With Academy Award nominations one week away, The Los Angeles Times reports that producers of Steven Spielberg's controversial film, "Munich," fear that negative reviews from political pundits has hurt the film's Oscar chances. "Unfortunately, the political pundits who took swipes at the movie very early on set the course for the movie that's been difficult to overcome," producer Kathleen Kennedy told The Times. "We live in a time where there is a very loud and strong right-wing constituency that is hellbent on suppressing any of this kind of dialogue." Personal attacks on Spielberg, who also directed the critically-acclaimed "Schindler's List," have been vicious. "The most virulent attacks stem largely from conservative commentators such as Charles Krauthammer of the Washington Post, who equated the creator of the Shoah Foundation, which has collected 50,000 oral histories of Holocaust survivors, with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the new president of Iran, saying, 'It takes a Hollywood ignoramus to give flesh to the argument of a radical anti-Semitic Iranian.' Andrea Peyser of the New York Post opined that 'Spielberg is too dumb, too left, and too Hollywood (or is that redundant?) to tackle such complex and polarizing themes as Islamic fundamentalism and Jewish survival.'"
The question: “What’s the matter with Munich?” was posed by a Los Angeles Times Calendar cover story. The answer to the newspaper’s query and accompanying article is very simple; Steven Spielberg and playwright Tony Kurshner chose to make the wrong film. When it comes to all things critical of Israel western media in general and the American media in particular become extremely defensive even to the point of libelous at times in their counter-attacks on the subject and its author. The legal and censorship attacks on award winning British playwright Jim Allen by Zionist organizations which ultimately had his play Perditionbanned from performance in England in 1987 is one of the best examples of a well orchestrated effort to keep a work of art critical of Zionism and Israel from being viewed by the public.
In the case of Perdition, Allen, an avid socialist and successful playwright, chose to tackle the controversy surrounding Hungarian Zionist leader, Rudolf Kasztner and his collaboration with Adolf Eichmann. The reason for the play’s controversy: it shows how some of the leaders of the Zionist movement in occupied Europe collaborated with the Nazis in the Final Solution of the Jewish people of Hungary. The play is based on an infamous libel trial in Israel during the 1950s, and centers on the head of the Zionist Rescue Committee, Rudolf Kasztner. He sued a pamphleteer for claiming that he helped the Nazis exterminate 500,000 of his own people after admitting to negotiating with the SS war criminal Adolph Eichmann for the safe passage out of Hungary of some 1600 Jews -- many of whom were fellow Zionists from his hometown in Hungary. After meeting with unprecedented threats and protests in London Allen and his producer, Ken Loach attempted to mount the production in Ireland with actor, Gabriel Byrne in 1989. They met the same unrelenting resistance and failed to open at Dublin’s Olympia Theater. Even in 1999 when the play finally enjoyed a successful run at the Gate Theater, Notting Hill, just before Allen’s death, it was condemned by Neville Nagler, the director general of the Board of Deputies of British Jews and author, David Cesarani. Perdition was described in London’s Guardian as “the most controversial play of the 1980’s.”
Ironically on 3rd March 1957, Kasztner was shot dead by Zeev Eckstein. According to Ben Hecht, writing in Perfidy Eckstein was a paid undercover Israeli Mossad agent. With Kasztner assassinated, Israel moved against the Nazi mass-murderer Adolph Eichmann who was living in Argentina in 1960. He was abducted by Mossad agents and taken back to Israel for trial where he was subsequently found guilty and executed in 1962. One is left wondering whether it was a coincidence that Israel had silenced the two people who knew the most about the Nazi-Zionist collaboration in the Second World War.
The Times touched briefly on the political backlash Munich has encountered. Rob Eshman, editor of the Jewish Journal is quoted, “It’s not a must-see movie like Schindler’s List.” This certainly indicates that as long as Spielberg stuck with the Holocaust he was on sanctified ground, to approach a topic where the lines are not as clearly drawn when it comes to Jews being victims is another matter altogether. Charles Kauffman in the Washington Post equating Spielberg to Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Andrea Peyser’s New York Post article attacking the director and accusing him of being too dumb to tackle a controversial theme such as Israel’s survival are perfect examples of the extremes and near libel used to discount an artist who dares to present anything other than the “accepted” role of Jews as victims.
