* BBC will tonight name Erika Chambers as the British woman who in 1979 detonated the bomb in Beirut that killed the mastermind of the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre
* Munich widow Mimi Weinberg breaks silence to blast Spielberg: “With Jews like Spielberg and Kushner we don’t need enemies”
This is a follow-up to two previous dispatches on this list:
* Munich (1): “Spielberg is no friend of Israel” (Dec. 15, 2005)
* Munich (2): Spielberg: “For me this movie is a prayer for peace” (Dec. 15, 2005)
1. BBC set to reveal name of British Mossad agent
2. Munich widow Mimi Weinberg blasts Spielberg
3. George Jonas, author of “Vengeance,” on “Munich”
4. On humanizing terrorists
5. “Munich” will carry “the original terrorists’ intended message to every theater in the world”
6. “The effect is to jumble cause and consequence”
7. Steven Spielberg: “The film doesn’t criticize Israel”
8. “‘Munich,’ the Travesty” (By Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post, Jan. 13, 2006)
9. “What’s wrong with Spielberg’s new movie” (By Bret Stephens, Wall Street Journal, Jan. 1, 2006)
10. “Disagree with me, that’s what I want” (Interview with Steven Spielberg, UK Sunday Times, Jan. 22, 2006)
BBC SET TO REVEAL NAME OF BRITISH MOSSAD AGENT
[All notes below by Tom Gross]
In a documentary to be broadcast tonight (11.20 pm UK time), the BBC will make public the name of the British woman, Erika Chambers, who in January 1979 detonated the bomb in Beirut that killed the overall mastermind of the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre. Working on behalf of the Mossad, Erika Chambers, who is believed not to be Jewish, befriended the leader of the PLO terror group that planned the Munich massacre, Ali Hassan Salameh. (Tom Gross adds: Chambers isnt necessarily her real name.)
Salameh was then enjoying a playboy lifestyle in Beirut. In order to get close to him, Chambers, then aged 31, socialized with Salameh, and even went swimming with him, though they did not go to bed. Chambers rented an apartment close to where Salameh lived. From her window she was able to press a remote controlled device, when Salameh drove past, killing him on January 22, 1979. A few hours later, Chambers left for Europe.
Several senior Mossad officials have been British born, including the last head of the Mossad, Ephraim Halevy.
Steven Spielberg’s fictionalized account of the massacre, “Munich,” opens in Britain and various other European and Asian countries on Friday. There will also be another major TV documentary about Israel’s response to the Olympics massacre broadcast on Britain’s Channel 4 on Thursday evening.
MUNICH WIDOW BLASTS SPIELBERG
Mimi Weinberg, who lost her husband in the Munich massacre, but unlike other bereaved families has never before gone public about the incident, has decided to break her silence to criticize Spielberg.
Speaking from Los Angeles in an interview with the Israeli paper Yediot Ahronot published today, Weinberg says Spielberg “produced a fantasy.”
She says: “This movie fails to discern between those who murder innocent civilians in their sleep and those who hunt down the murderers. That’s what frustrates me about this movie. It drives me crazy. I saw the movie twice. The first time I couldn’t believe what I’d seen, so I went again to make sure I understood.
“With Jews like Spielberg and Kushner we don’t need enemies. There are so many children who never knew their parents. People are murdered in their sleep, and along comes Spielberg to cause the Americans to believe that this is some sort of reality.
“I watched the Golden Globe film awards all tense. When Spielberg and Kushner failed to win anything, I jumped for joy.”
GEORGE JONAS ON “MUNICH”
Following my last dispatches on “Munich” in December, the former wife (and still close friend) of George Jonas wrote to me requesting that Jonas’ point of view be aired. Jonas is the author of “Vengeance,” the book the film is supposedly based on. His book along with the film has been widely criticized for its alleged inaccuracies.
