Munich film massacres history to preach message

By Colin Rubenstein

The Daily Telegraph – January 30, 2006

Steven Spielberg’s “Munich” claims to be historical fiction. Unfortunately, it is much more fictional than historical, promotes a morally dubious philosophy and is divorced from the realities of terrorism and counter-terrorism.

Its factual problems can in part be traced to its script’s source, a book entitled Vengeance, entirely based on interviews with a single discredited source who lied about serving in the Mossad.

According to retired Mossad operatives, the film is both highly inaccurate about what actually happened following the Munich massacre of Israeli Olympic athletes in 1972, and is utterly implausible in portraying how the Israeli reprisal agents operated.

However, Munich purports to be more than simply a spy thriller – it is a film with a “message” that all forms of violence are morally equivalent. Spielberg and scriptwriter Tony Kushner [who is publicly on record calling the creation of Israel a “historical, moral and political calamity”] want their audience to conclude that counter-terrorists who kill armed enemies who have murdered defenceless civilians, are really not much different from the terrorists themselves; that violent action against terrorism just contributes to a ‘cycle of violence’ that leaves everyone worse off.

 And Spielberg’s message is not focused solely upon Israel. The final scene is a deliberate shot of Manhattan in which the World Trade Center looms large, making a very unsubtle link to September 11.

The film’s major personal drama concerns squad commander Avner (Eric Bana), a sensitive soul who experiences growing disquiet as his targets, portrayed as poets and caring family men, are eliminated. In the end, he appears to reject the whole enterprise and refuses to return to Israel.

Yet Mossad experts insist that the Israeli reprisals after Munich were highly effective in deterring similar attacks, and that no one involved has ever regretted them.

In a complete anachronism, Avner asks whether the Munich terrorists could not have been arrested, but every knowledgeable Israeli would have known that Palestinian terrorists arrested in the early ’70s were usually soon released in response to the next hijacking. This actually happened to the Munich terrorists captured by Germany.

Terrorism was almost cost-free for Palestinian organisations until the Israeli killing of key terror leaders changed the equation.

Moreover, Israel’s counter-terror strategy of killing combatants who cannot be arrested has been highly effective, and not counter-productive, as the film implies. In recent years, by aggressively attacking leading Palestinian terrorists and through its defensive barrier along the West Bank, the Israelis have cut attacks dramatically, saving hundreds of innocent lives on both sides.

The film’s message is both historical nonsense and morally dangerous. There is a world of difference, both ethically and legally, between intentionally murdering the innocent to promote a political cause, and carefully targeted attacks on armed terrorists.

To ignore this distinction, even in the service of a naive “all violence is wrong” premise that may feel “moral”, is to destroy the basis of the international laws of war which are a vital foundation of our civilisation and security.

Spielberg’s film is Hollywood fiction, far removed from both truth and morality, and should be viewed as such.

Dr. Colin Rubenstein is Executive Director of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council.