Episode 33 – Israel and Germany: An unsettled past with Eldad Beck


The words ‘Germany’ and ‘Israel’ probably raise many differing connotations in various people’s minds but one probably stands out among them all: the Holocaust.

Germany-Israel diplomatic ties began in 1952 when Germany finally offered to pay reparations to the survivors of the Holocaust. For obvious reasons, this relationship was not without its fair share of trials and tribulations. Over the years the challenges have persisted, often exacerbated by events such as the massacre of the Israeli athletes during the 1972 Olympic games in Munich.

As the chief correspondent for Yedioth Ahronoth in Germany, Eldad Beck has become well acquainted with German internal politics, diplomatic affairs and public opinion. He has written two books on the subject of Germany: “Germany, at Odds” and his most recent “The Chancellor”. Beck joins 2NJB to talk about the two countries’ strained relations and his career as a journalist.

Eldad Beck’s Facebook and Twitter

‘Germany, at Odds’ on Amazon

Direct Download

Rio 2016 Olympic Village to commemorate Munich massacre, other deaths


The International Olympic Committee will erect a place to mourn family and friends at the 2016 Games in Rio, including the 11 Israeli athletes killed by terrorists at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

The closing ceremony also will feature a moment of reflection to remember those who have died at the Olympic Games, such as the Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili, who was killed in a training accident at the start of the Vancouver Olympics in 2010.

The moves are seen as an attempt to appease critics of the IOC who have said that it has not gone far enough in memorializing the Jewish athletes in Munich who were taken hostage and then killed by the Palestinian group Black September. The games were suspended for a day before resuming.

IOC President Thomas Bach said Sunday that the IOC will “remember all those who have lost their lives at the Olympic Games.”

“We want to give the athletes the opportunity to express their mourning in a dignified way and environment in the Olympic Village where representatives of the whole world are living peacefully under the same roof,” he said. “At the Closing Ceremony, the Games come to an end and many people feel that it is a moment to remember people who have died at the Olympic Games.”

Alex Gilady, who represents Israel on the IOC, called the move “a good and positive step by the members of the International Olympic Committee,” according to Ynet. “The ability to see the issue not only through Israeli eyes, but through a wider view, represents a change and a big step forward.”

The IOC rejected an in-person appeal, accompanied by a petition signed by more than 100,000 people, for a moment of silence at the opening ceremonies of the London Games in 2012 by the widows of two of the 11 Israelis slain at Munich to mark 40 years since the tragedy. The IOC has rejected repeated calls by family members of the athletes murdered at Munich and the Israeli government for such a moment of silence.

Former IOC President Jacques Rogge led a minute of silence inside the Olympic Village during the 2012 Games, attended a private ceremony in London during the Olympics and took part in a commemoration on the 40th anniversary on Sept. 5, 2012, at the Munich airport where most of the Israelis died.

L.A. leaders denounce IOC at Munich 11 commemoration


Community leaders gathered at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum today to observe a moment of silence for the 11 Israelis killed during the 1972 Olympics in Munich. The leaders also denounced the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for its refusal to hold a similar commemoration during the opening ceremonies of the London Olympic Games.

“The International Olympic Committee’s refusal to observe a moment of silence on the 40th anniversary of the Munich massacre, despite having done so in other circumstances, is a shameful and offensive act of cowardice and is a permanent stain on the IOC,” said David Siegel, consul general of Israel in Los Angeles. “This is a double tragedy. Our athletes were killed because they were Jews and Israelis. It is difficult to escape the conclusion that the IOC is refusing to honor their memory for the same reason.”

Palestinian terrorists targeted, took hostage and murdered 11 Israeli athletes and coaches with the Israeli delegation during the second week of the 1972 Olympic Games. Prior to each Olympic Games since then, the widows of the slain Israelis have requested a commemoration for the victims to take place during opening ceremonies. The IOC has regularly rejected such requests, including one calling for a minute of silence during this year’s opening ceremony.

Speakers at the L.A. Coliseum, site of the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, included L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky; Federal Appeals Court Judge Stephen Reinhardt, who served as the secretary of the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee; Barry Sanders, chairman of the Southern California Committee for the Olympic Games; Guri Weinberg, son of slain wrestling coach Moshe Weinberg; and L.A. City Councilman Eric Garcetti.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, led a prayer and moment of silence at the Coliseum. Cooper then joined Weinberg in lighting a memorial candle.

Cooper spoke of the “singular heroism” of Moshe Weinberg.

“He actually held the terrorists at bay at the entrance at the apartment in their village, allowing a number of Israeli athletes and coaches to escape certain death at the hand of the terrorists,” Cooper said.

Garcetti called attention to a resolution, which he authored and the city passed, which “puts the weight of the City of Los Angeles in support of a moment of silence,” Garcetti spokeswoman Julie Wong said.

While there will be no official commemoration during tonight’s opening ceremonies, the 11 Israelis are being remembered throughout the world. On July 23, a ceremony in honor of the victims was held inside Olympic Village. The British Zionist Federation and the World Zionist Federation held a memorial service at the Israeli Embassy in London on July 27, broadcasting live at minuteformunich.org. And sportscaster Bob Costas has promised an on-air moment of silence during NBC’s broadcast of the opening ceremony.
Following the L.A. press conference, the group of approximately 15 community leaders and their supporters entered the Coliseum and gathered around a large plaque hanging on a stadium wall that honors the murdered Israelis.

Originally installed at L.A. City Hall, following objections by the IOC that it not be installed at the Coliseum during the 1984 Olympics, the plaque was moved after the games.

