December 28, 2005
The Good German and the Bad JewsBy Richard Baehr
I have not seen Steven Spielberg's new movie Munich, and I certainly do not intend to pay to see it. When I read that Spielberg had hired Israel—hating playwright Tony Kushner to write the screenplay for the movie (Kushner has argued that creating modern Israel was a mistake), and that the movie would be based on George Jonas's thoroughly discredited book about Israel's response to the Munich massacre (Vengeance), this became a movie to avoid.
Spielberg is worth a reported $3 billion, and is a regular member of the upper reaches of the Forbes 400 list. So he hardly needs my $10, nor do I want to contribute it to see a movie which attacks the way Israel chose to defend itself after an unspeakable terrorist crime was committed at the Munich Olympics. Spielberg will continue to get 2% of the gross on the ticket price for every person who walks into a Universal Studios amusement park, even if he never makes another movie. So making Munich is not about building his financial empire. Rather, this is Spielberg, as he admits in a Time Magazine interview, trying to make a more serious movie than Jaws or ET, and to contribute in some significant way to the effort to achieve peace in the Middle East (presumably the best gift he can give to Israel).
Forget for a minute the hubris of such a self—described effort, and consider only the naivete. If peace were very difficult to achieve (it is, when one side, the Palestinians, has been committed for a century first to preventing a Jewish majority state from forming, and then to destroying it), how likely is it that a Spielberg movie will do the trick and bring about that big happy hora dance for the two peoples?
If the Spielberg magic is that powerful, why didn't he make a movie about the West's crimes against Islam prior to 9/11? Almost 3,000 American lives might have been saved had bin Laden had a chance to see such a movie, and learned that Spielberg felt his pain and wanted peace.
Of course, Spielberg's real lesson for us is that if Israel was wrong to strike back after the Munich Olympic massacre, then America must also have made a mistake to have gone after the Taliban, and al Qaeda in Afghanistan after 9/11.
Some have seen an even viler message in Munich. Near the end of the movie, after an Israeli member of the task force has decided not to return to Israel, a picture of the former World Trade Center appears as a backdrop near his new home in New York.
What does that mean? Film makers exercise extraordinary care over the images which appear in all parts of the movie frame. There can be no question that a message is being sent by the choice of the Twin Towers as a backdrop.
Is Spielberg or Kushner saying that Israel's failure to make peace with the Palestinians was the reason for bin Laden's attacks? Kushner may believe such a monstrous lie, (I don't think Spielberg is that sick) but it is about as plausible as blaming Spielberg for 9/11 for not making the movie to melt the heart of bin Laden, one that only he could have created, which might have prevented it.
Spielberg, prince of peace that he is, will go further than just making a movie. He will donate 250 video—cameras so that Palestinian and Israeli children can make movies of their families and record their lives for a year and then exchange the videos with each other. This is a very generous gift (it might reduce Spielberg's net worth by 1/30,000th ), but I suspect it is a useless gesture. The Seeds of Peace Camp in Maine has been bringing Israeli and Palestinian youths together for many summers trying to create better attitudes among the younger generations and foster greater understanding.
If there is evidence that any positive results from this effort have seeped into the Palestinian body politic, let me know about it right away, for I have seen none. Consider this recent polling study of Palestinian attitudes carried out by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs:
Maybe we can rush some more foreign aid over to these people to go with the videocams.
A great majority of Israelis have for many years favored a two—state solution, if the other state were not at war with them, and the conflict and the claims would then end. That was the promise of the Oslo process, which collapsed after Arafat walked out of Camp David in 2000 rejecting serious peace offers designed to end the conflict from both Israeli Prime Minister Barak, and President Bill Clinton.
Arafat then started a new Palestinian intifada, and terrorist attacks killed over 1,000 Israelis. If ending the conflict were the goal, then the Palestinians would have continued to negotiate at Camp David. By starting a new intifada, they proved their goal had not changed; no resolution of the conflict short of Israel's elimination. In the coming Palestinian legislative elections, the terrorist group that introduced suicide bombings to the conflict, Hamas, may win the most legislative seats. That will bring the kind of clarity of message in both English and Arabic that even Steven Spielberg might hear: Israel must be destroyed.
Steven Spielberg is more than an absurdly wealthy filmmaker. He is an American icon. And he is also the man who made Schindler's List, and founded and helped fund a Holocaust remembrance museum in Los Angeles and a foundation to recognize righteous Gentiles. So he has been a friend of some Jewish causes, and by extension, a presumed friend of Israel.
But Munich is his first movie about Israel (and the first big—budget Hollywood movie about Israel since Exodus — 45 years ago), so maybe Israel was not always such a top of mind issue for him. He directed Amistad, and The Color Purple before launching the Munich project, so maybe slavery and the civil rights struggle moves him more. That is fine. Many Jews (the leadership of the Reform movement prominent among them) place Israel well down on their priority list as well (saving the caribou seems to rank higher than preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons).
And the Iran nightmare is worth mentioning here. For Spielberg's new movie has come out at a time when a second Holocaust looms. Another incineration of millions of Jews is not such a far—fetched notion. When the president of a nation of 70 million calls for Israel's elimination, and when that nation is within a few short years of completing a nuclear weapons program, and has extended its missile delivery range so that Israel can be hit, a friend of Israel, as Spielberg says he is, might use his film—making power or voice to speak out on that subject.
