Published in: Jewish Chronicle
In his characteristically thoughtful piece last week about the film 'Munich', Jonathan Freedland sympathised with the plight of director Steven Spielberg who, despite his patent commitment to the Jewish people, had been branded a traitor by those who saw the film as a propaganda gift for its enemies. Freedland concluded that this apparent contradiction showed such accusations meant almost nothing.
I beg to differ. I too have seen 'Munich'. What it tells me is that there is a sickness among some people at the very heart of their Jewish identity. Sure, they're committed all right - but to what? To an image of Jewishness - and of Israel -- which seems to be more about their own highly idealised, egoistic sense of themselves, but which amounts to a sentence of death for others.
The film is a shocker. It's not just the moral equivalence between terrorism and the resistance to terror with which it is suffused. It's not just the Arab propaganda account of the creation of Israel by the Holocaust (untrue); or the Palestinian story of merely wanting a homeland for themselves (untrue); or the depiction of the Palestinian terrorists killed by the Israelis as gentle, benign, generous people with no apparent connection to the murderers of the Israeli athletes (manipulative); or the message that if only everyone saw each other as human beings they would stop killing each other (infantile).
No, the punch to the solar plexus comes at the end when the hero Avner, the Mossad agent whose Jewish soul is tortured by the fact that he has killed such saintly figures, abandons Israel to live in America. This is the real message of the film - that in order to remain true to Jewish ethical codes, a Jew must renounce Israel for ever and go to live in Brooklyn instead.
And so now we can see why the two sets of characters are treated differently. Some believe it is a tribute to the Jews that, unlike the Palestinians, Spielberg gives the Israelis a hyper-active conscience. But this is merely to enable us to see how thoroughly they are damned.
He unquestioningly accepts the Palestinians' own characterisation as people with a cause -- a homeland - with which we can sympathise, even though we deplore their methods. End of interest. But the Jews - ah, they're a different matter. The Jews are interesting - riveting, even -- because the Jews have a five thousand year-old moral map that as Israelis they are in the process of ripping to pieces.
The Israelis are given a conscience so that through their appalled eyes we can be shown the unspeakable moral corruption that is the State of Israel and the corrosive effect it has upon the Jewish soul. They have been given a conscience so that we can admire the nobility of that Jewish soul in revolting against the evil within itself that Israel represents and renouncing it for ever.
One might expect this of the film's screenwriter Tony Kushner, who believes that the creation of Israel was a mistake and loses no opportunity to demonise it in the usual manner. But Spielberg?
Well, this may be less odd - although no less disturbing - than it seems. For some Jews, their identity is formed around a self-image of unimpeachable virtue which cannot be compromised by the messy ambiguities of real life. Above all, what can never be allowed under any circumstances is for Jews to harm anyone. They must instead remain eternal victims, because it is only as victims that their virtue remains truly unassailable.
And so that means that Jews can never defend themselves if that means killing anyone. But in Israel Jews do indeed kill those who murder their people. So they are no longer the good guys. Indeed, in the Spielberg/Kushner dystopia they are even worse than the bad guys, since at least the Palestinians kill for the universal just cause of a homeland.
But when Israelis kill their killers, their cause cannot be just because what they are wiping out is their own moral heritage. Resisting terror is therefore even worse than terror. What is the value of a Jewish life compared with clean Jewish hands? Jews don't do killing. What Jews are supposed to do is die.
It is therefore not surprising that Spielberg, the committed American Jew, should occupy himself with recording the testimonies of Holocaust survivors, or making Shindler's List. And these are indeed good works. But to claim piety by wrapping oneself in the shroud of the dead while denying the living the right to prevent themselves from being similarly exterminated is not good. It is disgusting.
With such a powerful and committed Jewish friend making the spiritual case for Israel's annihilation, who needs enemies?