A liberal friend who is truly shocked that I don't want to see such an epochal film as Munich sent me Kushner's defense for his film, as spelled out in the LA Times. I hereby offer Kushner and Bookworm. [Don Quixote told me it was hard to tell at first glance which was the Kushner text I'm fisking, so I've put all the Kushner stuff from the LA Times in blue.]
The article begins with Kushner careful to establish that he is a bona fide Jew. He knows some Yiddish and makes it clear that he celebrates Passover. This man is a Jew. He also notes, accurately, the breadth and depth of criticism leveled against his screenplay:
In the last month, the co-creators of "Munich" have been accused of being apologists for the Palestinians, apologists for Israel, defamers of Palestinians and of Israel, softheaded Hollywood liberals, dupes of the radical left, dupes of the radical right, even of being anti-Semitic or self-loathing, for showing Jews talking about receipts and handling money. We're morally confused, overly complicated, simplistic. We're cowards who refused to take sides. We took a side but, oops! the wrong side.
And now to the meat of the argument. This time it's a relative with a question:
Is it the case, she asked, that "Munich" is based on a discredited book, "Vengeance"? No, I answered, it's based on a book, "Vengeance," that has been challenged but never discredited — these are not the same things. There is no definitive account of what was, after all, a covert Mossad operation. But no one is challenging the central historical fact in the debate that "Munich" is meant to catalyze: Palestinians were assassinated by Israel, following the Palestinian murder of the Israeli athletes in Munich.
As always, when one hears someone from the Left defend something, it's clear that, until God's visible hand reaches from the Heaven and crushes it into pieces, it's valid. The easy target, of course, is the endless "fake but accurate
" defense advanced in Rathergate. I'd say Vengeance
has just a wee bit of the same problem. Why do I say this? Because it appears that the book was shopped around before being published, and was rejected because the author appeared scarily unreliable
The screenplay (by gay activist Tony Kushner, author of Angels in America, and Eric Roth whose previous credits include Forrest Gump) is based on the widely doubted 1984 book Vengeance by George Jonas. Jonas based his tale on the word of one Israeli who claimed to have headed a clandestine assassination squad for the Mossad. But Jonas was the second, not the first author to whom this particular Israeli had peddled this tale of “Avner,” the Israeli hit man. The first, according to Time, was a writer named Rinker Buck who was offered an advance from Simon and Schuster. But the deal fizzled when Buck traveled to Europe to check his informant’s information and found that “he was changing his story daily.” Buck said he could not write the book in good conscience. Jonas apparently could. And while the book has been debunked for 20 years, Spielberg saw fit to build a movie upon itThis
makes the same point about Kushner's "never been discredited" book:
First published in May, 1984, Vengeance caused immediate controversy. The book, which reads more like a novel than a historical or journalistic work, relies on "Avner," a single, pseudonymous source for its narrative. While Jonas may have trusted his source, it is ultimately up to the reader to decide if Avner should be believed. Portions of the book were labeled as either false or unprovable by both the New York Times and Maclean's magazine.
As for Kushner's "nobody knows what the Mossad does" defense, that's also untrue. There has been at least one subsequent book
written by a legitimate journalists who was also in the IDF, and it exposes the many lies in Vengeance
-- and does so based on interviews with dozens of Mossad agents.
Okay, I hope I've decimated that bit of silliness from Kushner. Let's go on to the next bit:
Next question: Why does the movie show Mossad agents having doubts and regrets about killing terrorists when apparently they never have doubts and regrets? Why did you make that up?
I've never killed anyone, but my instincts as a person and a playwright — and the best books I've read about soldiers or cops or people whose jobs bring them into violent physical conflict — suggest that people in general don't kill without feeling torn up about it. Violence exacts a psychic toll, unless you're a sociopath, and who wants to watch a movie about sociopaths?
That's it -- Kushner's instincts about killing drive the movie's viewpoint. And you know, it's true that if I, a middle class homemaker, completely accidentally killed someone, say in a car accident, I'd feel precisely the same way. But this isn't about me or a car accident. This is about trained covert agents, honed in a war against their country that had then been going on for thirty years, tracking cold-blooded killers who had slaughtered their compatriots. Under those circumstances, I'd say the heartbreak of anxiety is unlikely.
