December 23, 2005

An Interesting Take On Steven Spielberg's Munich

Another take on Steven Spielberg's Munich:

Soon after watching an advance screening of Steven Spielberg's new film, "Munich," journalist Aaron Klein could barely conceal his amusement.

"In the beginning it said it was inspired by real events — I think that's the understatement of the year," Klein said about Spielberg's film, a recounting of the Israeli response to the murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics. "It's much more than 'inspired' — it's invented!"

The film, which appears in theaters this week, has already drawn a good deal of criticism from Israelis and defenders of Israel who say that Spielberg relied too heavily on a widely discredited book about the Olympics and their aftermath by George Jonas titled "Vengeance." But Klein, a reporter for Time, can speak about the issue with the authority born of just having authored his own, exhaustively researched book about it, "Striking Back: The 1972 Munich Olympics Massacre and Israel's Deadly Response."

Unlike Spielberg, Klein went directly to the Mossad and military intelligence officers who were involved in the reprisals, and ended up speaking with more than 50 of them. What results is a gripping play-by-play of each shadowy maneuver by the famed Caesarea unit of the Mossad, as they sneak up on terrorists in their hotel rooms and bedrooms snuffing them out one after another and then slipping away into the night. The narrative is considerably different from the one offered by Spielberg.

"He's an artist," Klein told the Forward. "He's a great director and I really appreciate him for that. But... the true story is far from what you see in the movie." ... It is with his telling of the attack's aftermath, though, that Klein version begins seriously to depart from Spielberg's. As Klein began talking with former Mossad officers, he said, he quickly realized the holes in Jonas's book, whose central theme is that Mossad operations were driven by a desire to avenge the Munich deaths. Interviews led Klein to a different conclusion, he said. Revenge was a factor in planning the Caesarea operations, but it was much less important than calculations about how much of a threat a specific target would be in the future. In the end, Klein's research showed that two of the Munich plot masterminds were never hunted by the Mossad aggressively and one is still alive today...

"I grew up with this myth of revenge," Klein told the Forward. "It was amazing for me to find out it was almost not true at all."

On a smaller scale, Klein said he discovered that Israeli agents never bought intelligence from French citizens, as Jonas asserts and Spielberg accepts. And the Mossad agents whom Klein interviewed admitted to none of the soul searching found at the heart of Spielberg's film.

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