Spielberg, Abu Daoud and Munich

|

I haven't seen Steven Spielberg's new film Munich, but I do agree he would have done well to look at the account of the Olympics massacre and its planning published in a book by the former Palestinian official Muhammad Daoud Audeh, known by the nom de guerre Abu Daoud. His memoirs came out in French in 1999 and, according to Amazon, were only published in English in 2002. The book is now out of print and the publisher, Arcade, reportedly was harassed because of its intention to put the book out. I never saw a copy and wonder if it was indeed published for a wide audience. It's safe to say Abu Daoud's tale got very little coverage in the United States.

There were modest exceptions. I wrote about the book in a pair of articles, one in The Nation, the other in Slate, particularly about Abu Daoud's claim that Mahmoud Abbas, the current president of the Palestinian Authority, had secured financing for the operation. Abu Daoud's story is complex, but to me convincing, and my conclusion was that he published the book for two reasons: to delay anonymity, certainly, but also to rectify a version of Munich conjured up by the Jordanian intelligence services that, paradoxically, absolved him of the massacre. Why did Abu Daoud want to do this? Because in the Jordanian version he was made to have blamed others, whom the Israelis subsequently assassinated in Beirut.

(On a personal note, I still recall that one of the Palestinian leaders killed by the Israelis lived right behind my school, and the next morning we children interrogated the building's concierge, who had gotten hit on the head by the attackers. He was in pain, but delighted with the publicity. Abu Daoud says the Israelis killed the wrong people, but few seem to have wanted to examine that angle.)

NEXT: An Eternal, Ever-Changing Covenant

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Uh . . . yeah. Has anyone who is talking about this movie actually seen it? I suspect the answer is “no,” since Young’s linked article confirms that Daoud certainly hasn’t seen it but nevertheless accuses Spielberg of “serving the Zionist side alone” and ” pander[ing] to the Jewish state.” Meanwhile, the internets are littered with right-wing whackjobs ordering Spielberg to report to headquarters and turn in his Jew Card for not being sufficiently pro-Israel and for depicting Palestinians as something other than fully evil primates.

    So, to recap:

    1) Some terrorist thinks Spielberg should have checked with him because
    2) His movie toes the Israel line, and
    3) Young agrees that Spielberg should have consulted Daoud, even though
    4) The pro-war crowd don’t think Spielberg is a good Jew anymore.

    Super. Howzabout you all go actually see it, then start making your criticisms about what he should and shouldn’t have done? Also, maybe Young should check the daily talking points more frequently to keep up.

  2. Fair comment, if the post were actually focused on Spielberg. Actually, the only thing I can say is that everything I’ve read about the film makes fairly clear he did not use Abu Daoud’s account. I don’t endorse anything else Abu Daoud said about Spielberg’s film, nor do I intend to get involved in a discussion about Spielberg’s “Jewishness”, or alleged lack thereof.

  3. Michael, I understand your point about the focus of the post, but then perhaps you should reconsider calling it “Spielberg, Abu Daoud and Munich,” and ” agree[ing] he would have done well to look at the account of the Olympics massacre and its planning published in a book by the former Palestinian official Muhammad Daoud Audeh.”

    If you haven’t seen the movie, and thus don’t have anything to say about it, why do you “agree” Spielberg should have consulted Daoud’s book? Because Daoud thinks so? Because it’s there?

  4. Does anyone else remember the HBO movie from the 80s about this same subject, “Sword of Gideon?”

  5. First Israel, in typical government fashion, doesn’t get the facts straight, then Spielberg doesn’t get the facts straight.
    Whatcha gonna do?
    Does anybody or any government ever get facts straight?
    Especially without the aid of H&R?

  6. Why is no one on Hit & Run talking about Syriana, if only for the fact that the “heroes” are an economist and a relatively pro-free trade Arab Liberal?

  7. I guess none of us have seen Syriana, Geotech.

    Your description sounds far more interesting then the “THIS MOVIE IS TOO IMPORTANT TO MISS” selling point usually associated with partisan hack jobs.