Also in attendance on Friday was Mimi Weinberg, Moshe Weinberg’s widow, who chose not to speak during the event, but spoke with The Journal afterward.

It’s a “huge problem” that the IOC has not allowed a moment of silence for Israelis during opening ceremonies, Mimi Weinberg said, adding her hope that during “the next Olympics there is going to be one.”

IOC denies in-person appeal for minute of silence


The International Olympic Committee rejected an in-person appeal for a minute of silence at the opening ceremonies of the London Games by the widows of two of the 11 Israelis slain at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich.

Ankie Spitzer and Ilana Romano presented their request to IOC President Jacques Rogge on Wednesday along with a petition with more than 100,000 signatures. Rogge again denied the request.

Rogge held a minute of silence in memory of the murdered 11 athletes and coaches at a small ceremony Monday in the Olympic Village. The widows have said the gesture was not sufficient.

“We are outraged by the denial of the request, which comes not only from us but from so many people around the world,” Spitzer said in a statement. “Our husbands were murdered at the Olympics in Munich. To observe a minute of silence in their memory would let the world know where the IOC stands in the fight against terrorism.”

Organizers of the campaign for a minute of silence have called on attendees at the opening ceremonies on Friday to stand and hold their own minute of silence at the beginning of Rogge’s speech.

The campaign has drawn the support of numerous public figures, including President Obama and presumptive Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Spitzer’s husband, Andrei, was a fencing coach. Romano’s husband, Yossef, was a weightlifter.

Editorial Cartoon: The Endless Relay Race


Munich widows call for own moment of silence at opening ceremonies


Widows of Israelis murdered at the 1972 Munich Olympics are asking the crowd at the opening ceremonies of the London Games to stand for a minute of silence, regardless of whether the International Olympic Committee recognizes it.

“He told us that when he heard the explosions in the Olympic village, he debated whether to continue in the Games or go home, and decided not to let terror win,” Ilana Romano, wife of Yossef Romano, a weightlifter who was murdered in the 1972 attack, said at a news conference. “Jacques Rogge, you have let terror win today.”

Rogge is the president of the IOC, which repeatedly has refused to hold a moment of silence at Friday’s opening ceremonies in memory of the 11 murdered athletes and coaches.

The movement to hold a moment of silence at the Olympics has gathered steam after beginning as an online petition two years ago. International politicians and public figures, including President Obama and presumptive Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, have called for an official moment of silence.

Rogge held a moment of silence for the murdered athletes at a small ceremony in the Olympic Village on Monday.

Australian Jewish leaders call for national minute of silence


Australian Jewish leaders have urged all Australians to hold a moment of silence in honor of the 11 Israelis murdered at the 1972 Munich Olympics.

In a joint statement released Tuesday, Dr. Danny Lamm, head of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, and Philip Chester, head of the Zionist Federation of Australia, encouraged Australians to pause at 11 a.m. local time Friday in memory of the victims. The Jewish leaders also said that they “deplore” IOC President Jacques Rogge’s refusal to hold one minute of silence at Friday’s opening ceremony in London.

“The legislatures of Britain, the United States, Canada, Australia, Germany and Italy have passed resolutions calling on the IOC to set aside one minute of silence at the opening ceremony of the 2012 Games to remember the 11 Israeli athletes who were murdered by Palestinian terrorists at the Olympic Games in Munich 40 years ago,” Lamm and Chester wrote. “Their calls have been endorsed by U.S. President Barack Obama and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, among others. We salute them for their principled leadership.

“May their memory help to advance the highest ideals of sport and sportsmanship which the Olympic Games were created to affirm.”

Meanwhile, Jewish lawmaker Michael Danby has added his name to a petition by the International Council of Jewish Parliamentarians also calling on Rogge to hold a minute of silence in London on Friday.

On Monday, Rogge held a moment of silence during a ceremony in the Olympic Village, the first time the deaths have been commemorated in the athletes’ home during the Games.

Where are the Munich elegies?


This year, Tisha b’Av marks not only the destruction of both Temples, but with the opening ceremony of the London Olympics just a night earlier, the 40th anniversary of the Munich massacre.

On this day of mourning and fasting, which begins at sundown on Saturday, how can we remember the tragedy of the 1972 Summer Olympics, when 11 Israeli athletes and coaches were murdered?

The International Olympic Committee has rejected a call for a moment of silence at the opening ceremony in memory of those killed, announcing instead a tribute in Munich and holding a ceremony on Monday at the Olympic Village with remarks by the IOC’s chief, Jacques Rogge.

Even in 1972, I was already having trouble remembering.

Returning to UCLA my sophomore year, just weeks after the tragedy, I remember being pushed by more serious minds into working on an issue of the school’s Jewish student newspaper, Ha’Am, which at its center had a spread titled “Post Olympic Outpour.” At first I resisted, thinking “Why do I need to go through the pain all over again?”

Now, 40 years later, I wonder how many of us are still resisting that pain.

Traditionally on Tisha b’Av, we remember our tragedies by sitting on low seats or the floor, lowering the lights and chanting in a mournful trope the book of Eicha (Lamentations). In many communities, elegies called kinot are chanted as well that commemorate such tragic events as the public burning of the Torah in Paris, the massacre of German Jews during the first Crusades, the Ten Martyrs (which you may recall from the Yom Kippur Martyrology service), the York massacre and, more recently, the Holocaust.

In 2012, Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, writing in Jewish Action, the magazine of the Orthodox Union, described the emotional impact of the kinot.

“All the kinot, regardless of who the author may be, express strong feelings of loss, grief and despair,” he wrote. “On Tishah B’Av day, the reader must come away from a reading of the poems with similar feelings.”

