What is it about Jews and movies? "Munich" is one of the most chewed-over movies since "The Passion of the Christ," and for many of the same reasons: The perception that the two films are not good for the Jews (or Israel, or both).
The joke's on the anti-Semites, of course. If the Jews really ran Hollywood they wouldn't make films that were bad for the Jews, right?
I never saw Mel Gibson's blood-soaked biblical epic, so I'll pass on that one, and I won't make comparisons between the two. But I did see "Munich" last week, and it certainly prompted thoughts on the question of whether it is good for the Jews and Israel.
First, I'll concede some things: The film's principal screenwriter, Tony Kushner and director, Steven Spielberg, play loose with the facts.
But that's stated up front as the movie begins, so those like Alan Dershowitz and Charles Krauthammer who have been exercised about the film's less-than-documentary approach (and we know from films like "Fahrenheit 911" that even documentaries aren't necessarily "true") need to get off their high horses. The film eschews the stylistic cues used in docudramas to give the semblance of factual accuracy (projecting slides with dates, locations and the ID's of the real-life players).
If the film is, as Spielberg has been quoted as saying, a meditation on the impact of terrorism and counter-terrorism, it certainly raises provocative issues. I don't agree with politically conservative reviewers' contentions that the haunting image of New York's downed Twin Towers at the movie's end suggests it was Israeli counter-terrorism that sparked Osama bin Laden's attacks on those U.S. landmarks.
In fact, the efficacy of counter-terrorism is debated by two of the film's chief characters - Avner, the fictional leader of one of the multiple hit squads sent by Israel after the perpetrators of the Munich Olympic massacre of 11 Israeli athletes - and his Mossad case manager.
Palestinians do have a point to make
The film leans toward the position that counter-terrorism, whether or not it reaches the ultimate goals presumably sought - an end to violence and terrorism – isn't necessarily a good choice, but it is often the only choice. It may not always solve the problem of terrorism, but is necessary, anyway.
If the film is a look into the corrosive effect of constant violence and vigilance on individuals then it succeeds at a high level. I'm OK with the fact of Jews and Israelis agonizing over their assignment to kill the Palestinians who set up the Munich assault. What kind of people are we if we don't agonize over causing death and destruction?
And I think it is fair - and probably true - to show that the Palestinians killed had private lives segmented off from their political or terrorist lives. That doesn't diminish the moral probity of the assassinations; it just shows it somewhat closer to reality than most other spy thrillers, which show one-dimensional evil and good characters.
I also don't agree with the contention that the Palestinian cause gets overly sympathetic treatment from the filmmakers. First of all, the Palestinians do have a point to make. For reasons both good and practical they should get their own state. It doesn't condone terrorism to admit that the Palestinians have a right to a state - just not at the cost of the Jewish state.
Finally, the dramatic power of the way Spielberg showed the Munich massacre itself, saving the horrible denouement until just before the film's end, drives home the point that some of the film's detractors willfully seem to miss: The Palestinians who shot bound and terrified Israeli athletes in cold blood were terrorists and murderers and retribution was both justified and moral. There is no equivocation there.
Alan D. Abbey is the founding editor of Ynetnews. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org