  8. Because Fat George Clooney’s striking resemblance to Paul Krugman drives us all to the edge of sanity.

  9. An admitted Pali terrorist claims that Israel whacked the wrong guys, and that he was responsible for one of the most successful terrorist actions in decades, and we should believe him why, again?

  10. In truth the problems with ‘Munich’ are less which-side-is-Spielberg-on than with the hollow core of his ‘message’. Anyone considering a viewing might want to read THIS:

    http://ionarts.blogspot.com/2005/12/munich-real-tragedy-followed-by.html

  11. Wow, another lengthy piece accusing Spielberg — and, by proxy, “liberals” — of simplistic moral equivalance. Didn’t see that coming at all.

    All I can suggest in response is this and this.

  12. “An admitted Pali terrorist claims that Israel whacked the wrong guys, and that he was responsible for one of the most successful terrorist actions in decades, and we should believe him why, again?”

    Valid point. However, exactly why should we accept the version put forth by the Jordanians, or even the Israelis, for that matter? They all have vested interests to play to.

    The only way to answer the question of what actually happened is to take a look at the facts and assign credibility as you see fit. I don’t have time to do so on this subject, so I’ll just leave it as an open possibility that the Israelis killed the wrong people.

    Gosh, that’s a leap. Governments, killing the wrong people? Never. Governments are infallible, especially democracies…

  13. Why is no one on Hit & Run talking about Syriana

    I talked about it here, though granted, the discussion wasn’t very long.

  14. If a Spielberg film has the “based on a true story” tagline, it’s only to sell tickets. His brand of historical fiction is heavy on the fiction. I wouldn’t get too worked up about what source material he used because what ends up on screen usually has little resemblance to “the truth”.

  15. They all have vested interests to play to.

    Yep. The self-interest is pretty apparent on all sides.

    Governments, killing the wrong people?

    Wouldn’t surprise me a bit if the Israeli hit teams hit at least some of the wrong targets.

  16. I still can’t get anyone to agree that capitalism is not being shit on in Syriana. I’ve seen a couple reviews talk about how it’s somehow an indictment of “free-market fundamentalists”. Excuse me? Just because crony capitalist oil guys quote Milton Friedman doesn’t make them “free-market fundamentalists”.

  17. Geotech — I guess I was more concerned with how it was a bad movie. I haven’t seen that many boring speeches since I was in Cuba.

  18. Wouldn’t surprise me a bit if the Israeli hit teams hit at least some of the wrong targets.

    This, I am told, is not in the movie. It seems regardless of which side, no statist, from Spielberg to Abu Daoud, allows for the fact that governments are prone to mistakes, probably more so than the private sector:

    “Abu Hassan was behind the raid at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games in which eleven Israeli athletes were killed. . . .Five times the . . . Mossad had tried to kill him; the most memorable failure was a 1973 operation in Lillehammer, Norway, that resulted in the death of an innocent Moroccan waiter who the Israeli hit team thought was the ‘Red Prince,’ their code name for Abu Hassan.
    From Death of a Terrorist
    Feb. 5, 1979

    http://www.time.com/time/archive/collections/0,21428,c_munich,00.shtml

  19. Yeah, that was my one disappointment with “Syriana”, that they dragged Milton Friedman’s good name into it. Not too worried about it, though: from the conversations I overheard when leaving the theater, most of the audience was so overwhelmed by trying to follow the plot that the Milton Friedman reference was probably not heard.

  20. Why is no one on Hit & Run talking about Syriana, if only for the fact that the “heroes” are an economist and a relatively pro-free trade Arab Liberal?

    SPOILER ALERT

    I saw Syriana earlier this week. I agree that it didn’t criticize real free trade capitalism as I understand it. …Sorta like Wall Street didn’t criticize capitalism either. …In my book, the guys the doing the crimes aren’t free market capitalists per se, they’re crooks.

    …But it kinda does criticize real capitalism in a round about way, doen’t it? If the derivative trader’s greed hadn’t brought him to that party, would what happened to his kid…? Even as he half jokes about how much they want for the other kid, he goes along… When his family goes home to America, he stays.

