The word is out that some American Jewish leaders don’t like Munich. David Brooks (this link will only work if you are a NY Times subscriber or TimesSelect member–for others I’ll try to quote full passages so you get the gist of his argument) has joined the crowd. What is it that bothers them? Well, it appears that they don’t like the fact that Spielberg finds much to criticize in both the Palestinian terrorists and the Israeli intelligence agents sent to hunt them down. This is how Brooks puts it:
In this story, the Israelis and the Palestinians are parallel peoples victimized by history and trapped in a cycle of violence.
Jewish and non-Jewish right-wing Israel apologists like Brooks don’t buy the idea that both sides are at fault for the conflict. To them, only one side is at fault. The other side (Israel) is purely a victim and totally justified in using whatever means necessary to defend itself from the fiends on the other side.
These words from Spielberg explaining his thinking scare the bejesus out of our more stridently pro-Israel leaders:
Spielberg spoke of the Middle East’s endless killings and counterkillings. “A response to a response doesn’t really solve anything. It just creates a perpetual motion machine,” Spielberg said. “There’s been a quagmire of blood for blood for many decades in that region. Where does it end?”
The main problem, he concluded, is intransigence itself. “The only thing that’s going to solve this is rational minds, a lot of sitting down and talking until you’re blue in the gills.”
Here, Brooks distills his objections to the movie:
Over the course of the movie, as assassination piles upon assassination, Avner [the main Israeli agent] descends into a pit of Raskolnikovian hell. Israelis kill Palestinians and Palestinians kill Israelis and guilt piles upon paranoia. Eventually, Avner loses faith in his mission, in Zionism, in Israel itself.
What frightens Munich’s critics is that a thoughtful, balanced film might actually provoke reconsideration among some about the origins of the conflict and ways to settle it that do not flatter Israel.
Here, Brooks continues his critique:
…When it [the movie] is political, Spielberg has to distort reality to fit his preconceptions. In the first place, by choosing a story set in 1972, Spielberg allows himself to ignore the core poison that permeates the Middle East, Islamic radicalism.
In Spielberg’s Middle East, there is no Hamas or Islamic Jihad. There are no passionate anti-Semites, no Holocaust deniers like the current president of Iran, no zealots who want to exterminate Israelis.
There is, above all, no evil. And that is the core of Spielberg’s fable. In his depiction of reality there are no people so committed to a murderous ideology that they are impervious to the sort of compromise and dialogue Spielberg puts such great faith in.
Is it unsporting of me to point out that by making a film set in 1972, Spielberg COULD NOT address Islamic radicalism because it didn’t exist (at least not among Palestinians)? Perhaps what Brooks means to say is that Spielberg should have made a more contemporary story that would reflect these more recent trends. If so, it’s odd of Brooks because you have to judge the movie the director’s actually made–not the one you’d prefer him to have made.
And if Brooks really believes that Spielberg finds no evil in the Mideast what does he think the Munich massacre was? It was evil pure and simple. Certainly Spielberg himself would agree. Besides, it was one of the first truly international terrorist crimes. Those two facets make it an almost irresistible concept for a film.
I think what Brooks is really saying here is that he’s disturbed that despite the clear unalloyed evil Brooks finds in Islamic radicalism, Spielberg persists in finding fault with both sides. It’s this that truly annoys our NYT columnist.
This is where Brooks becomes pernicious and his discussion of Israeli policy toward the Palestinians goes off the rails:
In Spielberg’s Middle East the only way to achieve peace is by renouncing violence. But in the real Middle East the only way to achieve peace is through military victory over the fanatics, accompanied by compromise between the reasonable elements on each side. Somebody, the Israelis or the Palestinian Authority, has to defeat Hamas and the other terrorist groups. Far from leading to a downward cycle, this kind of violence is the precondition to peace.
