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Munich Revisited
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Munich Revisited

Under the guise of caring, there is actually a doctrine of indifference.


Many Jews are up in arms about Steven Spielberg's new movie, "Munich". And rightly so. The most common emotion is outrage. How dare he suggest any moral equivalence between the terrorists and their victims?

He is, of course, not the first to do so, nor do I imagine will he be the last. That he has done so in such a grand, presumably effective way is to his everlasting shame.

But he is not alone. During the recent intifada, Newsweek linked the stories of a 17-year-old suicide (read: homicide) bomber with that of an innocent 17-year-old Israeli victim shopping for groceries for her mother. The list is endless. The phrase "cycle of violence" has insinuated itself into our consciousness and dialogue until no one even questions its validity anymore. Frustrating doesn't even begin to describe it. Destructive? Immoral? Evil?

Not only have I heard the argument that all killing is equal but I've heard the equally audacious point of view that all dying is the same. Hence posits the pundit, the American solider who falls on a grenade to save the lives of his fellow officers is as morally culpable as an insurgent blowing up members of the new Iraqi security forces and their American counterparts. It's enough to drive a girl mad.

But what disturbs me most about this point of view is something other than the intellectual dishonesty and the dangerous moral relativism espoused.

Under the guise of caring, there is actually a doctrine of indifference. Whenever someone in Hollywood attacks the behavior of Jews in Israel, two thoughts spring to mind:

Do they really believe that security guard who sacrificed his life to prevent an even larger catastrophe is their brother?

1. Why is their opinion given so much (any) weight? Why do we believe they are credibly informed on the subject and thus more qualified to address these complicated issues than the rest of us?

And more importantly: 2. Do they really care about other Jews? Do they really believe that security guard who sacrificed his life to prevent an even larger catastrophe is their brother? That the Jews blown up at the tragic Seder in Netanya were their aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents? If they really cared, they wouldn't be so cavalier, so quick with the glib -- and heartless -- response. If they really cared, they wouldn't be so dismissive.

If you woke up daily to a world where someone was trying to murder your wife and children, where their goal was your ultimate destruction, would you really feel that the philosophy of "turning the other cheek" was the appropriate answer?

Only those who don't identify with their fellow Jews around the world would treat their murders with such apathy and their murderers with such compassion.

Likewise, only Americans who don't know anyone fighting in the United States military can be do scornful of the bravery of these young men and women. It is not concern for their lives that motivates the critics but a fear for their own, a cowardice that defines their actions and shapes their philosophy.

The Land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people. Many have sacrificed their lives. They are our sons, husbands and fathers; daughters, wives and mothers. They've sacrificed their lives because they believe in something bigger than themselves -- a People -- with a relationship with the Creator.

If it's only about you, then it's okay to batten down the hatches and ignore the outside world. If it's only about you, then it's okay to build a mansion in Beverly Hills with high fences and round-the-clock security. If it's only about you, then there's no need for war, there's nothing to fight for. If it's only about you, it's a sad, thwarted and wasted existence.

But if we want to be expansive, if we identify with the pain of our brethren across the globe, if we rejoice in their successes and cry with their losses, then not only are our lives enriched but we know there are ideas and values that transcend our personal concerns, people and morals worth fighting for.

We all have to die eventually. Some think that the best death is a quick and painless one. I think the best death (hopefully after 120 years) is to die as you live -- fighting for a cause and a people you love and believe in. The battle can be fought in America, in Israel, or in any country where our brothers and sisters are threatened. I want a life of caring, a life of belonging to the Jewish people, a life of the joys and yes the pain of Klal Yisrael.

Because it's a privileged life. It's a rich life. It's a meaningful life. It's a life about relationships -- with my God, with my people, with my land. Perhaps it's a safer life behind the walls of the mansions. Perhaps life is easier. But it will have the pain of opportunities missed... like Spielberg who has unfortunately just missed his.

December 31, 2005

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Visitor Comments: 16

(16) david, January 13, 2007 6:02 AM

Wrong Interpretation

I felt that Munich was totally pro Israeli and pro Jewish.It didnt show Mossad agents as equivalent to the terrorists rather it showed that every human being feels a little sad while he is taking somebody's life.It showed the high ethical and moral standards of jewish values which respects each and every human life.
It showed tht sometimes it might be hard for us to do something but we gotta do it in order to ensure the safety of our own people.As Avner's mother said in the ending part that "whatever it tool whatever it takes , we have a place on earth..."
Ephraim the Mossad agent also told Avner tht "if these guys live Israelis die whatever doubts you have you know this is true." So to call Munich anti Israeli will be a wrong thing.This movie was a real piece of work which is interpreted in many ways.Its upto the audience to decide how to interprete the movie's message.

(15) Anonymous, February 5, 2006 12:00 AM

strongly disagree

i disagree with this writer's interpretation of this film. i did not feel as though this movie was at all dishonest and quite the opposite, as most things that are truly honest are complicated and conflicting. i also felt that this movie was certainly a call for the many atheistic nonpracticing Jews to return to their religion. i believe the topic to be bold for Speilberg to comment on artistically.