I'd also say that Kushner's inability to think outside of his own little liberal box is a fatal flaw to his much vaulted artistic ability. Additionally, as his article goes on to castigate conservatives for their inability to feel someone else's pain, his narrow worldview becomes a fine piece of hypocrisy.
In any event, two recent stories give more credibility to my view (that revenge can be sweet) than to Kushner's ("Oh my God. Like, I'd never, never kill anybody. That would be too icky.") The first is that science proves that men enjoy revenge
when underlying justice is involved; the second is that even women feel unconflicted
about imposing the death penalty against killers -- when they have all the facts and a stake in the matter.
But let's get to the real nub of the matter, which is Kushner's view of Israel:
Janice asked a third question: Why do I, her cousin-in-law, apparently have a secret plan to destroy Israel?
I have indeed been critical of Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza — well, Janice knew that already. I'm an American and a proudly Diasporan Jew. I believe that the best hope for any oppressed minority is found in the Constitution's promise of equal protection under the law, in secular pluralist democracy. I believe that governments — and our souls — are nourished by honesty, open-mindedness and public debate, even of scary ideas and uncomfortable truths. But my criticism of Israel has always been accompanied by declarations of unconditional support of Israel's right to exist, and I believe that the global community has a responsibility to defend that right. I have written and spoken of my love for Israel.
Kushner dresses up the fact that he has bought into the thinking of Israel's ideological enemies by saying, "But I really and truly love Israel." That's just too easy. We show love with support. Kushner's thinking can be analogized to the man who beats a dog to death while saying "I love this dog. It just needs discipline." By the way, Kushner is very careful in this article not to say what his criticisms of Israel have been, just that he loves Israel. How about if we fill in those blanks
It is a worldview that has inspired Kushner to declare, "I think the founding of the State of Israel was for the Jewish people a historical, moral, political calamity.... I wish modern Israel hadn't been born."
It is a worldview that had him tell the Times of London, "I deplore the brutal and illegal tactics of the Israeli Defense Forces in the occupied territories. I deplore the occupation, the forced evacuations, the settlements, the refugee camps, the whole shameful history of the dreadful suffering of the Palestinian people; Jews, of all people, with our history of suffering, should refuse to treat our fellow human beings like that."
It is a worldview that caused him to sign his name to a noxious newspaper advertisement released by the Not In Our Name Project in 2002 that viciously attacked both the U.S. and Israel. Sample: "In our name, the Bush administration, with near unanimity from Congress, not only attacked Afghanistan but arrogated to itself and its allies the right to rain down military force anywhere and any time. The brutal repercussions have been felt from the Philippines to Palestine, where Israeli tanks and bulldozers have left a terrible trail of death and destruction."
It is a worldview that inspired him to sit on the advisory board of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), an outfit that boasts of its public support for the Presbyterian Church's decision to consider selective divestment measures against Israel and which on its website "call [s] upon the United States to suspend military aid to Israel, and on U.S. corporations such as Caterpillar to stop supplying the Israeli army" as long as Israel maintains "its occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem."
It is a worldview that sees nothing off-kilter or one-sided in the JVP prescription for peace: "Palestinians must stop suicide bombings and other attacks on Israeli civilians," while "Israel must cease its use of military force against Palestinian civilians, including attacks involving American-supplied F-16s and Apache helicopters. Moreover, Israel must stop land seizures; destruction of homes, infrastructure, orchards and farms; arbitrary arrests and imprisonment; torture; assassinations; expulsions; curfews; travel restrictions; abuse at checkpoints; raids; collective punishment; and other violations of human rights."