What a laugh! After 100 years of bloodshed between Israelis and Arabs, Brooks still maintains the rather quaint notion that first, Israel has no choice but destroy Palestinian resistance through military force and second, that it CAN do this. Both claims are WRONG–DEAD WRONG. In addition, it is laughable that Brooks’ prescription is for Israel to vanquish the Palestinians AND THEN find a “compromise between the reasonable elements on each side.” Isn’t that a convenient method of making peace? First, you slaughter your enemy and beat him into submission and then he crawls to the negotiating table begging for a “reasonable compromise.” Currently, both Israel and Palestine are beating each other into a bloody pulp and clearly neither side can vanquish the other. As long as people like Brooks urge Israel to fight to the last drop of its blood (while they shed none of their own), this pernicious mentality will continue to delude Israel into believing it can win on its own terms.
It appears that the Israeli assassinations of the Munich killers do make Brooks slightly uncomfortable. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have added this passage which attempts (woefully unsuccessfully) to convey that Israel has largely turned its back on targeted assassinations:
In 1972, Israel was just entering the era of spectacular terror attacks and didn’t know how to respond. But over the years Israelis have learned that targeted assassinations, which are the main subject of this movie, are one of the less effective ways to fight terror.
This is a crock of crap and Brooks has got to know it too. Israel regularly targets Palestinian militants for assassination. In fact, at least two were murdered this week by Israeli missiles. If Israel truly believed that such killings were “one of the less effective ways to fight terror” then it wouldn’t be using the technique.
And here Brooks continues his miserable apologia:
Israel much prefers to arrest suspected terrorists. Arrests don’t set off rounds of retaliation, and arrested suspects are likely to provide you with intelligence, the real key to defanging terror groups.
Over the past few years Israeli forces have used arrests, intelligence work, the security fence and, at times, targeted assassinations to defeat the second intifada. As a result, the streets of Jerusalem are filled with teenagers, and the political climate has relaxed, allowing Ariel Sharon to move to the center.
Recent history teaches what Spielberg’s false generalization about the “perpetual motion machine” of violence does not: that some violence is constructive and some is destructive. The trick is knowing the difference.
Ah, I see. Thanks to Israeli intelligence successes all is honky dory in the land of milk and honey. Has he forgotten (conveniently so) that Islamic Jihad bombed the shit out of a shopping mall in Netanya a few days ago? And that the suicide bombers somehow found a way to circumvent Brooks’ vaunted security fence? In Brooks’s world, Israeli violence is always “constructive.” Why, because in some twisted way it stands on the side of good. Somehow, killing Palestinian militants is a good thing because it will bring security for Israel. Palestinian violence is of course ALWAYS “destructive” because it is mindless killing for the sake of killing. There is no legitimate “meaning” behind it other than the eternal enmity of the Jew-hater to his perpetual victim. This line of thinking is false, false, false. And it will perpetuate the bloodshed for another century unless we find a way to remove ourselves from its clutches.
Brooks neglects to mention the screenplay was written by Tony Kushner (Angels in America), which explains much about the script’s political “point of view.” Kushner has co-edited Wrestling with Zion, which presents a decidedly dovish perspective on the conflict. Spielberg is to be commended that he chose someone with such a forthright point of view. If he’d chosen to make a film that played it safe and had no strong point of view he would’ve gone the usual Hollywood route and satisfied no one on either side.
Watch a trailer for the film (due in theaters December 23rd–right on time for Jews looking for something to do during the Christmas season that doesn’t remind them of “that holiday”).
While this post is not a review of the movie, Slate.com and the NY Times film critics have each written glowing reviews of Munich.
I also found Brooks’ column appallingly full of “fables” (something he accuses Spielberg of spinning).
Hamas and Islamic Jihad would have little popular support and therefore not much strength if ongoing policies of “destructive” violence against Palestinians had not been carried out.
“Destructive” violence against Afghanistan by Russia gave rise to mujahadeen (who were aided by the US). Some Mujahadeen morphed into Al Qaida fanatics while their friends the Taliban took control of Afghanistan.
Bin Laden was very specific about his gripe with the US. He wanted US military bases out of what he viewed as the Islamic holy land of Saudi Arabia, and he wanted the US to stop supporting Israeli aggression at the expense of Palestinians.
The 9:11 attack did not occur because Al Qaida “hates American freedoms” as the Bush admin’s spin meisters and too much of the media tried to claim.
Brooks does not ackowledge that aggressive and violent policies give strength to the fanatics he says need to be clobbered. Clobbering is what helps create fanatics and gives them strength.
