Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Misguided Munich

Misguided Munich

  • The most misleading omission from "Munich" is Germany's response to the massacre.

    Germany released the Black September terrorists less than two months after they had killed 11 innocent civilians. Israel had to hunt down Black September, because Germany didn't value Jewish lives enough to capture, try, and imprison those who kill Israelis on German soil.

    (Also missing from the film is any mention of Germany's refusal to allow the Israeli Olympians their own security detail, despite credible threats to their safety, and Germany's refusal to let Israel conduct a rescue operation.)

    Meir said that she was "literally physically sickened" by Germany's capitulation. She continued, "I think that there is not one single terrorist held in prison anywhere in the world. Everyone else gives in."

    Nobody can accuse Stephen Spielberg of insensitivity toward Jews and Israel. But by trying so hard to appear evenhanded, he has made an incomplete and imbalanced movie. In "Munich," those who would murder racist butchers are no better than the butchers themselves.

    Conservative columnist Warren Bell put it best when he described "Munich"'s simple-minded morality like this: "When good guys kill bad guys, they're as bad as bad guys."

    Liberal writer Leon Wieseltier concurred: "Munich prefers a discussion of counterterrorism to a discussion of terrorism; or it thinks that they are the same discussion. This is an opinion that only people who are not responsible for the safety of other people can hold."

Then menioned is the total omission of mention of Avery Brundage. This American who agreed with Hitler's request in the 1936 Munich Olympics to prevent qualifying Jewish athletes from running. Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller were taken off the roster at the last second. Marty Glickman would go on to become one of the most beloved sports broadcasters of his generation.

  • Gold number four was a controversial one—not with the Germans, but with his fellow Americans. American Jews Marty Glickman and Sam Stoller were supposed to run for the United States on the 4x100 relay team. At the last minute, they were replaced by Owens and Metcalfe and it was reported that Hitler asked U.S. officials not to embarrass him any further by having two Jews win gold in Berlin.

30 years later the IOC has never even recognized, let alone honored the murdered athletes at Munich.

  • And yet, even if "Munich" had gotten the dialogue, plot, and tone right, there would still be something missing. [....] a character, Avery Brundage. The reason Munich matters so much to American Jews has nothing to do with Arab terrorism or European appeasement. Those complementary stories were familiar to the world decades before Munich. It was Avery Brundage, an American, who so outraged.

    The same Avery Brundage who, as head of the U.S. Olympic Committee in 1936, had insisted on sending an American delegation to "Hitler's Games" in Berlin; the same Avery Brundage who, in 1941, was expelled from the anti-war America First Committee for his Nazi allegiance; the man who, in 1972, was president of the full International Olympic Committee.

    According to Time Magazine, during the standoff, Brundage's chief concern was with "remov[ing] the crisis from the Olympic Village," as if to say, "There's no way we can save the hostages. Let's at least save the Games." After the murders, despite strong opposition within the IOC, including from the German organizers, Brundage insisted that everything go on as if nothing had happened. He refused even to mention the dead Israelis in the following day's memorial ceremony.

    Los Angeles Times columnist Jim Murray summed up Brundage's decision like this:

    "Incredibly, they're going on with it. It's almost like having a dance at Dachau."

    Murray's comparison is apt. It was Dachau that taught my grandfather's generation the importance of Israel as a haven in a world that is too often either hostile or indifferent to Jews. And when he was my age, my father watched Munich, the massacre, live on television, and he learned the same lesson. Thirty-three years later, "Munich," the movie, forgets to explain why Israel acted as it did.

    That's the story Steven Spielberg missed.

Kesher Talk has a full rap up of posts
More on Munich from Lynn at In Context

UPDATE: Box Office Mojo reviews all of the Munich movies.

One Day in September: The Full Story of the 1972 Munich Olympics Massacre and the Israeli Revenge Operation "Wrath of God"

  • Based largely on exhaustive investigation for the Oscar-winning documentary, One Day in September is the definitive account of the tragedy. Simon Reeve has gathered extraordinary information from a number of sources, including recently released Stasi files and interviews with key figures, including the families of the hostages, politicians, policemen, advisors, fellow athletes, media figures, and even the lone surviving member of the group that carried out the attack. Reeve's control over his material is admirable. He vividly paints images of the individuals involved, humanizing a narrative that cracks and buzzes with the compact tension of those 24 hours. At the same time, he provides the background to the attack, filling in vital historical context from the distant and recent past, such as the Arab-Jewish dispute that produced this and other terrorist actions and their responses.

Striking Back: The 1972 Munich Olympics Massacre and Israel's Deadly Response (Hardcover)
(December 20, 2005)
Aaron J. Klein

Murder at the 1972 Olympics in Munich (Terrorist Attacks) by Liz Sonneborn

UPDATE II: Hedgehog Blog

  • From news media reports it looks like Steven Spielberg's latest movie, "Munich," will get as much attention as "Brokeback Mountain" will get during the run-up to the Oscars. (That's not suprising, since the themes of both movies have a large power following in Hollywood.)

    According to a review I heard on NPR yesterday, Spielberg freely admits his aim is not to be historically accurate, but to explore the implications of revenge. So, in an effort to help people remember what actually took place during the 1972 Olympics, here is a summary prepared by StandWithUs. Rabbi Marvin Hier, the founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, comments further on "Munich" here.

    I was a senior in high school in 1972 and was riveted by the events unfolding in Munich that fall. I recall being inexpressibly sad, shocked, repulsed, and angry. I hope Spielberg's movie does not turn that event into some argument about an approach to terrorism that centers on "understanding" of, or sympathy for, the murderers.