(14) Anonymous, January 23, 2006 12:00 AM

in response to Sandy

When a wider audience is being exposed to questions which we may ask of ourselves, we must also ask "will the benifits outweigh the possible losses?" It is my belief that the rest of the world, (which has unfortunately proven itself to be less than sympathetic to Israel's right to defend itself)will not see the self-examination, but will instead answer those very questions in a manner that even you as an "American Jew" may find disconcerting.

(13) Sandy Price, January 15, 2006 12:00 AM

my take on munich

It feels difficult to offer an opinion about Israeli operations when one is an American Jew, but I have to say that I didn't have the same impression about the movie that this writer did. I do not believe that Spielberg was coming out against Israel's moral choices. I felt that he was saying, simply, that we cannot ignore the reality - one retaliation begets more retaliation and - despite a sense of Israel's Divine destiny - that from a human vantage this conflict feels like a vicious, frustrating, never-ending cycle of violence. He is asking, essentially, does the warning "avarah garreret avarah" apply here? Interestingly, the movie does not answer. It simply raises the question, gives the conflicting points of view, and leaves us to think (and talk) about it.

I strongly believe that our tradition dictates that we must raise and discuss questions like this. Part of the objection to Munich is based on a deep desire to portray a morally strong Israel. Yet Israel's morality must be looked at both from a long-term, historic, nationalistic perspective and ALSO from the perspective of individual acts taken by individuals at certain moments in time. Just as the Talmud shows a tradition of on-going discussion among individuals about questions of halachic law, so must Jews who make and carry out national policy for Israel engage in on-going discussion about what is morally appropriate national action for Israel. Isn't this exactly why the "V'ahavta" requires that we bind and mark ourselves and our homes? So we as individuals will not forget to ask whether each of the works of our hands does, in fact, meet standards of holiness? In Munich, Spielberg has not so much asked whether Israel is right or wrong. Rather, it seems to me, he has asked us to participate as individuals in the discussion about the Palestinian conflict. He asked us to place ourselves in the position of just one young man ("Avner") who becomes part of the cycle of conflict when he is put in charge of a squad of Israeli assassins who go after the Munich terrorists.

One problem for us in putting ourselves in Avner's shoes (or in being Avner, for that matter) is that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a lengthy historical conflict that can not be experienced or analyzed in it's entirety by one human during the duration of that human's participation. That kind of birds' eye view must be left to G-d and historians. It is 2006 and we STILL do not know how this cycle will end - whether it will end as Ephraim (Avner's Mossad "handler") believed - in favor of Israel, or like Avner's Palestinian counterpart believed - with Israel's destruction. Once upon a time the Maccabees believed their "cycle" would be the last - but they were wrong. Today of all days we can see just how obscure such knowledge is, as the current fate of Palestinian-Israeli relations hangs by the thread of Sharon's health.

To come to a point - from a Divine vantage, G-d knows whether, when and how this cycle will play out, but from the human vantage, we cannot easily see the long-term consequences or moral implications for Israel's future of any particular action we take today. We cannot see what G-d sees, yet we are required to make choices and take action. Consequently, as Jews, choosing to act requires that we ask and try as best we can to answer the moral questions raised by our actions. Our tradition demands that we raise the ethical questions Spielberg raises in the movie, like, How can we not be anguished by the fact that each Israeli retaliatory move results in multiple retaliatory murders from the Palestinian side? What are the criteria for choosing assassination over arrest and trial? How does a Jew balance his obligation to his family's survival against Israel's survival? What is the right way to honor the memory of those who have died just because they were Jews? Can Israel's strength and resolve be demonstrated without the side-effect of additional death (Jew and non-Jew alike)?

G-d, Torah and Talmud teach us not to rejoice in the downfall of our enemies, to be extremely aware of the sanctity of human life even when it must be taken, to strive for righteousness, and to ask, ask, ask these questions. Spielberg is doing exactly what we as Jews must do - ASK, ASK, ASK, DISCUSS, DISCUSS, DISCUSS. This is not anti-Israel, anti-Semitic or pro-Palestinian. This is being true to our heritage, to the Talmudic tradition of debate about important choices we face as Jews, choices that we must make as individuals and as a Jewish nation in a point in time, without (unfortunately) the all-knowing Divine vantage. I felt Spielberg drew no conclusions about the rightness or wrongness of retaliation. He simply asked us to step into the shoes of those who are on the front-lines of what is essentially the survival struggle of ALL Jews, and to struggle with our consciences as individuals who are part of the unfolding and unknowable Jewish future.

G-d encouraged the sages to engage in this sort of dialogue, and in this way we become partners with Him in shaping our future. I believe we would be doing less than what He wants of us if we fail to ask these tough questions, and I applaud Spielberg for raising them.

(12) Tracey, January 7, 2006 12:00 AM

See the film, then decide

I learned very early on with the story of the Exodus that one is not to rejoice at the death of an enemy. To have these Israeli men not exhibit any discomfort at having killed someone else, however deserved, is to show them as inhuman. A life is, after all, a life.

Wasn't Golda Meir who said that she couldn't hate her enemy for "killing her sons" but rather for forcing "her sons" to "kill theirs?"

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