    What kinda bullshit dichotomy are they presenting here?

    I saw Munich on Wednesday night, and I found large portions of it tedious. …I presume the tedious, repeated recreation of the assassinations to be a function of historical accuracy.

    I objected to the criticism of Good Night, and Good Luck for its historical inaccuracies. Unless you’re making a documentary, what difference does historical accuracy make? …If you’re trying to make a point, using events that people are already familiar with, why not take liberties if it makes your point clear?

    Pointing out the inaccuracies can be fun, I’m sure. …but.

    History is to Art as Science is to Intelligent Design. When we talk about Science, we’re talking about something very specific, with certain rules, etc. that exclude Intelligent Design. Intelligent Design is Theology, not Science. That doesn’t mean Theology isn’t rational or that Intelligent Design isn’t, indeed, true; it just means that you can’t get to Intelligent Design by way of Science.

    Art is like that. Shakespeare is Art. Criticizing Richard III for its historical inaccuracies completely misses the point. Art doesn’t have to play by History’s rules. Y’all following here?

    I suspect many of the people who criticize Art for not being historically accurate are the same people who criticize news media for being biased. …I suspect they do it for the same reasons too.

  21. I saw Munich on Wednesday night, and I found large portions of it tedious

    Yeah, I have that same reaction to Matlock.

  22. I hereby nominate “Dude, it’s art” as the new catchphrase to answer any accusation of bias by anything resembling a journalist. 🙂

  23. And of anything resembling a journalist, for that matter.

  24. I didn’t say Journalism is Art. …although it can be. Editing can be art. …and so can the Editorial.

    People criticize the NYT, Fox News, etc. for being biased. People criticize films for being biased. I suspect that the people who criticize the NYT for being biased also tend to be the ones who criticize certain films for having a similar bias.

    I suspect they tend to think that the rest of the world would think as they do if only insert media outlet wasn’t so biased. …I suspect they think that the film they’re criticizing is exacerbating the misconception that their opposition holds so dear.

    Is this that interesting? …Surely it isn’t controversial.

  25. I suspect that the people who criticize the NYT for being biased also tend to be the ones who criticize certain films for having a similar bias.

    That seems almost tautological.

    Unless you’re making a documentary, what difference does historical accuracy make? …If you’re trying to make a point, using events that people are already familiar with, why not take liberties if it makes your point clear?

    That would be the point of griping about bias in a historical movie – that the viewer has noticed that the movie-maker has taken liberties with events to make a point of some sort (especially when the point wouldn’t be supported by the actual events, which is a common contention). If that doesn’t bother you at all, cool. It bothers other people, though.

    I have a professor friend who teaches various classes about medieval Britain; Braveheartwas just endlessly annoying to him because of the complete misrepresentation of events and lives (and the fact that he had to disabuse students of their misconceptions when covering that period). Other friends of mine with interests in military history just scoffed at The Patriot (hmm, a theme here), particularly the invention of British atrocities.

  26. I just loves me a Mel Gibson splatterfest!

  27. I can comment intelligently on both movies because I’ve seen them both. Yes, Syriana requires that you turn off your cell phone and get your hand out of your girlfriend’s lap so you can concentrate on the story. But it is not incomprehensible and the overall conclusion is not an indictment of the free-market, but of state markets. The liberal reformer is sidelined and then assassinated for making his deals based on the bottom line instead of favoring his traditional allies, meaning the US oil companies. I found it refreshing that no politicians were indicted. The deal is done by lawyers, lobbyists, and bureaucrats, well away from the prying eyes of the media circus on the Hill.

    I am one of the few (apparently) that remembers the HBO film “The Sword of Gideon.” That movie was less artfully made but more fun to watch because it was constructed as an action thriller rather than a psychological drama. Much of Munich is tedious, but overall I found its politics safe and tame, in common with all of Spielberg’s political statements.

    The strongest thing you can say about it is that he portrays the Palestinian terrorists as human. They aren’t all narcissists and sociopaths but real people with real grievances who are doing what they think has to be done. This, I guess, is a radical idea in these days, when terrorists are supposed to be possessed by demons or incurably insane.