Jonas, a Hungarian Holocaust survivor, is now resident in Canada. His former wife asks me to point out on his behalf to readers of this email list:
“Vengeance is a brilliant book and while Spielberg has used it as a ‘road-map’ for his film, Spielberg and Jonas draw entirely opposite conclusions. The book is being republished now and has some utterly superb writing and insights. I cannot commend it too highly. It also has a final essay ‘Notes on A Controversy’ which details how the book was researched and Jonas’ own conclusions about the identity of his source and the role of Mossad.
“It is quite horrid for a Holocaust survivor as Jonas is, he wore the yellow star and was in hiding in Budapest it is awful for him to see in the last years of his life, the linking of his book with Spielberg’s thesis of moral equivalence.
“As ‘Vengeance’ makes clear, the Israeli hit team had no moral qualms about what they were doing. They believed it to be right. They had some questions about the utility of it the replacement of dead terrorists by even worse ones, such as Carlos.
“Avner had no crisis of conscience as he has in the film. He had a crisis of fury at the Mossad and Israel when he was not paid for his work. He had been promised a sum of money for the job when done. According to him, when he informed Mossad that he was not returning to work as an intelligence agent, they would not give him the payment. They offered him several jobs, cushy ones, but Avner wanted to resign from Mossad. That, he says, was not in their view ‘kosher’.”
ON HUMANIZING TERRORISTS
George Jonas himself now adds:
“Spielberg’s movie worries about the moral trap of resisting terror; my book worries about the moral trap of not resisting it. The story could be called ‘A Tale of Two Avners.’
“‘But Mr. Jonas’s Avner, unlike Mr. Spielberg’s, is not paralyzed by moral doubt,’ as Edward Rothstein would point out eventually in the New York Times.
“A few leftist reviewers flavor their remarks with a soupcon of anti-Semitism. They hint that Jews object to ‘Munich’ because they’re racist, and can’t stand that Spielberg-Kushner view Palestinians as human beings. Writing for Bloomberg, Margaret Carlson says Spielberg treats the Palestinians as people, and that’s enough to turn off a large segment of frequent moviegoers (read Jews). But treating Palestinians as people doesn’t turn off a large segment of the Jewish population, as Carlson implies; what might turn them off is treating terrorists as people. Not demonizing human beings is dandy, but in their effort not to demonize humans, Spielberg and Kushner end up humanizing demons.”
“MUNICH” WILL CARRY “THE ORIGINAL TERRORISTS’ INTENDED MESSAGE TO EVERY THEATER IN THE WORLD”
Charles Krauthammer, who is a subscriber to this email list, writes in The Washington Post (article attached below) that “The only true part of the story is the few minutes spent on the (Olympics) massacre. The rest is invention, as Spielberg delicately puts it in the opening credits, ‘inspired by real events.’
“By real events? Rubbish. Inspired by Tony Kushner’s belief (he co-wrote the screenplay) that the founding of Israel was a ‘historical, moral, political calamity’ for the Jewish people.”
Krauthammer asks why “Spielberg makes the Holocaust the engine of Zionism and its justification. Which, of course, is the Palestinian narrative It takes a Hollywood ignoramus to give flesh to the argument of a radical anti-Semitic Iranian.”
Krauthammer concludes that the movie will carry “the original terrorists’ intended message to every theater in the world.”
“THE EFFECT IS TO JUMBLE CAUSE AND CONSEQUENCE”
In The Wall Street Journal, Bret Stephens (also a subscriber to this email list) makes several perceptive criticisms of the film. He also wonders why Spielberg focuses on the Israelis and money: “Again and again in ‘Munich,’ the Israelis are seen counting the cost of each kill, down to the last dollar.”
Stephens analyzes the results of Spielberg’s work: “The effect is to jumble cause and consequence; to make the massacre seem like a response to Israeli atrocities; to turn Munich into just another stage in the proverbial cycle of violence, or what Mr. Spielberg calls a ‘response to a response.’ Mr. Spielberg has said he made this film as a ‘tribute’ to the fallen athletes. What he has mainly accomplished is to trivialize their murder.”
(Most of the people mentioned above Krauthammer, Stephens, Jonas’s former wife, The New York Times’s Edward Rothstein, and Ephraim Halevy are long-time subscribers to this email list.)