To imply that Spielberg is anti-Semitic as Kauffman’s jibe does is ludicrous. The man is the creator of the Shoah Foundation and is on record as being a strong supporter of Israel. To attack him as being “too dumb to tackle complex themes” as Peyser did is inane as well. Obviously Mr. Spielberg had plenty of intelligence when he directed Schindler’s List. These same types of tactics and accusations have been continuously employed against other Jewish writers such as Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein and Lenni Brenner who have had the temerity to challenge the traditional Zionist party line. There is no room for debate or even considering the issue that possibly Israel and Jews might be guilty of terrorism and crimes against humanity as well. To approach this topic instantly brings condemnation from nearly every Jewish organization from the Anti-Defamation League to the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
In the case of demythologizing and demonizing Steven Spielberg and Munich it has been a tricky road to tread. Spielberg is undoubtedly one of the most popular directors of the last four decades. The collective total box office receipts his films have generated are certainly somewhere well north of a billion dollars. The director is outspoken in his support for the nation of Israel. What Spielberg did with his film, Munich is the very thing that has made Jews unique and often put them at the forefront of social and political change. He dared to debate.
The very concept of asking why? is one of the characteristics that has made Jews a driving force throughout history. The culture puts high value on education and in general holds a progressive attitude when is comes to social justice, both of which are extremely admirable characteristics. Unfortunately over the last fifty years the Zionists have made such headway as to stifle nearly all criticism of their right-wing political agenda let alone to even allow for debate. In 1948, Albert Einstein wrote in the New York Times, denouncing Menachem Begin and his Zionist Herut/Freedom Party as “closely akin in its organization, methods, political philosophy and social appeal to the Nazi and Fascist parties.” That is strong criticism coming from a man whose last will called for him to be buried in Israel and all of his papers to go to that country.
The American media bears much responsibility in going along with the status quo of suppressing all debate on Zionism and Israel. Fear of job loss is undoubtedly the greatest factor in not reporting or ignoring any topic where Israel and Jews are not cast in the role of being the victim. Otto Preminger’s bloated adaptation of Leon Uris’ Exodus is the only American film that ever dealt with the birth of Israel. To deal with the topic of Palestine under the British Mandate system brings up too many questions that continue to resonate today, such as rights to the land and the tactics that Zionists employed in their war against Britain. Preminger portrayed the terrorist bombing of the King David Hotel as two Jews being responsible and making their getaway on a motorcycle, something that was as far from reality as Fess Parker’s rifle swinging Davy Crockett confronting hordes of Mexican soldiers storming the Alamo. When the History Channel aired a documentary dealing with Israel’s attack on the USS Liberty the network came under severe attack from Jewish groups. To this date the program has never been repeated. Likewise the PBS series Frontline was condemned for airing of Israel’s Next War? which documented the right-wing settler’s crimes against the government of Israel and their terrorist acts against Palestinians. This episode has yet to be repeated yet many other episodes have.
Unfortunately America’s media cowers from criticism instead of demanding that there should be dialogue given to the actions of Israel and her citizens. Eshman is allowed to dismiss a powerful film like Munich, “I know a lot of people who won’t go see it [Munich] because it’s difficult subject matter… Most of us were born after the Holocaust, but most of us remember Munich. A lot of people don’t want to experience it on film.” Obviously the depiction of thousands dying in Germany’s concentration camps isn’t to difficult to watch in a Hollywood film like Schindler’s List or The Pianist since there were only praises and awards heaped on those films. Even documentaries such as Night and Fog and Shoah do not garner the criticism of being too horrific to view, and those are real bodies being tossed into mass graves. This contradiction only shows how criticism like Eshman’s is illogical and supports the fact that situational ethics are regularly employed when it comes to Israel.
To question authority and the status quo is the duty of an artist. To allow debate is the duty of a true democracy. Steven Spielberg has remained true to his Jewish roots and American sense of fair play by raising the debate regarding Israel’s righteousness. Munich is certainly the strongest and finest film the director has ever made. Spielberg has taken the high road in his depiction of violence only begetting more violence. It is the duty of the American media to ensure that such a debate occurs instead of bowing to outside forces seeking to stifle the artist’s freedom of expression and right of free speech. Unfortunately the American media is owned by corporations and in the case of Israel the corporate bottom line mentality will always take precedence over democratic rights and freedoms. John Zavesky is a freelance writer living in California with his wife and two cats. His material has appeared in Z Magazine and the Los Angeles Times.
Baking the cake Steven Spielberg's Munich, writes Joseph Massad*, legitimises Israeli policy towards Palestinians while nodding away any moral qualms [/size] ------------------------------------------------------------------------
"The best baklava is made by the Arabs in Jaffa," insists the Mossad case officer to his chief agent in charge of assassinating those Palestinians Israel claims planned the Munich operation of 1972. Besides being excellent baklava-makers, we learn little else in Steven Spielberg's film Munich about Jaffa's Palestinians, the majority of whom were pushed into the sea by Zionist forces in May 1948. Many drowned while the rest escaped on boats to Lebanon never to be allowed to return. But Munich is not about these Palestinians; it is, emphatically, about Israeli Jews and Israeli terrorism.
