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Monday, January 30, 2006


Steven Spielberg's latest film is a milestone in American mainstream culture. The story of the 1972 Palestinian attack on Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics, the movie is less concerned about the massacre and focuses instead on the aftermath. Many prominent Jewish groups and Zionists have condemned the work, clearly a sign that Spielberg has created something worthwhile.

The director says this about himself and his motivations:

"I made this picture as a committed Jew, a pro-Israeli Jew and yet a human Jew. I made this movie out of love for both of my countries, USA and Israel.

"Some political critics would like to see these people [Palestinians] dehumanised because when you take away someone's humanity you can do anything to them, you're not committing a crime because they're not human. This film clearly states that the Black September of the Munich murders were terrorists. These were unforgivable actions but until we begin to ask questions about who these terrorists are and why terrorism happens, we're never going to get to the truth of why 9/11 happened, for instance."

The film tells the story - "inspired by real events" - of the Mossad-led retaliation team directed by Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir to hunt down and kill the organisers of the massacre. Eric Bana plays Avner, the leader of the squad. In the beginning, the team finds its targets with vigour but soon doubts start creeping in. Avner becomes the moral compass of the film, left defending a homeland he no longer recognises, loves or respects. In the end, he turns his back on the Jewish state entirely and settles in Brooklyn.

It is clear why the film has generated such animosity in the Jewish community. Writing in the Washington Post, Charles Krauthammer could barely believe that Spielberg had dared humanise Palestinians at all:

"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?"

Spielberg is no better than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Krauthammer's Zionist paranoia. Does he not realise that such delusional words only make him look like an extremist? Perhaps he doesn't care, such is his desperation to prove Israel's moral case.

Harvard Law Professor and Israel apologist Alan Dershowitz was equally concerned and Mark Baker, a course lecturer in terrorism at the University of Melbourne (writing in the Australian Jewish News on January 27) was incensed that Spielberg had "created a flattened universe where there is no moral compass of right and wrong":

"Munich, the byword since 1938 for political appeasement against evil, is exactly that: a film that appeases the evil of terrorism by equating the blood of victims with the blood of perpetrators. I never expected to be sitting through another Exodus, in which the certainties of Zionism ignore that Palestinians could just as easily be singing 'this land is mine'. Yet Steven Spielberg’s new film tries to make up for the stupidity of Hollywood’s cowboy-and-Indian polarities by creating a flattened universe where there is no moral compass of right and wrong.

"The moral confusion is there from the outset, with the juxtaposition of the reactions of an Israeli and a Palestinian family to news of the loss of their sons - one a victim of terror; the other a murderer. The film is obsessed with these kinds of narrative symmetries: there are 11 terrorists in Spielberg’s list to match the 11 murdered Israeli Olympians, signalling that counter-terrorist strategies could only be invented by Jews who live by the vengeful ethos of an eye for an eye."

The paper's editorial thankfully took a more measured, and revealing, line:

"Much has changed since the pioneering days of Exodus and Cast a Giant Shadow, when Hollywood was a source of comfort and sustenance for Israelis and Jews, as witnessed in the once-unthinkable Golden Globe Award given last week to the Palestinian movie Paradise Now. It is a change that some of us, understandably, find hard getting used to."

The Zionist Organisation of America called for a boycott of the film and in perhaps the most hysterical analysis, Jack Engelhard, author of the novel "Indecent Proposal", wrote that Spielberg is "no friend of Israel":

"In Hollywood today, where David is Goliath and Goliath is David, you never want to be labelled 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.

"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."

"Munich" has many faults. The film is too long, supposedly factually inaccurate and the Palestinian narrative isn't given nearly enough time to breath, but Spielberg has articulated a view long held by many, but furiously denied by Israel-apologists: the Jewish state's actions are immoral and breeding even greater hatred. Robert Fisk says the film is almost revolutionary:

"But Spielberg's movie has crossed a fundamental roadway in Hollywood's treatment of the Middle East conflict. For the first time, we see Israel's top spies and killers not only questioning their role as avengers but actually deciding that an 'eye for an eye' does not work, is immoral, is wicked. Murdering one Palestinian gunman - or one Palestinian who sympathises with the Munich killers - only produces six more to take their place. One by one, members of the Mossad assassination squad are themselves hunted down and murdered. Avner even calculates that it costs $1m every time he liquidates a Palestinian.