UPDATE III: Haaretz 'Munich' to remember - or not

  • A 'Munich' to remember - or not
    By Yossi Melman

    Last Wednesday in Manhattan, leaders of the Jewish community gathered for a private screening of a film to which they had been urgently invited by Dennis Ross, formerly assistant to the secretary of state in the Clinton administration and Middle East envoy. Ross is now with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy think tank. According to him, the much-hyped "Munich," directed by Steven Spielberg, which opens today (December 23) across America, is a good movie for the Jews and for Israel.

    Ross has boasted that he succeeded in toning down the film, so that Israel and its war on terrorism are presented in a positive light. He also related that he was able to persuade Spielberg to add a scene that was not originally planned: a monologue by the mother of Avner, the tormented protagonist of the film and the head of the Mossad espionage agency's hit squad. Performed by veteran Israeli actress Gila Almagor, the monologue may be intended to move the audience, but to some, it sounded like pure kitsch. In it she tries to dissuade her son from leaving Israel and preaches to him about the Holocaust, the Jewish people, historical retribution, etc.

    This didactic monologue is meant to be a counterweight to the sermonizing by Palestinian speakers about the suffering of their people, some of whom are so wretched that they have to take up arms, become terrorists and kill 11 Israeli athletes in the Olympic Village in Munich in 1972.

    This viewer found the film boring and one-dimensional, but the great concern of Spielberg and the screenwriter, acclaimed playwright Tony Kushner ("Angels in America") - who rushed to get the movie into theaters two days ahead of Christmas, on time for the upcoming Oscars, and also prohibited the actors from giving interviews - is not about the reviews. They are apprehensive about political criticism by opinion makers in the Jewish community - and such criticism has already been voiced.

    As Ross exercised his charms on the U.S. Jewish community and media, Spielberg and his producers hired the services of Eyal Arad, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's strategic adviser and a brilliant PR man. The distributors, Universal Studios, decided that the film will not open in Israel until the end of January, so Arad has more time than Ross to persuade the Israeli public that "Munich" is a good movie for the Jews.

    Arad will have to overcome two obstacles: the holy wrath of senior members of Israel's intelligence community, who were apparently affronted because Spielberg ignored them; and, more serious, the reaction of the relatives of the athletes killed by the Black September terrorists.

    The victims' families are not a monolithic group and, since the massacre, they have been involved in disputes over a range of issues including commemoration, compensation and the German government's responsibility for the affair. Two of the widows have stood out for their leadership: Ilana Romano, widow of weightlifter Yosef Romano, and Ankie Spitzer, widow of fencing coach Andrei Spitzer. Two years ago, they succeeded in forcing the German government to pay the families compensation, though without acknowledging responsibility for the Bavarian police's failure in the rescue operation.

    AVI DICHTER, the previous chief of the Shin Bet security service, who is currently at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy in Washington, and saw the film, says that the Mossad agents and some aspects of the intelligence work are portrayed inaccurately.

    Avi Dichter, a retired head of the Shin Bet security service who attended a preview in Washington, likened "Munich" to a children's adventure story. "There is no comparison between what you see in the movie and how it works in reality," he said.
    Meanwhile Arad still has to sell the film to veteran Mossad people, especially those who participated in reprisals after the massacre. He has his work cut out for him. Interestingly, about five years ago, when the Mossad decided for the first time to launch a recruitment drive by means of media ads, Arad was hired as an external consultant by Efraim Halevy, then head of the agency. However, an attempt to screen the film to retired Mossad officials did not succeed.

    "I was not invited to a preview screening," says Zvi Zamir, who was head of the Mossad at the time of the Munich killings and who, according to foreign reports, supervised the subsequent liquidations from European headquarters. "I am ready to buy tickets so that Spielberg will get compensation from me, too," Zamir says sarcastically. He thinks that if the director was interested in historical credibility, he should have spoken with him and his colleagues. "I imagine that Spielberg is interested mainly in how the film can make money and not in the historical truth."

    If Spielberg had taken the trouble to approach the Prime Minister's Office, he would have received red-carpet treatment. A directive would have been issued to the Mossad chief to instruct the agents who were involved in or familiar with the affair to cooperate with Spielberg: to share experiences, volunteer anecdotes and give advice, within certain constraints.

    Zamir would have spoken to Spielberg. Maybe even publicity-hating Mike Harari - who headed the Mossad's operations branch at the time and coordinated the reprisals - would have agreed to meet with him. But Spielberg and Kushner decided to shy away from any connection with Israel.

    From its reservoir of experts in the intelligence community and outside it, they chose to rely on Yuval Aviv, who was the source for the book by Canadian journalist George Jonas, "Vengeance: The True Story of an Israeli Counter-Terrorist Team," on which the film is based. The trouble is that Aviv, now 58, never served in the Mossad.

    Eyal Arad, doesn't "Munich" have a problem of historical accuracy?

    Arad: "Kushner and Spielberg are creative artists. They have created a thriller that has to be judged with artistic tools."

    But they are explicitly trying to create the impression that the film is the historical truth.

    "The film does not address the question of whether Jonas' book is accurate or whether Yuval Aviv is a fraud and a liar."

    What is your opinion?

    "I tend to accept the defense establishment position that he is. Let's say the whole thing was forged in Aviv's feverish mind. The only judgment that should be applied is an artistic one. 'Munich' must be viewed as a work of art."


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