In the context of Hollywood's cinematic history, Munich is not the first film to discuss Israeli terror. Otto Preminger's 1960 film Exodus was in essence a celebration of Jewish terrorism. Like Exodus, Munich poses moral questions about terrorist methods, about whether the end justifies the means as it chronicles the pangs of conscience troubling Israeli terrorists as they murder Palestinian poets, writers, and politicians across Europe and in Lebanon. To a considerable extent Munich is having the same impact on American audiences, and is playing the same role, as Exod us did in legitimising Israeli policies and the Zionist project.
Exodus was the major cinematic achievement of the Zionist movement. The film popularised the Zionist cause and continues to inspire young American and European Zionists. The film was most effective in staging the determination and desperation of the Zionist leadership, depicted as having no choice but to conquer Palestine and make it the Jewish State. Exodus tells the story of the Zionist hijacking of a ship from Cyprus to Palestine by Haganah commander Ari Ben Canaan, who then threatens to blow it apart, and the 611 Jewish passengers it is carrying, with 200 pounds of dynamite. The film depicts the Jewish refugee passengers voting in favour of the plan, transforming the terrorist threat into a suicide bombing. Indeed, Jewish mothers refuse to let their children disembark when Ben Canaan asks them to, insisting that their children should die with them should they carry out the suicide bombing.
Exodus insists that Ben Canaan's threat of suicide bombing is not an idle one. In the extra- fictional world the film references, the Zionists had blown up a similar ship in November 1940 killing 242 Jewish refugees. When questioned by a young American widow about the purpose of sacrificing so many lives, Ben Canaan tells her "call it publicity, a stunt to attract attention". He avers that "each person aboard this ship is a soldier. The only weapon we have to fight with is our willingness to die."
Haganah, shown in the film as engaging in suicide bombings to achieve its goals, is contrasted with the terrorist Irgun which in the film targets the British -- but not Arabs! -- in non-suicide operations. Exodus finally reconciles whatever misgivings it has about Irgun-style terrorism with its approved version of Haganah-style suicide- bombings, in the interest of unifying both forces for the purpose of establishing the Jewish State. The Israeli national anthem Hatikvah, stolen from gentile Czech composer Bedrich Smetana's symphonic poems Mà Vlast, is played ad nauseam in the film to drive the message home. The major achievement of Exodus, besides disseminating the Zionist story, was to eliminate the Palestinian people, whose lands and lives were being stolen by the Zionist project, from the equation. Munich need not dabble with such existential questions, as the matter of Israel's existence on stolen Palestinian land and at the expense of Palestinian lives had been settled in Exodus. Munich simply wants to update the story. Script co-writer Tony Kushner was clear on this point in a recent article written for the Los Angeles Times : "My criticism of Israel has always been accompanied by declarations of unconditional support of Israel's right to exist, and I believe that the global community has a responsibility to defend that right. I have written and spoken of my love for Israel."
Only one Palestinian, Taha, is allowed to speak in Exodus, and then only in order to praise Zionism.Taha in fact drinks a toast to the Zionist conquest of his people's land and lives. Exodus depicts Jewish colonists as ultra-civilised compared to the Palestinians, shown throughout the film in Bedouin garb, parading in village and city apparel, as a measure of their backwardness. Munich employs similar cinematic tactics, even though when it shows Palestinians in "civilised" Western garb it reminds viewers they are no different from the inhabitants of Arab villages. If Ari Ben Canaan is a cultured man who knows his way around a French menu and wine list, so Munich 's Avner Kaufman is a gourmet cook and a sensual lover, though his taste in erotic fantasies is questionable. Unlike Exodus 's more protracted focus on a number of characters, Munich focuses exclusively on the character of Avner, exploring his inner conflict, his love for his wife and yearning for his newborn child, as well as his troubled relationship with his parents -- the generational connections it makes are illustrative of an established past for Jewish colonists in Israel and an uncertain future for their grandchildren.