SPEILBERG: “THE FILM DOESN’T CRITICIZE ISRAEL”
Steven Spielberg has again defended “Munich” prior to its release in European countries next weekend. For example in an interview published two days ago in The (London) Sunday Times (attached in full below), he says that the film “forces the audience to look directly into the face of unmitigated evil again and again, to remind the audience of why Israel had to respond to Munich in the first place.”
Spielberg, widely regarded as the greatest film director at work today, also insists that “The film doesn’t criticize Israel, it doesn’t even criticize Israeli policy.”
He says: “What our film suggests (is) that when you make policy to create a response to violence, the intelligence that you use to select your targets has to be very carefully picked over, because there are all sorts of unintended results that come with this kind of a response, results that nobody can foresee.”
Spielberg says he was particularly upset by David Brooks, the New York Times columnist, who wrote that “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”.
I attach three articles below, two attacking Spielberg, the third is an interview with Spielberg. I recommend reading all three.
[All notes above by Tom Gross]
‘Munich,’ the Travesty
By Charles Krauthammer
The Washington Post
January 13, 2006
If Steven Spielberg had made a fictional movie about the psychological disintegration of a revenge assassin, that would have been fine. Instead, he decided to call this fiction “Munich” and root it in a historical event: the 1972 massacre by Palestinian terrorists of 11 Israeli athletes at the Olympic Games. Once you’ve done that evoked the killing of innocents who, but for Palestinian murderers, would today be not much older than Spielberg himself you have an obligation to get the story right and not to use the victims as props for any political agenda, let alone for the political agenda of those who killed them.
The only true part of the story is the few minutes spent on the massacre. The rest is invention, as Spielberg delicately puts it in the opening credits, “inspired by real events.”
By real events? Rubbish. Inspired by Tony Kushner’s belief (he co-wrote the screenplay) that the founding of Israel was a “historical, moral, political calamity” for the Jewish people.
It is an axiom of filmmaking that you can only care about a character you know. In “Munich,” the Israeli athletes are not only theatrical but historical extras, stick figures. Spielberg dutifully gives us their names Spielberg’s List and nothing more: no history, no context, no relationships, nothing. They are there to die.
The Palestinians who plan the massacre and are hunted down by Israel are given with the concision of the gifted cinematic craftsman texture, humanity, depth, history. The first Palestinian we meet is the erudite translator of poetry giving a public reading, then acting kindly toward an Italian shopkeeper before he is shot in cold blood by Jews.
Then there is the elderly PLO member who dotes on his 7-year-old daughter before being blown to bits. Not one of these plotters is ever shown plotting Munich, or any other atrocity for that matter. They are shown in the full flower of their humanity, savagely extinguished by Jews.
But the most shocking Israeli brutality involves the Dutch prostitute apolitical, beautiful, pathetic shot to death, naked, of course, by the now half-crazed Israelis settling private business. The Israeli way, I suppose.
Even more egregious than the manipulation by character is the propaganda by dialogue. The Palestinian case is made forthrightly: The Jews stole our land and we’re going to kill any Israeli we can to get it back. Those who are supposedly making the Israeli case say... the same thing. The hero’s mother, the pitiless committed Zionist, says: We needed the refuge. We seized it. Whatever it takes to secure it. Then she ticks off members of their family lost in the Holocaust.
Spielberg makes the Holocaust the engine of Zionism and its justification. Which, of course, is the Palestinian narrative. Indeed, it is the classic narrative for anti-Zionists, most recently the president of Iran, who says that Israel should be wiped off the map. And why not? If Israel is nothing more than Europe’s guilt trip for the Holocaust, then why should Muslims have to suffer a Jewish state in their midst?
It takes a Hollywood ignoramus to give flesh to the argument of a radical anti-Semitic Iranian. Jewish history did not begin with Kristallnacht. The first Zionist Congress occurred in 1897. The Jews fought for and received recognition for the right to establish a “Jewish national home in Palestine” from Britain in 1917 and from the League of Nations in 1922, two decades before the Holocaust.
