In the midst of ferocious competition for this year's Oscar nominations (to be announced Jan. 31), Steven Spielberg insists that his contender Munich counts as more than a movie. In a Time magazine interview, the director described his project as a "prayer for peace," suggesting it might even point the way to resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In this context, voters of the Academy of the Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will inevitably weigh the film's messages along with its camera work, acting and dramatic impact.
In fictionalizing the Israeli response to the murder of 11 members of its Olympic team in 1972, Munich deliberately blurs distinctions between those who commit terrorism and those who combat it.
"A response to a response doesn't really solve anything," the director declares - indicating that he somehow views the slaughter of unarmed athletes by Black September terrorists as "a response." A response to what, one might inquire? Israel's very existence, or its determination to resist bloodthirsty calls in 1948 and 1967 to "push all the Jews into the sea"?
Myth on Golda Meir
In the movie, Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir authorizes the Israeli "response" with a line prominently featured in promotional materials: "Every civilization finds it necessary to negotiate compromises with its own values." Meir never made such a statement because she explicitly viewed striking back at terror as upholding - not compromising - civilized values.
The primary purpose of the undercover hit squads sent out against the terrorist leadership wasn't punishment, but protection. On Sept. 12, 1972, a week after the Munich massacre, Meir spoke to the Israeli Knesset. "From the blood-drenched history of the Jewish nation, we learn that violence which begins with the murder of Jews, ends with the spread of violence and danger to all people, in all nations," she explained. "We have no choice but to strike at the terrorist organizations wherever we can reach them. That is our obligation to ourselves and to peace."
The leader of the hard-line opposition, Menachem Begin, spoke even more directly of the need to move beyond ancient concepts of blood-for-blood. "Retaliation no longer suffices," he told parliament. "We demand a prolonged, open-ended assault against the murderers and their bases. ... We need to run these criminals and murderers off the face of the earth, to render them fearful, no longer able to initiate violence. If we need a special unit to do this, then now is the time to build it."