Sunday, August 06, 2006


Steven Spielberg's fine film, "Munich," follows the secret, unofficial team that the Israeli government sent to kill the leaders of the Palestinian terror group Black September after the terrorists murdered Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972. At first Avner, the Mossad agent who leads the group, accepts his charge to hunt down Black September and murder them in spectacular ways, to send a message to Israel's many enemies. However, when each Black September leader is replaced by an even worse one, and when the Palestinians retaliate with attacks on Israeli embassies and civilians, Avner starts to doubt the morality of his team's, and his government's, actions.

Late in the film an anguished Avner asks his Mossad controller "what have we accomplished?" Why, he wants to know, if the men they killed were certainly terrorists and criminals, was he not sent to capture them and bring them back to Israel for trial, like Adolf Eichmann?

When we meet Avner, he is introduced as the son of a war hero, proud to be a Mossad agent, with his lovely, pregnant wife – a real sabra, as he insists. When he is summoned to meet his boss, a couple of generals, and Prime Minister Golda Meir – at her house, where she serves him coffee herself, and praises his father – well, what patriot could refuse the task they set for him to hunt down his nation's enemies? As he explains it to his wife later, he couldn't live with himself if he said no.

I think, though, that he (and Speilberg) get it right in the end. Satisfying though it might feel at first to hunt down terrorists, it was the wrong thing to do. Golda Meir, in the meeting in which she authorizes the assassinations, is shown saying that sometimes a civilization has to make compromises with its own values. But that compromise came back to bite them. The trial of Eichmann was Israel at its tough best. That is what they should have done with Black September. Sinking to the level of the terrorists did Israel no good; it brought even worse terrorists to power.


Paul M. said...

Sadly, a timely entry.

Ed McLeod said...

Having just seen Munich for the second time, I was struck by the anguished speech of the toymaker who lamented that his participation in this act of vengeance was putting his very identity at risk, for he knew that to be a Jew was about being righteous, and not sinking to the level of the ones they were pursuing. While some of the others were somewhat troubled by this ethical dilemma, it seemed to tear at the fabric of who he was, and became too much for him to bear. There is always a risk of becoming what we loathe.

Gruntled said...

Amen. I think this is a powerful film because it is about morality, but doesn't hit you over the head with the moral message. It appears to be a thriller to right about that part in the film.

Jonathan B. Horen said...

I suppose you'd like to say that "being a Jew means turning the other cheek", time after time after time...

Well, it doesn't. Judaism teaches us: "הבה להרגך, ישכם להרגו" (if one is coming to kill you, arise first, and kill him).

Similarly, vengence might well take its own toll, but in many cases it is a responsibility which must be fulfilled.

Spielberg got it wrong; Munich was one of those cases.

Gruntled said...

I think assassinating assassins, while doing nothing to settle the grievance that created the assassins in the first place, is counterproductive. Indeed, as the lead assassin in the film discovers, some of the men he was being sent to kill were not even involved in the Munich massacre, but were just people his government wanted dead. And his bosses agreed that for each one they killed, a worse one took his place -- worse, in part, because his predecessor had been assassinated.