I’d say Kushner/Spielberg have it right.
Brooks never suggests that Israel should “vanquish the Palestinians”. He says that Hamas and other terrorist groups need to be defeated. They’ve made it clear time and time again that they aren’t interested in peace. Their stated agenda is to destroy the Jewish State. Israel can only make peace with Palestinian moderates once terrorism is off the table. Similarly, I wouldn’t expect Palestinians to make peace with Meir Kahane or Baruch Goldstein.
Richard Silverstein says
Look, neither one of us likes Hamas or Islamic Jihad. They’re bad dudes. But you ain’t gonna defeat them. Can you stop a terror attack here or kill a leader there? Sure. But for every leader you decapitate ten new heads sprout in its place. It’s much the same regarding our doomed efforts to “pacify” Iraq. Go ahead, try to “defeat” Al-Zarqawi or Al Qaeda. Suppose you kill Al-Zarqawi or bin Laden. What does that gain? There are dozens of others waiting in line to take their place.
You’ve got to change the political, economic and social conditions which allow these bastards to flourish. That’s why Sharon should be sitting at a negotiating table right now with Abbas. That’s why Hamas should participate freely in the upcoming Palestinian elections without interference from the IDF. That’s why Israel should allow access through Palestinian border crossings like Rafah.
You simply can’t kill Islamic Jihad or Hamas via military force. If you don’t give up on this as your only solution to the conflict you could find yourself liquidating militants for the next 1,000 years and nothing essentially will change (well, certainly not for the better).
Your Goldstein/Kahane analogy is hollow. Hamas represents 30% of the Palestinian voters. Goldstein/Kahane never represented more than a few percentage points at most of the Israeli electorate. God forbid that Kahanists sat in the Knesset and had 30 or 40 Knesset seats, then I’m sorry to say but the Palestinians would have to make peace with them (not that Kahanists would ever make peace with Arabs). Luckily, that ain’t gonna happen.
And your characterization of the “agenda” of the Palestinian militants is also inadequate. Different groups have diff. agendas. Even elements within specific groups differ with other factions within the same group. Do all members of Likud, Labor or Kadima have the same party position regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Of course not.
I’d suggest you do a keyword search for “Hamas” within this blog & you’ll find posts that indicate a quite varied and interesting amount of flexibility within Hamas regarding Israel and its existence. Is Hamas ready for peace with Israel right now? Would I want Israel to embrace Hamas (fat chance that’d ever happen) as a legitimate negotiating partner right now. That’s doubtful. But could Hamas at some point in the not too distant future modify its views and be willing to negotiate peace as part of a Palestinian team? I’m betting on it.
But the fact is if Kahanists made up 30% of Israeli voters, how could you expect Palestinian leadership to negotiate for peace? But Hamas and Islamic Jihad do in fact have tremendous political power. You said it yourself: “not that Kahanists would ever make peace with Arabs.” Why do you expect any more from jihadist in this case?
Richard Silverstein says
I guess I couldn’t legitimately expect that the Palestinians would negotiate with Kahanists. But a funny thing happens when you go from being a small group of dangerous militant zealots (as Kahane always was & Hamas was until recently) to having a major stake in your society’s political process. Formerly hard line views & actions give way to more pragmatism & moderation. Just look at Sharon’s championing of the setlements in previous governments. Now that he’s the PM and the nation’s fate is his sole responsibility, he’s taken to moderating his views. That’s a good thing. And if it can happen w. him it can happen w. Hamas. Am I saying that the Hamas lion will ever lie down with the Israeli lamb (forgive the imprecise analogy) in blissful peace? No.
But do I believe that Hamas will at some pt. in the near future moderate its views enough to join the PA in negotiating Palestine’s future w. Israel. I firmly believe this.
And you also must remember (as I write elsewhere in this blog) that Hamas was a creation of the IDF to counterbalance the power of the then PLO in the Territories. Just as the CIA helped create the mujahadeen we’re now fighting in Afghanistan, the IDF helped create its own worst enemy. Be careful what you wish for & create; it may come back to haunt you. Also, once you create a movement like this it’s impossible to put it back in the bottle. That’s what the IDF is now trying to do w. Hamas. And it won’t work.