Weinreb went on to say that after studying the kinot texts over a course of months, he found himself “spiritually exhausted by the process,” holding on to “those few phrases of hope with which almost all the kinot conclude.”

It is from the intent of the kinot that I think we can find an inspiration for a different form of Munich elegy.

A formal kinah commemorating the Munich 11 has yet to enter the liturgy—if someone has written one please email me—but other forms, though not formal kinot, can help us process our feelings of loss and despair. For example, the personal tragic stories told through films can touch us, moving us toward memory.

In England on Tisha b’Av, the New London Synagogue about 10 miles from the Olympic Village will be showing the Academy Award-winning documentary “One Day in September.” Released in 1999, it’s a film that, while making points about the Palestinian terrorists and botched German police work, mourns the victims by recounting the story of Israeli fencing coach Andre Spitzer and his wife, Ankie.

Another film that like an elegy re-enacts the tragedy, Spielberg’s 2005 “Munich”—it also has a fictionalized account of Israel’s response—will be shown at Temple Concord in Syracuse, N.Y.

The audience for these two films, sitting in a darkened setting, drawn together to listen and watch the story being retold, will be reminded of a different Jewish theme internalized when we hear the kinot chanted—we do not remember and mourn alone.

For most of us, writing a kinah would be a challenge, but adding a line to a petition asking for a moment of silence presented by Ankie Spitzer might be a way to get in the spirit of it. When I read the comments on the petition site, they seemed to form a kind of people’s elegy of prayer, memory and anger:

“I was there, I felt it, I cried for it, I still pray for all them,” Johanna Bronsztein wrote.

“We must never forget and forever respect,” Brenda Rezak wrote.

Jeri Roth adds, “If these people had been any other nationality, we wouldn’t have to ask for a moment of silence.”

Yet for many of us, home on Sunday, watching the Summer Olympics’ events on TV— archery, fencing, weightlifting—in our own darkened rooms, it’s all too easy to forget.

With so much Olympic pageantry and competition, with the promise of gold, silver and bronze to divert me, I will need my own kinah to pull me back to a zone of “Never forget”—a simple list to remember what happened 40 summers ago. Sometime that day, resistance gone, I will try to touch again the loss I felt in 1972.

I will read the names:

Moshe Weinberg, wrestling coach
Yossef Romano, Ze’ev Friedman and David Berger, weightlifters
Yakov Springer, weightlifting judge
Eliezer Halfin and Mark Slavin, wrestlers
Yossef Gutfreund, wrestling referee
Kehat Shorr, shooting coach
Andrei Spitzer, fencing coach
Amitzur Shapira, track coach

Will this simple act also allow me to dream that a tragedy like this will not be repeated? That is my hope.

Edmon J. Rodman is a JTA columnist who writes on Jewish life from Los Angeles. Contact him at edmojace@gmail.com.

Report: Germany was warned a month before ’72 Olympics attack


Germany was warned about a possible terror attack against Israeli athletes one month before the Munich Olympics in 1972, Der Spiegel reported.

The weekly magazine reported Sunday on its website that though solid warnings of an attack plan were received a month before the Games, no action was taken.

The Palestinian terrorists, for example, were able to walk by the apartments of the Israeli athletes without being stopped.

Der Spiegel also reported that German police had prepared possible scenarios for a terror attack at the Games, including one that dealt specifically with a Palestinian attack on the Olympic village, but after the attack the police said there were no written documents of the preparations and German authorities tried to cover up their failures.

The story is based on reports of the post-attack inquiry, minutes from German Cabinet meetings and documents from government bodies obtained by Der Spiegel.

’72 Munich Olympic attack survivors return with mixed feelings


A survivor of the 1972 Munich Olympic attack felt like he was “floating on a cloud of love” as he returned to the southern German city this week with several other team mates to take part in a documentary marking the 40th anniversary.

The seven men, all members of the then Israeli Olympic team that was attacked by Palestinian gunmen on Sept. 5, 1972, said their return to the city that marked their lives forever proved to be an experience of mixed emotions.

They were among those who managed to survive when Black September gunmen scaled the perimeter fence surrounding the Olympic athletes’ village, their weapons concealed in sports bags amid relaxed security.

Within 24 hours, 11 Israelis, five Palestinians and a German policeman were dead after a standoff and subsequent rescue effort erupted into gunfire.

“It’s a mixed feeling,” said 67-year-old former Olympic swimmer Avraham Melamed after returning to the Olympic Stadium on Thursday.

“We’re here having a great time but it is based on the worst time. Our visit here is fantastic. I feel like I’m floating on a cloud of love, but the families and the victims, and the families of the victims share a completely different reality,” said Melamed, who had escaped unharmed.

This was his first visit to Germany since 1972. He now lives in the United States.

Former fencer Dan Alon retired from his sport immediately after the attacks on his team mates.

“I always feel good in Munich but I have some bad memories also. I don’t have anything against the Germans… I have only one thing to blame, it’s the terrorists, unfortunately,” Alon told reporters.

“We hope that one day, it will be the end of terror around the world.”

His team mate, former walker Shaul Ladany, said he had been enjoying his time in Munich, sharing the Olympic experience with other athletes until the day that changed the Games for ever.

“I mingled everywhere. I had friends and I trained with the Canadians and the Americans I knew very well, the German walkers, and I trained with the Italian walkers,” said Ladany, who is also a survivor of Nazi concentration camps and visits the graves of his murdered team mates in Tel Aviv every year on September 6.

“I moved freely everywhere.”