But the Jewish claim is far more ancient. If the Jews were just seeking a nice refuge, why did they choose the malarial swamps and barren sand dunes of 19th-century Palestine? Because Israel was their ancestral home, site of the first two Jewish commonwealths for a thousand years long before Arabs, long before Islam, long before the Holocaust. The Roman destructions of 70 A.D and 135 A.D. extinguished Jewish independence but never the Jewish claim and vow to return home. The Jews’ miraculous return 2,000 years later was tragic because others had settled in the land and had a legitimate competing claim. Which is why Jews have for three generations offered to partition the house. The Arab response in every generation has been rejection, war and terrorism.
And Munich. Munich, the massacre, had only modest success in launching the Palestinian cause with the blood of 11 Jews. “Munich,” the movie, has now made that success complete 33 years later. No longer is it crude, grainy TV propaganda. “Munich” now enjoys high cinematic production values and the imprimatur of Steven Spielberg, no less, carrying the original terrorists’ intended message to every theater in the world.
This is hardly surprising, considering that “Munich’s” case for the moral bankruptcy of the Israeli cause not just the campaign to assassinate Munich’s planners but the entire enterprise of Israel itself is so thorough that the movie concludes with the lead Mossad assassin, seared by his experience, abandoning Israel forever. Where does the hero resettle? In the only true home for the Jew of conscience, sensitivity and authenticity: Brooklyn.
“IF YOU START WITH AN AX TO GRIND, THEN YOU WRITE A BAD PLAY OR MOVIE”
Munich: What’s wrong with Steven Spielberg’s new movie
By Bret Stephens
The Wall Street Journal
January 1, 2006
Steven Spielberg wants you to know one thing about “Munich,” his just-released, semihistorical, instantly controversial account of Israel’s efforts to avenge the massacre of its athletes at the 1972 Olympics: “I worked very hard,” he says, “so this film was not in any way, shape or form going to be an attack on Israel.” So why is his movie raising such hackles among Israelis and those generally known as the “pro-Israel” crowd?
Maybe it has something to do with his choice of a screenwriter, Tony Kushner, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright brought in by Mr. Spielberg to rework the original screenplay by Eric Roth. Mr. Kushner (who, like Mr. Spielberg, is Jewish) believes that the creation of the state of Israel was “a historical, moral, political calamity” for the Jewish people. He believes the policy of the government of Israel has been “a systematic attempt to destroy the identity of the Palestinian people.” He believes that responsibility for making peace between Israelis and Palestinians lies primarily with the Israelis, “inasmuch as they are far more mighty.” He believes Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is an “unindicted war criminal.”
Maybe it has something to do with Mr. Spielberg’s curious use of “Jewish” tropes. Again and again in “Munich,” the Israelis are seen counting the cost of each kill, down to the last dollar: $352,000 for an assassination in Rome; $200,000 for a bombing in Paris. “Killing Palestinians isn’t exactly cheap,” remarks one of the members of the Israeli team. A Frenchman in the business of retailing the whereabouts of wanted men praises Israeli squad leader Avner Kauffman (Eric Bana) because he pays “better than anyone.” A Mossad officer warns Kauffman not to overspend his budget. “I want receipts,” he says.
Maybe it has something to do with the historical liberties Mr. Spielberg takes in telling the story. “Vengeance,” the George Jonas book upon which the film is largely based, is widely considered to be a fabrication. The book is based on a source named Yuval Aviv, who claimed to be the model for Avner but was, according to Israeli sources, never in the Mossad and had no experience in intelligence beyond working as a screener for El Al, the Israeli airline.
Maybe it has something to do with Mr. Spielberg’s depiction of the Palestinian targets. The Israeli team’s first quarry is an elderly, evidently kindly man whom the audience first encounters reading from his Italian translation of Scheherazade. Target Two is a well-spoken diplomat and doting father. Target Three offers Avner a cigarette from across a balcony; Avner repays the gesture by having him blown to bits in his bed. Another target gives a moving speech about his longing for his homeland and the agony of 24 years of dispossession. There is nothing wrong with depicting Palestinians even those involved in terrorism as fully rounded human beings. Yet not one of these characters is seen performing the deeds for which they have been targeted, unlike the Israelis in the film, who perform dirty deeds by the dozen.