It is a worldview that led him to co-edit, along with the equally far-left Alisa Solomon, a nauseating volume called Wrestling With Zion: Progressives Jewish-American Responses to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. Of that book the Forward's Ami Eden wrote: "...reading [it] takes you to an alternative universe, where the Israel of today has reoccupied Palestinian territories and adopting harsh security measures — but not in response to a Palestinian-launched intifada bent on blowing up babies on buses. Instead, Israel's presence in the territories today is primarily the product of — Kushner and Solomon's words — ‘Ariel Sharon's mad, bloody dream of Greater Israel, which he and his comrades of the radical Israeli right have pursued for decades.'"
Of course, holding two entirely conflicting thoughts in his mind, and contending that they mesh perfectly, is consistent with Kushner's world. He's made no secret about belonging to the same group of thinkers that constantly professes patriotism, while castigating America as an evil empire that engages in world domination of the oppressed person of the week, that is the chief environmental polluter, that destroys workers, and that is responsible for most world miseries.
Kushner wraps up his self-defense with what he perceives as a stirring defense of the movie. It's all about opening your mind and, of course, criticizing Iraq (and here I thought it was all about contemplating Kushner's navel):
I think it's the refusal of the film to reduce the Mideast controversy, and the problematics of terrorism and counterterrorism, to sound bites and spin that has brought forth charges of "moral equivalence" from people whose politics are best served by simple morality tales. We live in the Shock and Awe Era, in which instant strike-back and blow-for-blow aggression often trump the laborious process of analysis, investigation and diplomacy. "Munich's" questioning spirit is an affront to armchair warrior columnists who understand power only as firepower. We're at war, and the job of artists in wartime, they seem to feel, is to provide the kind of characters and situations that are staples of propaganda: cleanly representative of Good or Evil, and obedient to the Message.
Contradiction in human affairs, such as the possibility that injustice can drive people to do horrible things, is routinely deplored and dismissed in these troubled times as just another example of the naivete of the morally weak (a.k.a. liberals and progressives). But there will always be pesky people who, when horrific crimes are committed, insist on asking, "Why did that happen?"
This is a great annoyance to the up-and-at-'em crowd, whose unshakable conviction is that the only sane and effective response to terrorism is savage violence commensurate with the original act. To justify this conviction they offer, as so many of the political critics of "Munich" have done, tautologies on the order of "evil deeds are done by evil people who do evil deeds because that's what evil people do." If that's helpful to you as a tool for understanding terrorism, you won't like "Munich."
Did you get that? The problem with the film's critics is that they actually think evil deserves a strong response, and they simply refuse to sit down and listen to the crying needs of the oppressed. If only we were more sensitive, we'd just stop fighting people who are constantly trying to kill us. Feel their pain, give them what they want, and they'll just go away. That obviously happened when the U.S., during the Clinton administration, felt Iran's pain and apologized to the Mullahs
. As Tom Lehrer famously said
of the Germans:
Once all the Germans were warlike and mean,
But that couldn't happen again.
We taught them a lesson in 1918
And they've hardly bothered us since then.
Clearly, too, in the Kushner world, what happened to Israel -- and what we need to open our minds and emotions to understand -- is all Israel's fault. If the Israelis would just go away from Israel, and allow the peaceful Palestinians
to live quietly on their own land and cultivate their gardens. Instead, these bullying Israelis insist on wasting their time and energy defending themselves. In Kushner's view, the Israelis should try peaceful resistance. (Of course, it really doesn't take a stunning intellect to realize that the only reason Ghandi's tactics worked is because the Brits, unlike the Palestinians, did not have the stomach for massacres.)
Although it's not the ultimate paragraph, to me the following almost final paragraph presents the core belief driving Kushner's approach to the movie:
In the film, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is presented not as a matter of religion versus religion, or sanity versus insanity, or good versus evil or civilization versus barbarism or Judeo-Christian culture versus Muslim culture, but rather as a struggle over territory, over geography, over home.
And in that, I reject Kushner entirely. It was never just about land. It was always about power, control, and hatred in the Middle East. The policy of the surrounding Arab nations -- a policy begun in 1948 -- not to take in their own citizens (and most of those who now identify themselves as Palestinians were simply Jordanian citizens) created a petri dish for true evil. And the appropriate response to evil is to fight it, not to laud it, explain it and placate it.
Talking to Technorati
: Tony Kushner