As the 40th anniversary of the attack nears, the documentary focuses not only about the deadly event itself, but also the fate of the survivors, including those who returned to Munich.

“When it happened that Bio Channel decided to make this movie, I was very, very excited. At least now, after so many years, we can come together and tell the world everything that we know,” Alon said.

The documentary is to be broadcast on The Biography Channel on July 7, less than two months before the actual anniversary.

Reporting by Reuters Television, Writing by Karolos Grohmann

Munich bids on Olympics as memorial fight continues


Munich, Germany has thrown its hat into the ring to host the 2018 Winter Olympics, as widows of victims of the 1972 games massacre fight for an opening ceremonies memorial.

Munich’s 2018 Winter Olympics bid committee on Tuesday handed over its bid book to officials from the International Olympic Committee. If accepted it would be the first city to host both a winter and a summer games.

Eleven Israeli athletes and coaches were killed when Palestinian terrorists from the Black September group broke into their barracks in the Olympic vlllage of the Munich summer games in 1972 and held them hostage. During an unsuccessful rescue attempt, all of the hostages were killed.

The families of the athletes have tried unsuccessfully for decades to hold an opening ceremonies memorial service for the victims of the 1972 terrorist attack, but have been told by the IOC that it is not willing to mix politics and sport, or to offend delegates from the 40 Arab and Muslim countries.

President of the Israel Olympic Committee Zvi Vashaviak told the Jerusalem Post that he believes if Munich wins the games it will agree to hold the memorial ceremony.
The other two cities being considered for the 2018 games are Annecy, France and Pyeongchang, South Korea.

VIDEO: Israeli Olympic athletes remembered


YouTube member JewishFan writes of his video:

Remembering the massacre, and the brutality and tactics of the Arab terrorists, is important and relevant: There are millions of radical Muslims today who, if they had the chance, would kill all the Jews and even be willing to blow themselves up to do it.

It reminds us that Israel cannot let its guard down for one moment nor can we, as Jews. There are murderers out there wanting to kill us; in fact, plotting to kill us even as this is being written.

Photo montages, vintage news footage, music (Enya.)

Munich massacre survivor still carries Olympic scars


SAN FRANCISCO (JTA)—The Munich Olympics were meant to be a defining moment in Dan Alon’s life—but not the way they turned out.

Alon was one of five Israeli athletes who escaped the 1972 massacre of Israel’s Olympic team by Palestinian terrorists.

Thirty-six years later, he still can’t shake what happened.

In Berlin last year to deliver a lecture, Alon noticed several Arabs on the staff of his hotel. He changed hotels immediately.

“I don’t feel secure,” says Alon, 63, a former Israeli fencing champion. “I have a paranoia that they are looking for me.”

In the first years after the attack, Alon says he was perpetually nervous, afraid to be left alone in a room. When he traveled abroad, he always went with someone.

For more than three decades, he barely mentioned Munich.

“I really didn’t talk about it, not even to my family or my friends,” says Alon, who recently retired as director general of an Israeli plastics company. “I tried to stay busy with my business, with my family.”

That changed two years ago with the release of Steven Spielberg’s “Munich,” an epic film about the attack and Israel’s subsequent effort to hunt down those responsible.

“People started to call me and ask me questions,” Alon says.

Since then he has started writing a book about his experiences, and now he lectures at universities and in Jewish communities around the world.

On Sept. 5, 1972, at 4:30 a.m., Alon and his roommate, fellow fencer Yehudah Weinstein, were awakened by gunfire and frantic shouting. Several bullets blew through the wall over Alon’s bed. They were the shots, he says, that killed weightlifter Yossi Romano, who had been staying in the adjoining room.

Alon hurried to his window below, where he spotted a man in a white hat toting a machine gun. Several feet away, wrestling coach Moshe Weinberg lay dying on the ground.

Alon and four teammates—Weinstein, along with two marksmen and a speed walker—huddled in his room. The marksmen suggested shooting the gunman with their pellet guns.

“We decided not to do it,” Alon says. “We didn’t know how many terrorists there were, what kinds of weapons they had, what hostages they had.”

Eventually they agreed to sneak downstairs and outside as quietly as possible. One by one, treading lightly on a creaky, wooden staircase, the athletes descended the single flight of stairs, slipped through a glass door, and went over a first-floor balcony and through the garden to freedom. It took about 15 minutes.

One of the terrorists spotted them as they ran, Alon says, but he did not shoot.

Several hours later the Israelis’ teammates were dead.

“I blame the Palestinians, and I blame the Germans for the failure to [achieve the] release of the athletes,” Alon says. “But I don’t blame myself. I was only surprised that I survived.”

Four years before the attack, Alon took part in the Six-Day War as a technician securing bombs to fighter jets. Just a year after Munich, he did the same in the Yom Kippur War.

Since then he married – his wife, Adelle, is a nurse—and has had three children: Meir, 30; Pazit, 23; and Arik, 28, who has become a champion fencer.

Arik quit to attend college, Alon says, “so I quit, too. I play golf now all the time.”

After the killings in 1972, the Munich Olympics paused for a day, then resumed. Alon says it was the proper move. Not only would it have been unwise to “surrender to terror” and unfair to deny athletes the chance to compete, he says, but the world would have blamed Israel had the Games been canceled.

“For me, the Olympics are a sacred space for sportsmen,” he says. “I believe still that the Olympics are very, very good at trying to unite people around the world. Maybe we need more than one [Summer] Olympics every four years.”

