Steven Spielberg’s latest film, Munich, is a milestone in mainstream American culture. It tells the story of the 1972 Palestinian attack on Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics but focuses more on the aftermath – and Israel’s response – than the massacre itself. Many prominent Jewish groups have condemned it while Spielberg, a self-confessed “pro-Israeli Jew,” says he made the film “out of love for both my countries, USA and Israel.”
The Washington Post‘s Charles Krauthammer reached dizzying heights of vitriol when he claimed that “Spielberg makes the Holocaust the engine of Zionism and its justification. Which, of course, is the Palestinian narrative.” He argued that such arguments were shared by Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and proved a new war against the Jews was upon us. Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz was similarly outraged and wrote that Spielberg confused cause and effect, damning him for claiming counterterrorism “only incites more terrorism, which in turn provokes reprisals.” Mark Baker, lecturer in terrorism at the University of Melbourne, was incensed that Spielberg had “created a flattened universe where there is no moral compass of right and wrong.”
The triumph of Munich – and the work is not without its flaws – is a Hollywood film that confidently challenges the myth of Israeli moral superiority and its use of state-sanctioned terror. As Robert Fisk recently argued, any nation that embraced an “eye for an eye” ideology is bound to discover the immorality and uselessness of such actions. “The real enemy [in the conflict],” wrote Fisk, “is taking other people’s land away from them.” Spielberg has allowed Palestinians, albeit far-too-briefly, the chance to talk about their longing for a homeland. Similar dreams, in fact, to many Jews the world over. Spielberg doesn’t shy away from bestowing the “other” side with humanity, something that threatens accepted Zionist dogma.
Screenwriter Tony Kushner recently wrote that critics of the film – and advocates of shock and awe “diplomacy” – simply refuse to accept anything other than simple “morality tales”: noble and valiant Israelis versus evil and brutal Palestinians. As Hamas assumes control in the occupied territories – partly due to years of Israeli and US undermining secularism within the Palestinian movement – and former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu compares Hamas’s victory to the rise of Nazism in 1930s Germany, Spielberg’s plea for greater understanding could not be more timely.