Assassins and Character Assassins: Spielbergs Munich

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Theatrical release poster. Vengeance by George Jonas. Sony Pictures Studios. Memoirs of a Geisha Munich Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull Best International Actor. Best Director. Best Picture. Best Adapted Screenplay. Tony Kushner and Eric Roth. In both the book and the film, for example, we are asked to believe that the squad was pointed towards its targets by an enigmatic Frenchman called Louis, whose identity and motivation are never fully revealed.

Mr Danoch told Israeli radio there was "no truth" to the Jonas book - a line the Israelis have been pushing more or less consistently since its publication. The book, though, may not be as big a stumbling block as the interpretation Mr Spielberg and his screenwriters have imposed on it. It seems reasonable to assume that Mossad assassins would be tough, uncompromising sorts. Indeed, Mr Jonas's source, identified only as Avner, writes in a new introduction to the book that he has absolutely no regrets about anything he did in his country's name, despite his doubts about the effectiveness of his actions in stemming the tide of anti-Israeli violence down the years.

In the film, by contrast, Avner and his colleagues are racked by hesitation and guilt from the get-go and come off as almost implausibly soft-hearted. Avner is seen crying when he listens to the daughter he has never met cooing down the telephone and even finds room for civility when, in the film's single most contrived sequence, he is thrown into conversation with a Palestinian guerrilla fighter he runs into in Athens.

Even Golda Meir herself is depicted expressing regret, if not doubt, about the assassination policy she lays down.

'I knew I would lose friends over this film'

Several of Mr Spielberg's critics have taken issue with the idea that she would have expressed any such reluctance. Holding mass murderers accountable is not a compromise; it is Israel's reason for being. Here we come close to the heart of the matter. Mr Spielberg and his screenwriters, Eric Roth and Tony Kushner, are all liberal American Jews wanting desperately to believe there is something virtuous and morally superior about both Israel and the United States. That, in their minds, is the link between Israel post and America post Israeli "righteousness", along with the American exceptionalism espoused by liberal thinkers and politicians since Woodrow Wilson, are values that the film sets out both to celebrate and, to some degree, to mourn.

But Israel , as Mr Webber points out, has always made a virtue of its own toughness and predicated its own existence on a refusal ever to be victimised again in the wake of the Holocaust. Righteousness, in other words, is not nearly as important as survival. Mr Spielberg, by contrast, seems anxious to establish that even Mossad assassins are nice guys, and his characters are imbued with traits that would fit right into the suburban Midwest of Mr Spielberg's upbringing.

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It's a contradiction that the film cannot entirely sustain, and explains a lot of what has so infuriated Mr Spielberg's detractors. To ardent Zionists, he has committed the unforgivable sin of making Israel look soft. To Palestinians, he has imbued Israel with a moral virtue uncorroborated by its actions. To supporters of President Bush's war on terror, he has resisted the Manichean logic of a conflict between good and evil and introduced shades of grey where policymakers and ideologues want only black and white.

No wonder they are all up in arms. Hollywood and the rest of America 's liberal elite has, to some extent, rushed to Mr Spielberg's defence, and it's not inconceivable that the film will pick up a handful of Oscar nominations. As a piece of film-making, it has certainly found its target and will no doubt benefit commercially from the controversy.

Whether it works as an exercise in international diplomacy, however, is a whole different matter. You can find our Community Guidelines in full here.

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Target Two is a well-spoken diplomat and doting father. Target Three offers Avner a cigarette from across a balcony; Avner repays the gesture by having him blown to bits in his bed. Another target gives a moving speech about his longing for his homeland and the agony of 24 years of dispossession. There is nothing wrong with depicting Palestinians -- even those involved in terrorism -- as fully rounded human beings.

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Yet not one of these characters is seen performing the deeds for which they have been targeted, unlike the Israelis in the film, who perform dirty deeds by the dozen. Maybe it has something to do with the strawman arguments the Israelis offer for exacting their revenge.

Spielberg's lies and cover-ups

Steve is a South African Jew, blonde and blue-eyed, and somehow it's no surprise that this Jewish Aryan is made to utter this most racist of views. Avner's mother offers her son an ends-justify-the-means rationalization for his killings: "Whatever it takes," she says, "we have a place on Earth at last. Never mind, too, that peace and strength are not incompatible options. Maybe it has something to do with the false dichotomy the film establishes between Jewish ideals and Israeli actions.

Yet the Torah and Talmud are replete with descriptions of the justified smiting of one enemy or another. Hanukkah, for instance, commemorates the Maccabean victory over the Seleucid empire. It is Christianity, not Judaism, that counsels turning the other cheek. Maybe it has something to do with what in Hollywood is known as the hero's "character arc. But as his doubts about his mission grow, so does his disillusionment with Israel. On a return visit to Israel, he can barely bring himself to shake the hands of two soldiers who congratulate him for his rumored exploits.

Assassins and Character Assassins: Spielbergs Munich Assassins and Character Assassins: Spielbergs Munich
Assassins and Character Assassins: Spielbergs Munich Assassins and Character Assassins: Spielbergs Munich
Assassins and Character Assassins: Spielbergs Munich Assassins and Character Assassins: Spielbergs Munich
Assassins and Character Assassins: Spielbergs Munich Assassins and Character Assassins: Spielbergs Munich
Assassins and Character Assassins: Spielbergs Munich Assassins and Character Assassins: Spielbergs Munich
Assassins and Character Assassins: Spielbergs Munich Assassins and Character Assassins: Spielbergs Munich
Assassins and Character Assassins: Spielbergs Munich Assassins and Character Assassins: Spielbergs Munich

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