    Incidentally, in “The Sword of Gideon” the Israeli handlers are more critical of the way the operations are handled, being especially upset about the killing of the assassin in Holland. That film (which starred Steven Bauer in the lead role) included an anti-gay slur in that episode which presumably came from the book and was excised by Spielberg and Kushner, his writer (the woman was a lesbian).

    Altogether I enjoyed both films, but Munich could have been much shorter. I know I’m not the first one to say that, but the new King Kong could have also been trimmed to two hours. These “auteurs” have gotten completely out of hand with the running times.

  28. Eric,
    I agree with your point re: historical inaccuracies. However, most pundits do not get upset about the fact there are inaccuracies perse (like the military historian vs. The Patriot), but that the inaccuracies do not support their political beliefs. I doubt the guys and gals on NRO would complain if the Palestinian terrorists were slapping old ladies for no good reason and pulling babies out of incubators, even if it was inaccurate.

  29. Yay, someone else saw the movie!

  30. Hey, Mo.

    but that the inaccuracies do not support their political beliefs

    Well…So? Is it wrong to react to inaccuracies – or heck, outright lies – just because pundits or other hacks point those out, to?

  31. There will be some spoilers for the movie in this post. I don’t know a lot about what actually happened, but it seemed like Spielberg had a point to make about responding to terrorism and creating a cycle of violence, but he makes it in the weakest way possible, by showing us a lot of moral ambiguity that feels totally fabricated.

    Munich keeps trying to sow seeds of doubt about whether the Mossad agents are doing the right thing and killing people who are really guilty, but it doesn’t do so very powerfully, and never goes far enough to show them killing anyone inadvertently (although they do injure a couple) or imply there is evidence any of their targets are innocent. All of the information they get about the locations of the Palestinians is from these weird French guys whose affiliations are never explained at all. The total lack of explanation of who these people passing the Mossad information are (and thus whether they were telling the truth about everything) ends up feeling like something Spielberg came up with to hit us over the head with moral ambiguity.

    Spielberg was probably trying to say that responding to terrorism with force leads to terrible moral issues and an endless cycle of violence. I don’t think he makes that case very convincingly in the film because his way of trying to show it is either absurd or over the top sappy emotional. (This has nothing to do with whether or not Spielberg is right, but his argument isn’t no convincing.)

  32. TH: the bit about the French informants isn’t something that Spielberg came up with. As far as anyone can tell, that’s what really happened. The Frenchmen were a sort of crime syndicate that dealt in information the way other people deal in drugs. They buy on one end, mark up the price, and sell on the other.

    Since no one really knew who they were or what their agenda was, it was impossible to know which way they would jump in any particular instance. Spielberg implies that, by the end, the agents trusted them more than they did their Mossad handlers, while their Mossad handlers were desperate to access this information for themselves.

    This actually is a pretty compelling point about competing loyalties: “Kaufman” was loyal to Israel, obviously, but he had given his word to his “vendor,” for want of a better word. Which is more important, his patriotism or his word? He was left in a moral minefield without any compass because his upbringing and his training had not prepared him to be a terrorist on his country’s behalf. Ultimately, he had to find his own way and the movie implies that this very nearly broke him.

  33. I wonder why you hardly ever see movies about German grievances with the Jews? Even Palistinian leader Abbas thinks the Germans have been maligned.

    The general Palestinian theme on German/Jewish relations is that the holocaust never happened (at least in the magnitude reported) and it was incompletely done.

  34. Wish this dude would go back to making movies about lost arks and aliens.

  35. The implications of anti-semitism on the part of the creater of “Schindler’s List” by the neocon right tells you all you need to know about that particular line of complaint.

  36. Wish this dude would go back to making movies about lost arks and aliens.

    With DreamWorks gone, he probably will.

  37. Geotech:

    Why is no one on Hit & Run talking about Syriana, if only for the fact that the “heroes” are an economist and a relatively pro-free trade Arab Liberal?

    OK, now I’m motivated to see it.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.