Maybe it has something to do with the straw-man arguments the Israelis offer for exacting their revenge. “The only blood that matters to me is Jewish blood,” says Steve (Daniel Craig), the most macho of the Israeli hit men. Steve is a South African Jew, blonde and blue-eyed, and somehow it’s no surprise that this Jewish Aryan is made to utter this most racist of views. Avner’s mother offers her son an ends-justify-the-means rationalization for his killings: “Whatever it takes,” she says, “we have a place on Earth at last.” And then there is Prime Minister Golda Meir (Lynn Cohen) who justifies the assassination policy by saying, “forget peace for now, we have to be strong.” Never mind that in 1972 neither the Arab states nor the PLO was prepared to live in peace with Israel on any terms. Never mind, too, that peace and strength are not incompatible options.
Maybe it has something to do with the false dichotomy the film establishes between Jewish ideals and Israeli actions. “Every civilization finds it necessary to negotiate compromises with its own values,” pronounces the fictional Mrs. Meir. Yet the Torah and Talmud are replete with descriptions of the justified smiting of one enemy or another. (Hanukkah, for instance, commemorates the Maccabean victory over the Seleucid empire.) It is Christianity, not Judaism, that counsels turning the other cheek.
Maybe it has something to do with what in Hollywood is known as the hero’s “character arc.” Avner is introduced in the film as the quintessential sabra, the son of Zionist pioneers personally selected for the mission by the prime minister herself. But as his doubts about his mission grow, so does his disillusionment with Israel. On a return visit to Israel, he can barely bring himself to shake the hands of two soldiers who congratulate him for his rumored exploits. By film’s end, he has moved his family to Brooklyn and convinced himself that the Mossad is targeting him for assassination.
Maybe it has something to do with the film’s final scene. Ephraim (Geoffrey Rush), Avner’s snarling Mossad handler, has come to New York to ask Avner to “come home.” Avner refuses; Israel, apparently, is no longer a suitable place for a morally sensitized man. Next, Avner invites Ephraim to join him at home for supper. “Break bread with me,” he says. “Isn’t that what Jews do?” Now it’s Ephraim who says no, as if to suggest that such old-fashioned courtesies are no longer of interest to today’s hard-of-heart Israelis.
Maybe it has something to do with Mr. Spielberg’s decision to depict the actual slaughter of the Israeli athletes (bizarrely interwoven with an especially vulgar sex scene) at the end of the film rather than at the beginning. The effect is to jumble cause and consequence; to make the massacre seem like a response to Israeli atrocities; to turn Munich into just another stage in the proverbial cycle of violence, or what Mr. Spielberg calls a “response to a response.” Mr. Spielberg has said he made this film as a “tribute” to the fallen athletes. What he has mainly accomplished is to trivialize their murder.
“If you start with an ax to grind,” Mr. Kushner recently told the Cleveland Plain-Dealer, “then you write a bad play or movie.” To watch “Munich” is to recognize the truth of that statement.
SPIELBERG: “I THINK THE FILM IS EFFECTIVE BECAUSE IT DOES WHAT HISTORY BOOKS REALLY CAN’T DO”
Disagree with me that’s what I want: Goaded by critics of his new film Munich, Steven Spielberg tells Christopher Goodwin he is not guilty of sympathising with terrorists
The Sunday Times (of London)
January 22, 2006
The eternal wunderkind of American cinema is tired.
“I made two films, War of the Worlds and Munich, in the same calendar year,” says Steven Spielberg wearily, “and I’m not 30 years old any more, so I’m looking to rest for a little while.”
Spielberg, 59, is also tired of sitting back and taking the furious barrage of attacks from critics of Munich, the most controversial film he has made in his long career.