But that is not Spielberg's plan or agenda. Rather, he is unhappy with the cycle of violence between Israel and the Palestinians. He portrays some of the Israelis who struck back at Palestinian terrorists after Munich as having grown increasingly wary of and uncomfortable with their mission.
Spielberg's history is pretty weak on this subject. He relies on a dishonest book when an authoritative book on the subject, Aaron Klein's Striking Back, is now out. But Spielberg would have had to delay his movie past the time when Oscar nomination ballots are sent out to work from an accurate account, and historical truth was apparently not a sufficient priority to outweigh Hollywood honors.
In fact, the Israeli response to the Munich attack was a success, so Spielberg's basic premise is as false as his history. While not hitting many of the perpetrators or planners of that specific attack, Israel's counterterrorist effort wiped out much of the Fatah organization in Europe and led to an almost complete halt to attacks on Israeli targets on that continent.
In other words, the campaign was successful. Not a complete success like World War II, which led to the surrender of the Nazis and Japanese, but a partial victory nonetheless. The response to Munich was not part of a cycle of violence, but a victory on one front of a long war.
In the most recent intifada, there is a similar history. After Ariel Sharon responded to the Netanya Passover seder massacre by having the IDF retake control of West Bank cities, and launched helicopter attacks on the leaders of the Palestinian terror groups, the death toll of Israelis from terror attacks dropped sharply. Also helping was the construction of a separation barrier that made it more difficult for Palestinians to cross into Israel to commit attacks. I know that Spielberg wants to build bridges, not barriers, or fences, or walls. But Spielberg is a filmmaker, not someone responsible (thank God!) for protecting or saving the lives of Israel's Jews.
Spielberg has devoted time and money to ensuring that people remember the Holocaust. Shindler's List is his film about a good German, one who overcame the suffocating Jew—hatred of the Nazi regime and saved over a thousand Jews. The Germans massacred 6 million Jews, and Spielberg's one Jewish—themed movie before Munich finds one good soul among them, a hero of sorts.
Munich is a movie about Jews who kill and attack, and treat their enemy as, get this, an enemy. Munich shows Palestinian victims of the Israeli attack team as real people: poets, and fathers and husbands, and so on (I guess that they only killed Jews as their day job).
Of course the Israeli victims of terrorism — those blown up on a bus or a restaurant or in their car — are also real people. In fact, they are civilians in most cases, while the targets of Israel's attacks after Munich and during the intifada were not civilians, but soldiers in the cause of destroying Israel. And of course, there are innocent bystanders at times, but they are not the targets. There is a difference, even if Spielberg and Kushner believe this is just tit—for—tat.
Where is the Palestinian Tony Kushner? Where is their soul—searching for innocent Israeli victims of their murderous attacks? The only thing any Palestinian has been allowed to say is that sometimes the bombings may not help the Palestinian cause, not that they are wrong, immoral, or a crime. Only that maybe they are not good politics at the moment.
Spielberg expects more of the Israelis. And he seems to think it is good Israeli behavior — defined as turning the other cheek, trying to understand the Palestinians and offering more concessions — that will end the conflict. But history says he is wrong. Israel can never offer enough, unless it is to follow the advice of the Iranian President, and have the Israeli Jews pack up and move to Germany and Austria. I strongly suspect no welcome mat will be out for such a return in any case.
Tony Kushner is more hard—hearted, less dreamy about Israel's plight. He now says that there are two people with rights, and hence a conflict. If it were that simple, then all that would be necessary would be a grand compromise to resolve the conflict. Like say Camp David? But it didn't happen there, even with all the players present, and everything on the table.
Kushner's public statements over a long period have not been so balanced. He has shed few tears for Israel's dead and wounded, and been vicious in his attacks on Israel's conduct. He is a proud member of the Noam Chomsky/Norman Finkelstein mindset on Israel's founding and behavior. Kushner also condemned America's attack on the Taliban in Afghanistan after 9/11. Perhaps a better strategy would have been for President Bush to have extended a peace pipe to bin Laden with a gift—wrapped DVD boxed set of Angels in America. My suspicion is that Kushner is uncomfortable with a Jewish state, and even more with Jewish power. He admires victimhood. Perhaps if he could meet some gay Israelis dying of AIDS, he might pen a sympathetic play. Did Spielberg select a moral cretin like Kushner for this movie to prove to the Arab viewers that the movie was evenhanded?
Spielberg appears to be stunned by the virulence of the attacks on the movie. A self—styled King of the Jews is being ridiculed as an equivocator, someone unwilling to lend his creative powers to support Israel. He has begun a rehabilitation campaign. He started with a phone conversation with Chicago film critic Roger Ebert. And then called back. Wow! Is Ebert a player or what? Spielberg told Ebert, who, in typically sycophantic style loved Munich, that what is important about Munich is starting a 'conversation.'
Fine, the conversation has begun. But the reality is that this long war continues, and Steven Spielberg's delusions won't end it.
Richard Baehr is the Chief Political Correspondent of The American Thinker.