Judgment on ‘Munich’


“Munich” ranks as one of those movies that has been analyzed by so many and, so far, seen by so few. All the buzz and fuss isn’t about the quality, pacing, acting, music and cinematography of the movie. After all, “A Steven Spielberg Film” carries the imprimatur of the Hollywood gold standard, of the creator of megahits from “Jaws” to “Schindler’s List” to “Saving Private Ryan.”

“Munich” goes deeper than that. The film, opening in a limited rollout on Dec. 23, looks at the aftermath of the murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics. But it is also about a filmmaker’s obligation to historical fact. At the most profound level, “Munich” confronts the old and new question of how war and terrorism transform the perpetrator and, even more, the one who takes up arms to oppose the evil.


In this 1972 photo, a member of the Arab terrorist group Black September appears on the balcony of the Olympic village building where the commandos were holding several members of the Israeli team hostage.

The film opens with still-haunting black-and-white television footage from the Munich Olympics, as sportscaster Jim McKay reports on the capture and eventual killing of the Israeli athletes and coaches by Palestinian Black September terrorists.

When a botched attempt by German police to rescue the Israeli hostages fails, we hear McKay’s somber, “It’s all over. They are all gone.”

Although there are flashbacks to the massacre throughout the film, the focus shifts to a meeting between Prime Minister Golda Meir and her top military and intelligence leaders. The decision is made to send a five-man Mossad team (among others) to Europe to hunt down and assassinate the 11 surviving massacre participants and planners who are at large.

Picked as the leader is agent Avner Kauffman (Eric Bana), son of a Holocaust survivor (Gila Almagor) and whose wife is expecting their first baby.

His companions make up a properly diverse, if fictionalized, team, including an aggressive hit man (Daniel Craig), a meticulous bourgeois type (Ciaran Hinds), a toymaker turned bombmaker (Mathieu Kassovitz) and an expert document forger (Hanns Zischler).

From this point, the two and a half hour film incorporates three storylines.

The first is that of a first-class action thriller, as the squad tracks and hunts down its targets in Italy, France, England and Spain. There are some hits, some misses, lots of explosions and shootings, James Bond capers, a few car chases and a bit of sex. All along, Avner is fed tips, against hefty payments, by a mysterious Frenchman with unlimited contacts, who may also be a double agent.

The movie’s second storyline centers on the interaction among the team’s five men, and occasionally with their hard-nosed Mossad boss in Tel Aviv (Geoffrey Rush).

At first, they talk shop about the technical aspects of their job, but as some of their hits lead to inevitable overkill and collateral damage, the discussions turn more subtle and intense.

Some wonder if there is a moral dimension to their work, and whether this is in conflict with millennia of Jewish history and teaching. The concerns of the “moralists” are followed by the “pragmatists,” who ask if the constant cycle of attack, retaliation and counterretaliation will ever lead to a solution.

Spielberg has said repeatedly that this question is at the top of his mind, and he cleverly stresses the point by alternating headlines of a terrorist airport bombing, a Mossad assassination and a plane hijacking.

“I am always in favor of Israel responding strongly when it’s threatened,” the filmmaker told Time magazine. “At the same time, a response to a response doesn’t really solve anything. It just creates a perpetual-motion machine.”

A third subtext, relatively brief but central to Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner, is a confrontation between Avner and Ali, the young leader of a PLO squad, on the aims and justifications of the Palestinian’s violence. It is a polemical but well-handled piece of theater, and as an Israeli official who has seen the movie put it, “There isn’t a Palestinian spokesman who could express his case in three minutes as well as Ali.”

Throughout, Avner, not an especially introspective type, remains mission-oriented. He is, however, beginning to be torn between the voice of his mother, who tells him that he is the kind of man the victims of the Holocaust prayed for, and the pull of his wife and newborn child.

In the end, he demands to know whether all the men he has killed were actually involved in the Munich massacre, but receives no direct answer.

Since “Munich” started shooting last June in Malta and Budapest, it has been shrouded in a blanket of secrecy, which is only now beginning to lift as the movie begins to be screened.

Because of or despite the news blackout, there has been a constant stream of critical reports from Israel, most denouncing the film as historically inaccurate.

“This is simply fiction, not a documentary,” said Ehud Danoch, Israel’s consul general in Los Angeles and one of the few Israelis to have seen “Munich.”

High-ranking Israelis in and out of the Mossad have expressed astonishment and annoyance that not one was consulted by Spielberg or screenwriter Kushner. Nor was Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s office, which oversees the intelligence service. It is not certain whether the filmmakers would have received any cooperation, since Israel has never acknowledged that it carried out the post-Munich reprisals.

Also within Israel, the main source book cited by the film, “Vengeance” by George Jonas, has been widely criticized.

“The man who came to Jonas and represented himself to be, in effect, the Avner character of the movie, was actually never in the Mossad and only served a few months as an El Al security guard,” said a knowledgeable Israeli official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

He cited a number of obvious technical inaccuracies, but what most upset the official was the depiction of some of the Mossad agents’ actions.

“You can argue that violence begets violence, but there is a line our security officers will not cross, and that is the ethos of the purity of arms,” said the official, himself a former officer in the Israel Defense Forces. “The IDF is the most moral army in the world.”

It is also Israel that has consistently striven for peace, and thus an end to violence, he added.

After seeing “Munich,” the official drew an unfavorable comparison to the controversial “The Passion of the Christ.”

“In ‘The Passion,’ you have two short scenes that make the Jews look bad,” he said. “But in ‘Munich,’ some Jewish characters are depicted badly from the beginning to the end.”