Munich tells the astonishing and largely true, according to Spielberg story of the Israeli assassination squad who hunted down the Palestinians responsible for the deaths of 11 Israelis during the 1972 Munich Olympics.
The film, which opens in Britain next weekend, is also Spielberg’s sometimes anguished attempt to point out what he sees as the futility of the cycle of violence between Palestinians and Israelis. Before it opened in America at the end of December he said he had made it as a “prayer for peace” in the Middle East.
The reaction to the film has become increasingly vehement and personal. Spielberg’s critics have accused him of the “sin of equivalence” and “moral relativism”. They charge that he equates Palestinian terrorism with the Israeli response to that terror.
Spielberg clearly felt that as Hollywood’s most prominent and powerful Jew he would be immune from some of the more venomous attacks on him. He has always been a strong supporter of the state of Israel and Jewish causes. He used the profits from Schindler’s List, his Oscar-winning Holocaust drama, to fund the Shoah Foundation, which is compiling an unprecedented and vast audio-visual library of the personal stories of Holocaust survivors.
Deciding not to take the attacks silently any more, Spielberg spoke to The Sunday Times last week, accusing the critics of “political censorship disguised as criticism”.
He was particularly upset by David Brooks, the conservative New York Times columnist, who wrote that “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”.
Spielberg retorted that his film “forces the audience to look directly into the face of unmitigated evil again and again, to remind the audience of why Israel had to respond to Munich in the first place”.
He vividly recalls watching the television news coverage of the kidnappings and massacre in Munich as a 25-year-old: “It was the first time that the word ‘terrorism’ and the term ‘terrorist’ were brought into public consciousness.”
On the night of September 4, 1972, during the second week of the Olympics, members of the so-called Black September group invaded the lightly guarded Olympic village. Two members of the Israeli team were killed; nine others were taken hostage.
Over the next 21 hours, 900m people around the world watched the tragic events unfold on television. An inept rescue attempt by the German military on the tarmac of Furstenfeldbruck airport on the outskirts of Munich ended with the deaths of all the hostages, five of the kidnappers and a German police officer. The three surviving kidnappers were freed after Palestinians hijacked a Lufthansa jet.
Spielberg became increasingly intrigued by the mechanics and morality of operation Wrath of God, the response secretly formulated by the Israeli government to hunt down and assassinate those responsible. Thirteen Arabs, not all of them connected to the massacre, are believed to have died. The Israeli government finally called a halt after a hit squad killed an innocent Moroccan waiter in Denmark as a result of mistaken identity.
The story of the assassinations was first told in 1982 in the book Vengeance by George Jonas. Aspects of this account have been much disputed, yet it is the main source for the new film.
Spielberg bought the rights to the book about five years ago, but he says his biggest problem “was to find a credible source that would allow me to acquit the story with enough truth to illuminate the questions that Tony Kushner and I were trying to pose”.
Kushner, credited as co-writer of the script, is the Pulitzer prize-winning playwright of Angels in America, the fantastical epic about the havoc caused by Aids.
“I developed the script based on a number of sources,” says Spielberg, “but it wasn’t until I met the living source, who the character Avner in my film portrays, did I really decide that this was a story that was worth telling.”
Avner, the name given in Jonas’s book and in Spielberg’s blockbuster to the leader of the Israeli assassins, embodies many of the bitter controversies of the film.
Some critics, including the makers of a documentary, Munich: the Real Assassins, to be shown on Channel 4 on Thursday, claim that Yuval Aviv, the man most commonly thought to be the model for Avner, was a fantasist who had worked as an El Al baggage handler, not as a trained killer.
Spielberg rejects this, saying he and Kushner met the man his Avner is based on and believed his story, although he won’t divulge his name. “Because this mission was so clandestine, until secret files are opened by Israel there is going to be a lot of room for speculation, interpretation and point of view,” Spielberg says. “I happen to trust my source.”