The film also describes the moral conflicts of the other members of Avner's terrorist cell, inspired by what Robert, the explosives expert, presents as Jewish ethics. Robert, who learned his expertise at the hands of the Israeli secret police, the Shin Bet, is unable to reconcile his Jewish ethics with his Israeli training and finally quits the killing spree. He is reminiscent of Dov Landau, the young Irgun explosives expert in Exodus who learned his skills from the Nazis in Auschwitz when he had to dynamite the ground to make trenches for the burial of exterminated Jews. Unlike Munich 's Robert, Landau had no qualms about killing Jews, Arabs and Britons when he blew up the King David Hotel. Landau's major trauma, as presented in the film, was not his internment in Auschwitz or his witnessing of the gassing of Jews and participation in their burial. The only thing that made him cry was his rape by the Nazis ("they used me as you would use a woman") which impelled him to join the Irgun as a restorative act of lost manhood. Robert, in contrast, has little problem sharing a homoerotic moment of dancing with Steve to celebrate the murder of Wa'il Zu'aytar in Rome. The sexual politics of Zionism have certainly progressed, or so we are led to believe watching Munich.
The moral qualms that Robert and other members of the terrorist cell express strike the educated viewer as uncanny: documentary accounts of, and interviews with, Mossad agents show them to have a strong ideological commitment and determination to kill enemy Palestinians with no moral questioning. It is diaspora Jewish supporters of Israel who -- infrequently -- feign moral dilemmas (and also, on occasion, those Israelis called upon to perform before the international media). Spielberg, being one of them, expressed his dilemmas in clear terms to the London Times : 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."
Munich is a film in which Spielberg, Kushner and similar-minded diaspora supporters, and not Israeli Mossad agents, may recognise themselves. The moral questions that Munich poses have more to do with the souls of Israeli Jews. In that, the film does not deviate much from Zionist propaganda, which has always claimed that Jewish soldiers "shoot and cry". Golda Meir, who is depicted in the film as a righteous and lovable leader, once said, "We can forgive you for killing our sons. But we will never forgive you for making us kill yours."
It is this racist sentiment that structures the story Munich wants to tell. The fact that Palestinian violence was in response to Zionist conquest and murder is immaterial to Spielberg's reasoning, as is the fact that many Palestinians are willing to forgive Israeli Jews for the continued theft of their lands and livelihoods, the continued oppression the Israelis visit upon all Palestinian communities in Palestine and the diaspora, and for the major role Israeli and diaspora Jews play in the Israeli and Western media in transforming Palestinians from victims of Israeli terror into perpetrators of it. Spielberg, an active participant in such media depictions, humanises Israeli terrorists in Munich but not Palestinian terrorists, who are portrayed as having no conscience. It seems that unlike their Israeli counterparts, Palestinians shoot but do not cry! We see the Israeli murderers laugh, cry, make love, cook, eat, kill, regret, question authority, but we also see them lose their souls. While Munich wonders whether the policy of terrorism that Golda Meir unleashed out of anguish at the murder of Israeli athletes might have been misguided, the film insists that it is the Palestinians who forced the choice of terror on Israel. Munich 's point of contention with Meir's policy rests on its claim that because Jews have a morally superior code Israel need not respond to the Palestinians in kind, a sentiment articulated by Robert, the explosives-expert.
Some of the legitimacy that Spielberg and Kushner hope the film will receive comes from Zionist dissatisfaction with it, which to the US media confirms Munich 's "objectivity". In the same manner, Sharon's policies have been presented as "fair" when opposed by Palestinians, and by Israelis to the right of Sharon. While this simple-minded tactic works with naïve US audiences, it has a harder time persuading more savvy audiences outside the country.
As in Exodus, Palestinians in Munich ventriloquise the worst that Zionist propaganda says they say. If the good Palestinian in Exodus was the collaborator Taha, killed by the Palestinians for his treason, Munich offers the terrorist Ali who, in being killed by the Israelis for not being like Taha, confirms that the only good Palestinian is a dead Palestinian. As for the rest of the Palestinian people, Munich, like the Israeli authorities, hopes that they stick to making baklava and stop the resistance to Israeli oppression that forces Israel to kill them and, in so doing, forces moral dilemmas on Spielberg, Kushner and some of Israel's other supporters in the diaspora. * The writer is associate professor of modern Arab politics and intellectual history. His book The Persistence of the Palestinian Question will be published by Routledge in February.
I also remember that the evil Palestinians raped and murdered a very blond young woman, the love interest of one of the "good guys" in the film. Deeds such as this justify any sort of revenge, as it becomes obvious that the foe is not a real human being, rather, the enemy deserves"justice". Same old crap.
Last Edit: Feb 4, 2006 18:47:47 GMT -5 by karpomrx
"A bayonet is a tool with a worker at both ends."-Lenin