Also displeased with the portrayal of the Mossad agents is historian Michael Oren, who told The New York Times, “It’s become a stereotype, the guilt-ridden Mossad hitman. I don’t see Dirty Harry feeling guilt-ridden. Somehow, it’s only the Jews.”

An intriguing question was raised by Calev Ben-David of The Israel Project, writing in The Jerusalem Post in the form of a letter to Spielberg.

“What I really suspect, Steven, is that you are using ‘Munich’ as a means of commenting, in your own way, on the situation of the United States in a post-9/11 world,” Ben-David writes.

“But by setting those concerns against the backdrop of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, you cleverly sidestep having to contend with the kind of overwhelming backlash you would face if your movie made any direct politically charged controversial statements about America’s own current war on terror.”

Spielberg declined to make himself available for an interview, but in limited public statements he focuses foremost on how his movie relates to ongoing, tit-for-tat Middle East conflict. It is perhaps telling that “Munich’s” final scene shows Avner walking along the New York waterfront, with the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers clearly silhouetted in the background.

The criticism of “Munich’s” historical accuracy is probably correct but of little importance, because Spielberg lays no claim to it. The film is clearly labeled as “Inspired by real events,” and the director and writer have referred to the contents as “historical fiction.”

What appears to be of more fundamental importance is whether Israel and her supporters are better served by portraying its agents as robotic “I’m only following orders” hit men or as men with some feelings, conscience and doubts. To ask the question is to answer it.

Holocaust scholar Michael Berenbaum of the University of Judaism observed after seeing the fascinating but “long and draining” film: “I am prouder of a man who undertakes a violent mission and is tortured by it than one who doesn’t give it a second thought. If you are transformed by such an experience, that is the price you pay for what you have to do.”

Berenbaum warmly praised “Munich” as a theatrical experience, “which is the first duty of the filmmaker, as we have a responsibility to be open to the art.”

Even beyond the film, the debate on the aftermath of the Munich massacre continues. A book by Time reporter Aaron J. Klein is coming out, arguing that the Mossad eliminated only minor activists in the Olympic massacre but missed most of the major ones. Two additional books are in the works in Israel, and seven networks, among them the BBC, are reported to be preparing documentaries on the making of “Munich.”

 

‘Munich’ — a Risky Move for Spielberg


The billboards for Steven Spielberg’s new film “Munich,” which opens Dec. 23, will soon be sprouting on buses, benches and boulevards around the nation. The image is simple and stark. A lone man sits gloomily in a dark, heavily draped hotel room, his body sparely illuminated by the light of a single window. His shoulders are hunched disconsolately and a pistol dangles from his hand. He seems very much alone.

The legend notes: “The world was watching in l972 as 11 Israeli athletes were murdered at the Munich Olympics. This is the story of what happened next.”

What happened next is at the heart of what could be Spielberg’s most daring, provocative and politically charged movie. Munich presents a fictionalized account of Israel’s decision to track down and kill the perpetrators of the Olympic massacre — quietly, systematically and ruthlessly. Something very much like this happened in reality, and that’s what happens in the film, too, which is loosely based on “Vengeance,” the nonfiction book by George Jonas, first published in 1984.

Five years in the making “Munich” presents Spielberg, who has pulled off blockbuster entertainments such as “Jaws” and “Raiders of the Los Ark” as well as critically acclaimed dramas with a formidable challenge, such as “Schindler’s List” and “Saving Private Ryan.”

The subject matter virtually guarantees that the film will satisfy almost no one with deep feelings about the subject or the politics of the Middle East.

Dramatically, Universal Studio and DreamWorks SKG are marketing the film as “a gripping, suspense thriller,” but the work is more than that for Spielberg personally and also for his reputation. Spielberg is a hero to many Jews and Israelis for creating the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, which preserved the memories of 49,000 Holocaust victims. Spielberg has taken on a tailor-made talmudic dilemma: On the one hand if he painted the Israeli assassins as avenging heroes he would invoke the wrath of not only the entire Arab world but Europeans whose leftist governments and the people they serve, hold pro-Palestinian, anti-Israeli positions.

On the other, if he attempts to make the Arab killers of the Israeli Olympic team in any way understandable as human beings (as for example in “Paradise Now,” the movie about Palestinian suicide bombers), if he ascribes to them motives that could make them seem less than monsters, Israelis and Jews around the world would be outraged.

“Munich for us was comparable to America’s Sept. ll,” said Reuven Merhav, one-time director of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, who served in Israeli intelligence during the events portrayed in the film. “It’s Steven’s ‘Passion of The Christ,'” said a studio executive who worked on the movie in Europe. “He’s damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. But he was determined to get the picture made and perhaps only he could have pulled it off.”

Spielberg based his movie partly on the book by the Hungarian-born, Toronto-based Jonas. This much-debated, dramatically told nonfiction account relates the story of “Avner,” the young Mossad agent recruited to head a team of five assassins tasked with killing 11 Arabs implicated in the Olympic killings.

Jonas’ primary source was Avner himself, who was the cr?me de la cr?me of the Israeli military, a young man who as a crack army officer had been unafraid to kill in battle. Turning himself into an assassin, however, almost destroyed him and his family, and it led him to profound moral questioning that eventually prompted him to leave the task unfinished and reject outright the concept of personal vengeance. Since its publication, critics have challenged whether Jonas got either the story right or its implied moral. Jonas’ book was the basis of a l986 television miniseries “Sword of Gideon,” starring Rod Steiger as the Mossad boss, Steven Bauer as the reluctant liquidator and Colleen Dewhurst as Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir.