"So now the real challenge for Spielberg. A Muslim friend once wrote to me to recommend 'Schindler's List', but asked if the director would continue the story with an epic about the Palestinian dispossession which followed the arrival of Schindler's refugees in Palestine. Instead of that, Spielberg has jumped 14 years to Munich, saying in an interview that the real enemy in the Middle East is 'intransigence'. It's not. The real enemy is taking other people's land away from them.

"So now I ask: will we get a Spielberg epic on the Palestinian catastrophe of 1948 and after? Or will we - like those refugees desperate for visas in the wartime movie Casablanca wait, and wait - and wait?"

There were times I was moved to tears while watching the film. Spielberg's film-making skills - I've never been a huge fan of his work, though 'Schindler's List' was a flawed exercise in Holocaust remembrance - caused me to feel ashamed of the Jewish state. For an American Zionist to make such a statement means that Israel can no longer rely on its supposed higher morality and victimhood to survive and prosper. Those days are long gone. The Holocaust cannot be used to justify every Israeli move (as the film ably demonstrates.)

Spielberg's film is also an essay on the morality of the use of state terrorism. The director, along with screenwriter Tony Kushner, argues that such behaviour is useless, morally bankrupt and counterproductive. State-sponsored terrorism, the greatest scourge of our time, is usually ignored in the mainstream media or relegated to the backpages. It
is therefore significant for Spielberg to debate such actions.

The "crime" of Spielberg is daring to articulate an alternative perspective in the Middle East conflict. Such revelations are a direct threat to Zionist supremacy in media, government and public circles. I'll finish with Kushner's recent essay on his motivations behind the film:

"I think it's the refusal of the film to reduce the Mideast controversy, and the problematics of terrorism and counterterrorism, to sound bites and spin that has brought forth charges of "moral equivalence" from people whose politics are best served by simple morality tales. We live in the Shock and Awe Era, in which instant strike-back and blow-for-blow aggression often trump the laborious process of analysis, investigation and diplomacy. "Munich's" questioning spirit is an affront to armchair warrior columnists who understand power only as firepower. We're at war, and the job of artists in wartime, they seem to feel, is to provide the kind of characters and situations that are staples of propaganda: cleanly representative of Good or Evil, and obedient to the Message.

"Contradiction in human affairs, such as the possibility that injustice can drive people to do horrible things, is routinely deplored and dismissed in these troubled times as just another example of the naivete of the morally weak (a.k.a. liberals and progressives). But there will always be pesky people who, when horrific crimes are committed, insist on asking, "Why did that happen?"

"This is a great annoyance to the up-and-at-'em crowd, whose unshakable conviction is that the only sane and effective response to terrorism is savage violence commensurate with the original act. To justify this conviction they offer, as so many of the political critics of "Munich" have done, tautologies on the order of "evil deeds are done by evil people who do evil deeds because that's what evil people do." If that's helpful to you as a tool for understanding terrorism, you won't like "Munich."

"In the film, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is presented not as a matter of religion versus religion, or sanity versus insanity, or good versus evil or civilization versus barbarism or Judeo-Christian culture versus Muslim culture, but rather as a struggle over territory, over geography, over home.

"We've followed the lead of many Israeli historians, novelists, filmmakers, poets and politicians who have recognized and described the Israeli-Palestinian struggle this way — as something tragic and human, recognizable. We've incurred the wrath of people who reject, with what sounds like panic, an inescapable fact of human life: People do terrible things in the name of a cause they believe is just, even in the name of a cause that actually is just.

""Munich" insists that this characteristic of human behaviour is not meaningless in the struggle against terrorism. In other words, we believe that one aspect of the struggle against terrorism is the struggle to comprehend terrorism. If you think understanding the enemy is unimportant, well, maybe there's a job in Washington for you."


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