Spielberg portrays Avner as a man who becomes increasingly morally conflicted about his mission, especially after he begins to suspect that some of the people he has killed may have had no involvement in Munich. Eventually Avner quits to establish a new life with his wife and child in New York. He clearly symbolises the deep moral doubts many progressive Jews, including obviously Spielberg and Kushner, have about the violent nature of the Israeli state response to Palestinian demands and terror.
Critics have attacked this portrayal of Avner for a number of reasons. Jonas himself, the originator of Avner in his book, insists that “my Avner may have questioned the utility of his mission toward the end targeted assassinations barely slowed down terrorism, let alone stopped it but he never questioned the morality of what his country had asked him to do. He had no pangs of guilt”.
“I disagree with that,” says Spielberg. “The character we were portraying didn’t doubt his mission and if he had the chance to serve Israel again in the same way he would leap to it. But that doesn’t negate the fact that he had moral questions about his mission and about his own actions and how it was affecting his heart and soul.
“The man we met, on whom Avner is based, expressed that to Tony Kushner and myself quite eloquently and passionately. It’s not uncharacteristic for soldiers in any conflict to be conflicted about what they are doing, although they would do it over again if they had the opportunity.”
Jonas has another charge: “Spielberg’s Munich follows the letter of my book closely enough. The spirit is almost the opposite. Vengeance holds there is a difference between terrorism and counterterrorism; Munich suggests there isn’t. The book has no trouble telling an act of war from a war crime; the film finds it difficult. Spielberg’s movie worries about the moral trap of resisting terror; my book worries about the moral trap of not resisting it.”
This is the argument of those who accuse Spielberg of the “sin of equivalency”. The director denies that he is simplistically postulating that violence begets violence.
“What our film suggests (is) that when you make policy to create a response to violence, the intelligence that you use to select your targets has to be very carefully picked over, because there are all sorts of unintended results that come with this kind of a response, results that nobody can foresee,” he says.
“I personally believe that Golda Meir (who was the Israeli prime minister) needed to respond in the way that she did because Israel would have been perceived as weak had it done nothing to attempt to dismantle the Black September network in western Europe. The film doesn’t criticise Israel, it doesn’t even criticise Israeli policy, but it says that there are unintended consequences in everything that has to do with violence.
“These guys are saying that what we are doing with Munich is not making any distinction in our empathy between terrorist victims and the killing of people who are terrorists. I think that is nonsense. These people have a knee-jerk response whenever characters who are terrorists or who are suspected terrorists are given a chance to have dialogue. The minute we allow them to speak we suddenly are committing the sin of equivalence, and to me that is just foolish politics.”
In one of Munich’s pivotal but fictional moments, Avner and his group accidentally spend a night in the same safe house as a group of Palestinian assassins and engage in a soul-searching debate with them about the fundamental issues separating the two peoples. This scene, in which Spielberg and Kushner give the Palestinians a voice, has infuriated conservatives.
“Palestinians murder, Israelis murder,” wrote commentator Leon Wieseltier in The New Republic. “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.”
Spielberg countered: “It is fascinating to watch people who really only want their assumptions confirmed by what they are taking into the theatre. They go into the film and they shave off everything and anything that challenges their assumptions. They sculpt this movie to be what they want it to be. They are really looking for a simple-minded thesis.
“I think the film is effective because it does what history books really can’t do, which is to ask questions that may not have an immediate answer, and I think this frustrates people.
“I have always been taught that in democratic society discussion is the greatest good you can perform, the most valuable thing you can do. It’s part of my Jewish tradition and it’s Talmudic. I encourage people to agree or disagree with what I am doing. But not by saying it was bad to have ever made this film. That’s political censorship disguised as criticism and that’s not what I am accustomed to in the marketplace of democracy.”
He said that he and his family “love Israel, we support Israel, we have unqualified support for Israel, which has struggled, surrounded by enemies, ever since its statehood was declared ... I feel very proud to stand right alongside all of my friends in Israel; and yet I can ask questions about these very, very sensitive issues between Israelis and Palestinians and the whole quest for a homeland”.
If Steven Spielberg can’t ask these questions, who can?