In the movie the lead roles are played by two Australian actors: Oscar-winner Geoffrey Rush (“Shine”), who plays the assassin’s Mossad handler, and Eric Bana (“The Hulk” and “Troy”) as the guilt-ridden young Israeli recruited to set up a small team of experts in skills such as using explosives and forging documents.

The movie’s production was shrouded in secrecy, partly to avoid possible disruption to on-location shoots in Malta, which doubles for Israel, and Budapest, which stands in for Munich. In Manhattan, as part of the low-profile approach, the movie was called by the benign temporary title “Kings Cross.” In Paris (where Holocaust survivor Roman Polanski visited his set) and the rest of Europe, it was “Red Wine.”

Early previews of the film have simply not been available for reviewers, forcing scribes, including this one, to speculate about the movie’s content based on the trailer and on whatever other sourcing they can pry loose. For this article, a source close to the production provided information on a not-for-attribution basis. Spielberg, for his part, has offered some carefully worded official comments, as have some others associated with the film. Universal said the trio most responsible for the film — Spielberg, producer Kathleen Kennedy and screenwriter Tony Kushner — were unavailable for interviews.

One thing, though, seems clear: Spielberg has vied to turn the tale into a personal crisis of conscience, trying to avoid glorifying one side or the other. At the same time, he believes that the lessons of the Munich attack and Israel’s revenge have relevance to today’s climate of unending bombings and targeted reprisals in the Middle East.

“Viewing Israel’s response to Munich through the eyes of the men who were sent to avenge that tragedy adds a human dimension to a horrific episode that we usually think about only in political or military terms,” Spielberg said in a statement. “By experiencing how the implacable resolve of these men to succeed in their mission slowly gave way to troubling doubts about what they were doing, I think we can learn something important about the tragic standoff we find ourselves in today.”

Spielberg became so caught up with the film that he abandoned the idea of directing “Memoirs of a Geisha,” allowing “Chicago’s” Rob Marshall to helm that film although Spielberg retains an executive producer credit.

He hired Pulitzer prizewinning playwright Kushner (“Angels in America”) to rework the original scripts of Eric Roth (“Forrest Gump”) and Charles Randolph (“The Interpreter”). Kushner’s assignment was reportedly to “soften” the image of the Black September terrorists.

“Nobody’s going to admit that they wanted to soften things — and maybe that’s the wrong word,” said the source who worked on the Spielberg film. “But it was very clear to many that the earlier version of the Arabs was too simplistic and negative. So Kushner’s job was to make them more articulate and maybe even allow them to express their viewpoints — however distasteful — and to try and understand their motivations.”

“Steven wanted to know who he could get to make them human,” the source added. “Someone who understood and could posit the Palestinian point of view as well as articulate that with strong dialogue. He felt the early scripts dwelt too heavily upon the action — and not enough on the raison d’etre.”

In today’s political climate, Spielberg knew he couldn’t get away with making the terrorists one-dimensional heavies. The nasty Nazis of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” wouldn’t cut it.

Kushner, who is Jewish, co-edited 2003’s “Wrestling With Zion: Progressive Jewish American Responses to the Israeli Palestine Conflict,” a book of essays by leading liberal Jewish lights including Arthur Miller and Susan Sontag, which expressed concern about the plight of the Palestinians. It was this reputation, along with his ability to write pungent theatrical dialogue, that convinced Spielberg that he was the person for the delicate job.

Although the movie credits Jonas’ l984 book, which is being re-issued, Spielberg publicist Marvin Levy insisted in an interview, “The book is not the book of our movie.”

In a phone conversation from his home office in Canada, “Vengeance” author Jonas emphasized that he had no involvement or creative control with “Munich.” He’d previously sold his movie rights. Jonas commented that the Spielberg film comes out in a world that has changed since his book was published in the early 1980s.

“It wasn’t until the 1990s that some governments actually began to acknowledge [that they engaged in covert counterterrorism],” he said. “Some 30 years ago the morality of counter-terrorism violence might have been questioned, and governments concealed their actions in that area…. By 2005 matters are more equivocal. Terrorists and counterterrorists came out into the open. Security forces’ assassinations are on CNN. Beheadings of hostages are shown on Al Jazeera [the Arab satellite TV news channel] and now terrorists routinely claim justifications for their acts. Political murder has started to be respectable.”

Spielberg’s retelling uses real live footage of ABC television’s spot coverage of the Black September massacre, complete with Jim McKay’s solemn wrap up: “They’re all gone.”

That is prologue, closely followed by the recruitment of the Israeli secret agent; the make up of his five-man team of experts, including British actor Daniel Craig (the screen’s new James Bond); and Irish actor Ciaran Hinds, last seen as Julius Caesar in HBO’s “Rome.” The agent’s assignment is clear: “You have 11 Palestinian names. Each had a hand in planning Munich. You are going to kill them — one by one,” his Mossad boss tells him.

In Spielberg’s movie, Prime Minister Golda Meir, who sits in her Jerusalem home, sipping tea and sharing fruit with the man chosen to lead the mission justifies the action by noting: “Every civilization finds it necessary to negotiate compromises with its own values.”

In “Munich” the revenge squad obsess about making sure only their targets are hit — and meticulous care is taken to avoid collateral damage. Yet in one shootout an innocent man is also slain.

(In reality the Israeli hit team, reportedly in pursuit of Palestinian Ali Hassen Salmeh, one of the key Munich plotters, mistakenly killed a Moroccan waiter named Ahmed Bouchiki in Lillehammer, Norway, in July l973.) The intense moral contortions the agents experience as the corpses pile up makes up the substance of the movie.

