Spielberg’s List

By J.J. Goldberg

Published December 23, 2005, issue of December 23, 2005.
  • Print
  • Share Share

the debate as it unfolds on screen is an Israeli disputation, framed almost entirely in the words and deeds of Israelis: carrying out their deadly mission, questioning whether it will make things better, wondering whether it squares with their Jewish values, talking endlessly of home and family and the need to defend them. Arabs hardly appear, except to massacre Israeli Olympic athletes at the start and then to be blown up or gunned down in retaliation as the movie unfolds. The French gangsters who sell the Israelis their targets’ locations get more time on screen to discuss their values than the Palestinians do.

Only momentarily do the Arabs in the film get to present their version of the home-and-family speech. The most important of those moments comes during a much-discussed encounter in a stairwell between the leader of the Israeli hit team, “Avner,” and a Palestinian terrorist named “Ali.” The Palestinian, thinking the Israeli is a European leftist, insists that Europeans misunderstand the Palestinian cause. They think we’re fighting for universal values, he says, but we’re fighting for our homes and our homeland. But, Avner asks, doesn’t the mayhem you’re causing give you pause? No, the Palestinian replies, we can keep fighting for 100 years. It’s a chilling moment, and it echoes throughout the film — right up to the closing shot, a panoramic view of the New York skyline with the World Trade Center in the middle of the frame. Yes, the film says, this goes on and on.

The scene in the stairwell didn’t happen in real life, of course. In fact, as the film’s critics archly note, much of the film is fictional, based loosely on a book that is itself said to play fast and loose with the actual events. Many of the assassinations didn’t happen the way they’re shown on screen. No French gangsters were involved, as Israeli journalist Aaron Klein tells our Nathaniel Popper on Page 2. Most important, at least in the critics’ eyes, the Israeli hit teams reportedly did not spend time agonizing over the rightness of their mission. They did what they had to, because that’s what Israelis do.

Historical accuracy is a tricky business in historical drama. Shakespeare probably didn’t moon around the way he’s shown to do in “Shakespeare in Love,” the film that beat out Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan” for the best picture Oscar in 1998. For that matter, Julius Caesar didn’t really say the things Shakespeare put in his mouth. And there are serious questions about Caesar’s own depiction of the Gallic Wars.

What’s important about “Munich” is that it portrays one of the essential truths of Israeli society. Whatever went on among the agents chasing down the Munich terrorists in 1972 and 1973, the fact is that Israelis do debate the rightness of their actions. They do so endlessly, and they have done it for years. They base their political campaigns around this debate, sue each other over it in their Supreme Court, occasionally even refuse military orders because of it. It is one of the noblest aspects of the reborn Jewish state. Friends of Israel everywhere should be proud to see that moral sensitivity portrayed on the big screen.

Golda Meir supposedly said once that Israelis can “forgive our enemies for killing our sons, but we can’t forgive them for forcing our sons to become killers.” She isn’t shown speaking those words on screen in “Munich,” but they underlie the entire movie. Killing corrodes the soul, even when it’s necessary. Israelis know that. If their friends have forgotten it, then it’s time to be alarmed.






Find us on Facebook!
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv? http://jd.fo/s4YsG
  • Backstreet's...not back.
  • Before there was 'Homeland,' there was 'Prisoners of War.' And before there was Claire Danes, there was Adi Ezroni. Share this with 'Homeland' fans!
  • BREAKING: Was an Israeli soldier just kidnapped in Gaza? Hamas' military wing says yes.
  • What's a "telegenically dead" Palestinian?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.