Pundits Follow Old Script on Spielberg Film

By Forward Staff

Published December 30, 2005, issue of December 30, 2005.

The debate over Steven Spielberg’s “Munich” continues to rage, often along predictable political lines.

The Zionist Organization of America, which strongly opposed Israel’s Gaza pullout, issued a statement condemning the film — which tells the story of Israeli reprisals after the 1972 massacre of the country’s athletes at the Munich Olympics — and urging people not to see it.

“We must send a message to Spielberg that we will not support a film that libels Israel and humanizes these haters and killers,” said the ZOA’s national president, Morton Klein. He added that the film “conveys the distorted message that Israel was involved in an immoral campaign of killing, comparable to what the Palestinian terrorists themselves did, but in fact Israel was eliminating the murderers of Israeli civilians, not deliberately killing innocent civilians.”

Another outfit known for alleging pro-Palestinian bias, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, known as Camera, also panned the film. Like Klein, Camera’s executive director, Andrea Levin, pointed a finger at one of the film’s screenwriters: playwright Tony Kushner, a frequent critic of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.

But Spielberg and his latest film — which has been panned by many political pundits but praised by critics — did receive some love from the Jewish community.

The Anti-Defamation League, which led the way in supporting the Gaza pullout, issued a statement praising the new movie. “The Palestinians are projected as terrorists, brutal in killing innocents without any hesitation,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League.

“The Israelis are responding in counterterrorism and they project a human dimension. They think and they are challenged by the enormity of taking human life. They are humane, they are considerate and they are struggling with issues the world is struggling with today,” he said. Foxman argued that the film “is a justification for counterterrorism.”

The film was also praised by a leading Jewish anti-war activist, Rabbi Arthur Waskow, but from a significantly different perspective from Foxman’s. Waskow cheered what he described as Spielberg’s complex approach to Israelis and Palestinians.

The latest wave of reviews left at least one Israeli-based commentator, Calev Ben-David, with egg on his face. A few weeks back, even before seeing the film, Ben-David — who works for The Israel Project, an American-based organization that seeks to improve Israel’s image — wrote an open letter to Spielberg, voicing skepticism about “Munich.” He noted that Ilana Romano, the widow of an Israeli weightlifter killed in the 1972 attack, had voiced concerns in advance of the movie’s release. “At the very least you should pick up the phone and give Ilana Romano the call she, and several others, deserve,” Ben-David wrote.

As it turns out, Ben-David might be the one who should give Romano a call. After seeing the film, the widow told The Associated Press: “I think it doesn’t harm Israel” and “The movie respects the athletes.”

At least one person with a connection to the 1972 tragedy is unhappy with the movie: Abu Daoud, the mastermind behind the attack. Daoud complained to Reuters that he had not been consulted about the film. He accused Spielberg, who has described his movie as a “prayer for peace,” of pro-Israel bias.

“Spielberg showed the movie to widows of the Israeli victims,” Daoud reportedly said, “but neglected the families of Palestinians.”



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