Before shooting began, Spielberg went to great lengths to vet the text, reportedly lining up a bevy of illustrious advisers, including former Middle East envoy Dennis Ross and former President Bill Clinton. Another evaluator was apparently Rabbi Levi Meier, the chaplain at Cedars-Sinai Hospital, who is close to the director and helped him when Spielberg’s actress wife Kate Capshaw converted to Judaism. Meier declined to confirm or deny his role.

The New York Times reported that Spielberg, also spoke with Clinton’s White House spokesman Mike McCurry as well as Los Angeles PR consultant Allan Mayer whose company specializes in crisis management, on how to cope with the expected firestorm.

Some critics didn’t wait for the movie’s release. Retired former Mossad chief Zvi Zamir questioned the film’s credibility — particularly if it was based on Jonas’ book.

“I am surprised that a director like Spielberg has chosen, out of all the sources, to rely on this particular book,” he told Israel’s Haaretz newspaper.

Spielberg has said Jonas’ book was not his compass: “The film is based on multiple sources including the recollections of some who participated in the events themselves.”

Retired Israeli diplomat David Kimche, a former Mossad agent in the aftermath of Munich, expressed similar misgivings.

“It’s very difficult to pass judgment about rumors, Kimche said. But “I find it repulsive to even try to condone the actions of the Black September terrorists. I think there’s been an effort to change the truth and the facts. You cannot whitewash murderers and, as far as I’m concerned, the people who did what they did in Munich were murderers — and no amount of painting them in a humane way can make any difference.”

Kimche called Jonas’ “Vengeance” “a negative book.” “I lived through that period,” he said, “and I know in my heart what was right and what was wrong. I say to hell with Mr. Jonas.”

An especially ironic critique was datelined Gaza, courtesy Reuters. Mohammed Daoud, believed by some to be the mastermind of the Munich massacre, was reported to be upset that Spielberg never called: “If someone really wanted to tell the truth about what happened he should talk to the people involved. Were I contacted, I would tell the truth.”

The Jonas book, he claimed, “is full of mistakes.” He added: “They carried out vengeance against people who had nothing to do with the Munich attack — people who were merely politically active or had ties with the PLO. If a film fails to make these points it will be unjust in terms of truth and history.”

Retired diplomat Kimche acknowledged that it matters that Spielberg, rather than someone else, made this film.

“Spielberg is a name one can’t ignore,” he said. “I have a vested interest in the story, of course, and when I see the film I will probably come out very angry because I know the reasoning behind the reasoning that went into what was done.”

Jonas, the author of “Vengeance,” is as curious to see the result of Spielberg’s vision as anyone.

“Spielberg is one of the most influential filmmakers in the world,” he said, “and I am naturally extremely curious on what his take on it is. I am prepared to pay my $10 to see it in my local cinema.”

Ivor Davis writes for The New York Times and Los Angeles Times syndicates.

 

Twenty Hours in Munich


The Germans, desperate to erase memories of the Nazi-tainted 1936 Olympics in Berlin, billed the 1972 Games as "The Happy Olympics." By the time the international sportsfest ended, it went down in the history books as "The Munich Massacre."

The turning point came in the early morning hours of Sept. 5, 1972, when eight Arab terrorists of the PLO’s Black September faction slipped into the Olympic Village and attacked the quarters of the sleeping Israeli men’s team.

By the end of that long Tuesday, 11 Israeli sportsmen, five terrorists and one German policeman had met a violent end.

To mark the 30th anniversary of the events, as traumatic, in its way, for a largely innocent Europe as Sept. 11, 2001, was for America, Showtime will air "The 1972 Munich Olympic Games: Bud Greenspan Remembers."

Greenspan, then an NBC radio reporter and now the dean of sports documentarians, features some of the athletic highlights and personalities, foremost, swimmer Mark Spitz and runner Dave Wottle of the United States, as well as gymnast Olga Korbut and runner Valeriy Borzov of the Soviet Union.

But most of the film centers on the tense 20 hours of Sept. 5, from 4 a.m., when the terrorists slipped into the Olympic Village, to midnight and the final minutes of the tragic climax.

Some of the players and bystanders recall the emotional roller coaster of these hours.

Ankie Spitzer, the Dutch wife of Israeli fencing coach Andre Spitzer, tells of her desperate attempts to sort out the conflicting reports and rumors of the day.

Israeli wrestler Gad Tsobari relates how he escaped from the terrorists.

Walther Troeger, the chief negotiator with the terrorist leader, allows that "In a way, I had sympathetic feelings for the terrorists’ viewpoint," if not their tactics.

German General Ulrich Wegener roundly scores the incompetence of the German rescue effort. British television reporter Gerald Seymour vividly describes the jubilation when German officials announced, erroneously, that the Israeli hostages had been freed.

Some Norwegian, Dutch and Filipino athletes had the moral courage to protest resumption of the athletic events by going home. By contrast, Avery Brundage, the American head of the International Olympic Committee, shocked even the most uninvolved by considering the massacre and the barring of the Rhodesian team, following boycott threats by African nations, as crimes of equal magnitude.

The most emotional part of the film comes toward the end, when Greenspan alternates scenes of winners’ jubilation at the resumed Olympic Games with shots of somber and tear-streaked Israelis as the bodies of the victims arrive home.

Greenspan, who wrote, produced and directed the documentary, takes off some of the edge by delivering his narrative in a curiously flat, uninvolved monotone.

Though the Showtime special certainly holds the viewer’s attention, it does not match the intensity or depth of "One Day in September," a documentary on the same event by Arthur Cohn and Kevin MacDonald, which won an Oscar two years ago.