Spielberg Flick Panned by Israel, Pundits

Published December 16, 2005, issue of December 16, 2005.
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Less than two weeks before its high-profile holiday debut, Steven Spielberg’s new film is being criticized by Israeli officials and American Jewish commentators for its portrayal of Israel’s response to the murder of 11 of its athletes at the 1972 Olympics.

“Munich,” which is slated to open in American theaters December 23, attempts to depict the Israeli response to the tragedy that unfolded in Munich, Germany, when 11 Israeli Olympians were taken hostage by Palestinian terrorists and then killed in a botched rescue-attempt by German authorities. The movie traces the quest of five members of Israel’s Mossad spy agency to hunt down and assassinate Palestinians involved in the attack.

The Hollywood film community has hailed “Munich” as a critical success. Earlier this week, the American Film Institute named it as one of the 10 best movies of 2005; the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which gives out the Golden Globe Awards, nominated Spielberg for best director and Tony Kushner and Eric Roth for best screenplay.

Such praise stands in stark contrast to the criticism heaped on the film by the likes of literary guru Leon Wieseltier of The New Republic, New York Times columnist David Brooks and Israel’s top diplomat in the world’s film capital, Ehud Danoch.

In a December 11 interview with Israel Radio, Danoch, Israel’s Los Angeles consul general, said the film was guilty of “a certain pretentiousness in attempting to treat a painful decades-long conflict by means of quite superficial statements in a movie.” He reportedly criticized Spielberg for basing the movie on Canadian journalist George Jonas’s book “Vengeance,” which many Israeli experts claim has been discredited. Danoch also said that the film was guilty of morally equating Israeli agents with Palestinian terrorists.

An official at the Israeli consulate in Los Angeles declined further comment. Another official in the Israeli Foreign Ministry who declined to be named said the government would not be making any more comments about the movie.

Spielberg’s critics include former Mossad officials as well as journalists in the United States and Israel.

“I think it is a tragedy that a person of the stature of Steven Spielberg … should have based this film on a book that is a falsehood,” David Kimche said in an interview with The New York Times. Kimche was a senior Mossad official in the 1970s.

In the December 19 issue of The New Republic, Wieseltier writes that the film “has no place in its heart for Israel” and “cannot imagine any reason for Israel beyond the harshness of the world to the Jews.” Echoing Danoch’s criticism, Wieseltier accuses the film of portraying terrorism and counter-terrorism as “the same discussion.”

In a recent cover story in Time magazine, Spielberg said: “I’m always in favor of Israel responding strongly when it’s threatened. At the same time, a response to a response doesn’t really solve anything. It just creates a perpetual-motion machine.”

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