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(DV) Samuel: "The Case Against Israel" and "Munich"







Book and Film Review
“The Case Against Israel” and “Munich”
by Julian Samuel
April 4, 2006

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The Case Against Israel by Michael Neumann

(CounterPunch and AK Press, 2005)

220 pages
ISBN: 1904859461


Munich, directed by Steven Spielberg

Rated R for strong graphic violence, some sexual content,
nudity and  language.
Runtime: 164 min, 2005


Steven Spielberg’s film Munich is about Israeli agents who cloak-and-dagger around Europe murdering dark, hooked-nosed Palestinians thought to have conducted the 1972 Munich attack on Israeli Olympic athletes. Is Munich a morally complex film which shows us how and why Israel has to use terrorism to stop terrorism? If one’s source of history and international understanding and compassion is, somehow, taken from news media such as CNN and the BBC, then the film offers a deep experience on morality and politics. However, if one looks at Munich through Michael Neumann’s book, The Case Against Israel, the film becomes a transparent work in the tradition of American filmmaker D. W. Griffith.


Spielberg is trying to feed us a view of Arabs and the Islamic world that stokes Western governments into legislating repressive laws. This is happening not only in the home of the Magna Carta but also on this side of the Atlantic. For example, the PATRIOT Acts enable agents of the FBI to inspect lists of books that borrowers, with names like Ibn Rasheed, Si Azeedin or Andrew Said, may have taken out.


The key Mossad Jihadist is played by an actor who Spielberg dramaturgically develops fully by showing him to have an evolving relationship with his wife who gives birth to a child; we are introduced to his mother, and he remains, until the end, a loveable Jewish assassin in blue jeans with a crotch bulge equal to Benito Deltorres’. Golda Meir is made to look like an angel of mercy shedding a Sufi effulgence on her secret agents while offering them tea with milk and honey. She is a bed of roses, not chief director of land expropriations.


The Palestinians are never developed to the same extent. We get the impression that their resistance is irrational and unfounded; they’ve never faced the same psychic misery that Israeli Jews have. How might a boy-soldier from Brooklyn treat a pregnant Palestinian woman at a checkpoint? The Arabs are only given enough screen time to say a few black and white lines. Moreover, to trick the naive into seeing Israeli Jews as morally superior, Spielberg has inserted a cardboard Palestinian poet who is a supposed terrorist. He is killed before he can explain why it might have been necessary for him to use terror. Are we to think that terrorism resides in the Arab genetic code and not in the fact that they were subjected to the venture of Zionism?


Palestinians were large enough to have caused the events of Munch in 1972, but not important enough to be integrated in his film. The very fact that Speilberg allows a few gutturally voiced lines to fall from their mouths shows that he knows about their ordeal but, mysteriously, does not consider it worthy of screen time. How one-sided can an American filmmaker get?


Spielberg’s Munich is embedded in the belief that Palestinians are naturally terrorists. Generally speaking, for Americans, the film’s lethal propaganda use-value will become apparent when they are given an alternative to Zionism history. Otherwise, they will be embedded. The Case Against Israel, a succinct book on Israel and Zionism written by Michael Neumann, an American Jew whose “German Jewish stepfather suffered greatly under the Nazis” gives us a solid alternative to Zionism. Zionism is the engine that drives Spielberg’s Munich. And, it is by understanding what Zionism is that we can appreciate the shear violence that this film encourages. Instead of giving her secret agents tea, imagine Golda Meir ruefully looking into Spielberg’s camera saying the following:


Zionism has never been a movement for the defense of the Jewish religion; on the contrary many of the most religious Jews abhor it. It was never even a movement in defense of some cultural entity: when the Zionist movement began, Jews had no common language and their traditions were in many cases wildly dissimilar or simply abandoned altogether. Zionism was a movement which advocated, not so much the defense of an ethnic group, as the formation of such a group in Palestine, where those thought to fit a certain semi-racial category were to find refuge. It was a lovely dream where all Jews would live happily together and, with typical Wilsonian obliviousness, no one seemed to notice that those who did not pass ethnic muster had no place in this fantasy. If they were to be tolerated, welcomed, even loved, it was to be at the good pleasure of “the Jews”. (cited on p. 18)


