely that you would have made a movie about a terror attack against American citizens without first having consulted, or at least taken into account, the concerns of the surviving family members of the victims. Yet that is exactly what you have done with Munich, earning a rebuke on Israeli television from Ilana Romano, whose husband, weightlifter Joseph Romano, was among those slain at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

Perhaps you don’t know, Steven, but Ilana Romano has led a struggle for decades to see those victims memorialized by the International Olympics Committee by a proper mention made of the Munich tragedy during the official remarks of the opening ceremony at the quadrennial summer games. Yet the IOC has steadfastly refused that request, citing the anti-Israeli sensibilities of some of its participatory nations (presumably such as Iran, which at the 2004 Athens Olympics deliberately forfeited a scheduled wrestling match rather than have an Iranian athlete compete against an Israeli contender, yet received no penalty from the IOC).

Steven, despite all this, given our long cinematic relationship I’m still willing to go see Munich with an open mind in the hope you prove my concerns wrong, and if not, we will still have Arthur Cohn’s superb documentary One Day in September as the definitive film about these events. But frankly, I am already disappointed. Surely the creator of Schindler’s List knows that a filmmaker has a responsibility beyond just his directorial duties when he or she decides to tackle a real-life tragedy fresh enough to still have survivors living among us.

I notice, according to several reports, that in preparation for Munich you have retained the services of Allan Mayer, “a crisis PR specialist with Los Angeles-based Sitrick and Company who has advised Spielberg for several years.”

Well, I’m no “Hollywood crisis specialist,” but for what it’s worth, Steven, here’s my two cents’ worth: Even before your film comes out, you might consider expressing your support for efforts by the survivors of the Munich victims to finally get due recognition from the IOC.

And if not that, at the very least you should pick up the phone and give Ilana Romano the call she, and several others, deserve. I’m sure that bit of advice will sound a little familiar.

(The writer, former Jerusalem Post managing editor, is director of The Israel Project’s Jerusalem Media Resource Center)


All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.