You can still hear the laughter from 1992 when then-Vice President Dan Quayle made a speech critical of the family values depicted on the TV show ìMurphy Brown.î Enlightened columnists almost universally mocked Quayle for taking a TV show way too seriously.
But in the past two years, in what is starting to look like an annual event, first with ìThe Passion of the Christî and now with ìMunich,î some top Jewish journalists have gone totally Quayle with overheated angst that confuses a three-reeler with the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
According to these Jewish critics, art is nothing but agitprop, that a character in a movie is nothing but a stand-in for the whole nation. If in ìMunich,î for example, the main Israeli agent, Avner ó increasingly paranoid and emotionally shattered after a year of killing terrorists ó chooses to escape to Brooklyn, it is really an assault on Zionism, the critics say, an affirmation of yerida ó Zionismís contemptuous term for expatriate Israelis. This, aside from being merciless to Avner, is like condemning ìOliver Twistî as a lie because not all orphans are pickpockets.For example, Rabbi Benjamin Blech, writing on Aish.com (Dec. 29), said ìMunichî concludes ìwith a final insult: The disillusioned leader of the mission Ö renounces his country and settles in Brooklyn. And so ends the hope of the Jewish people.î
Aaron Klein, the author of ìStriking Back,î a book on Israelís Munich avengers, wrote in Slate (Dec. 23), ìI found not a single trace of remorse.
îIn fact, for all his doubts, when Avner has nightmares in Brooklyn, he never flashes back to the terrorists he killed. His only flashbacks are to the horrors of innocent Jewish Olympians massacred by the Palestinians.And it was Prime Minister Golda Meir, who authorized the Israeli assassination team, who famously said, ìI can forgive you for killing my sons, but I cannot forgive you for forcing me to kill your sons.î No one expressed more eloquent ambivalence about vengeance than the prime minister herself.
The supposed conclusions in ìMunichî against vengeance, so obvious to some, are not so obvious to others. David Edelstein in Slate (Dec. 22) wrote, ìItís hard to imagine a better motive for vengeance than the killing of national heroes (and civilians) on a world stage.î This is about ìbringing the bad guys down Ö Take that, terrorist vermin!îEdelstein asked, ìIs ëMunichí an apology for Palestinian terrorists ó for men and women who barbarously murder civilians? I donít consider a movie that assigns motives more complicated than pure evil to constitute an apology. The Israeli government and many conservative and pro-Israeli commentators have lambasted the film for naivetÈ, for implying that governments should never retaliate. But an expression of uncertainty and disgust is not the same as one of outright denunciation.î
If this is an anti-Israel movie, a large number of Arab writers think otherwise.
Fawaz Turki, senior columnist for the Saudi-based Arab News, noting Jewish anger against the film, said Palestinians will ìfeel equally outraged by how Israeli assassins are romanticized as tragic figures grappling with the morality of what they are ordered to do by their government. Ö Spielberg sympathetically portrays his Israeli assassins, men imbued with moral rectitude, who as they go about their deadly business are beset by moral qualms and driven to wage a titanic battle with their conscience.îAccording to the Al Jazeera Web site (Jan. 1), Amir Hijazi, a member of the Palestinian U.N. delegation, ìbelieves that Arab audiences will not appreciate ëMunichí as much due to its portrayal of Palestinians as an ëangry people.í îAl-Jazeera brings up the 1973 killing in Norway of a Moroccan waiter mistaken for Ali Hassan Salameh, the leader of the terrorists in Munich.ìSix members of the Israeli hit team were prosecuted for murder,î Al-Jazeera wrote, ìand Israel eventually paid compensation to the victimís family.
îSpielberg omitted the embarrassing episode, even though ìMunichî deals with the hunt for Salameh at length.
Reuters (Dec. 27) interviewed Mohammed Daoud, ìthe Palestinian mastermind of the Munich Olympics,î who said Spielberg ìshould have listened to both sides of the story and reflected reality rather than serving the Zionist side alone.î
In the city Munich, Der Spiegel (Dec. 20) ran an article by Michelle Goldberg written in conjunction with Salon, the online journal.ìThe charactersí deep ambivalence about the revenge killings they commit is actually profoundly flattering to Israel,î Goldberg wrote. ìIt is impossible to imagine such doubt, and such an ardent desire to adhere to a higher standard than that of oneís enemies, among the filmís terrorists. Indeed, I would guess that many Palestinians would find the movie unbearably self-congratulatory ó its central concern, after all, is the effect of retaliatory Jewish violence on the Jewish soul, not on the Palestinian flesh.îSeveral critics questioned the final scene with the World Trade Center in the background behind Avner, suggesting that symbolizes the ìcycle of violence.î It just as easily could be saying to Avner, you can run but you canít hide. n