If Spielberg could see the critical validity of the following statement on Israel he would have made the complex film that many tactically pretend he made:


Israel is the illegitimate child of ethnic nationalism. The inhabitants of Palestine had every reason to oppose its establishment by any means necessary . . . Given the life-and-death powers of the proposed state and the intention of its proponents to maintain ethnic supremacy within its borders, the Palestinians were justified in taking the project as a mortal threat, and therefore to resist it by any means necessary. (p. 187-188)


Spielberg is fluent in using historical documents to make films such as Amistad, a shallow yet multifaceted film about the slave trade. Africans emerge as people with past and present lives. For Arabs, Spielberg’s Munich resembles the American filmmaker D. W Griffith, who in 1915 made a racist classic The Birth of a Nation. For Spielberg, the Palestinians have become what blacks were for Griffith: Dark, threatening creatures to be eliminated with extreme prejudice.


What was the average age of the Palestinians who conducted the Munich attack? What happened 24 years before Munich 1972? What happened on April 9, 1948 at Deir Yassin? And on October 29, 1956 at Kafar Qasem? Anything? Something? Nothing? Spielberg knows about Deir Yassin and Kafar Qasem. Does Zionism take us to the murders at Munich 1972?


The issues that Spielberg hides are the ones that Neumann lights in a scholastically stark and unique manner. Thankfully, his views don’t resemble the rampant anti-Americanism that one sees everywhere; nor is he anti-Jewish as his detractors will undoubtedly inform us; nor is his historical analysis anti-Israeli.


Here are some examples of potentially cinematically charged scenes that Spielberg could have dramatized but didn’t:


Finally, no one should be deterred from vigorous anti-Israeli action by the horrors of the Jewish past. On the contrary: Israel’s current policies are themselves an insult and a threat to Jews and to Israelis everywhere. (p 190-191)


Spielberg wants a one-sided victory in which Israeli Jews rest morally high above the Arabs. What is preventing Spielberg from traveling on the same carpet as Neumann?


Let no one throw up the Nazi era as some excuse for Israel, or wax sentimental about the Zionist dream. This has not been some exercise in moral reasoning whose object is simply to find fault. The situation is urgent, and dangerous to all involved. The lies, obfuscations and self-deceiving nonsense that sustain Israel’s occupation -- something it could end tomorrow -- cost Jewish as well as Palestinian blood. (p.190-191)


Neumann has looked at what causes terrorism. Spielberg hasn’t: he thinks that the world will automatically sympathize with the American War on Terrorism.  Consider the 1972 athletes:


“Terrorism”, on this account, can be defined as random violence against non-combatants. “Non-combatants” need not be civilians, but must designate those not involved in hostilities against the attackers: workers in defense industries are one of many borderline cases. “Random” means only that the victims are selected, not because of their importance as individuals, but because they are representative of some larger population.” (p. 158)


Ben Gurion, unlike Golda Meir, did look in the mirror:


If I were an Arab leader, I would never make terms with Israel. That is natural: we have taken their country. Sure, God promised it to us, but what does that matter to them? Our God is not theirs... There has been anti-Semitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault? They only know but one thing: we have come here and stolen their country. Why would they accept that? (cited on p.151-152)


Which influential Americans know the same history as Neumann? In light of the full-blown apartheid in Palestine would these Americans initiate a full boycott against Israel? Would Noam Chomsky?  (Neumann calls Chomsky a Zionist on page 23). Would Woody Allen? Neumann has tried to start a boycott, but didn’t get support.


Munich is a cinematic Nuremberg in which Spielberg, along with his producers, actors and all his crew tell us a hideous fib about Israel. In God-fearing America such fibs can only be checked, not corrected. Neumann’s The Case Against Israel renders Spielberg’s Munich irrational hate propaganda.

Julian Samuel is a Montreal filmmaker and writer. He can be reached at: juliansamuel@videotron.ca.

* Michael Neumann has written extensively on the Middle East: See for example "How Time Flies," CounterPunch, September 23, 2004; and Michael Neumann's Israel-Palestine Page.