Page last updated at 13:44 GMT, Friday, 27 January 2006

Spielberg film angers Israelis

By Martin Patience
BBC News website, Jerusalem

The grainy black and white photograph of a Palestinian wearing a ski mask as he stands on an Olympic village balcony in Munich is an image seared on the Israeli national psyche.

The iconic image of a Palestinian hostage-taker at 1972 Olympics

A Palestinian group calling itself Black September held 11 Israeli athletes hostage at the 1972 Olympics and demanded the release of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

After two days of negotiations, German police bungled a rescue operation.

All 11 Israeli athletes were killed. Three of the eight Palestinian hostage-takers survived and were released by the German authorities two months later.

On Thursday 26 January Steven Spielberg's new film Munich will go on general release in cinemas across Israel.

The focus of the film is not the events of Munich but what happened next.

Historical accuracy

But the film's historical accuracy has been widely questioned in Israel. Critics say the moral soul-searching of Mossad agents portrayed in the film is unlikely.

Munich is a thriller inspired by real events, and the filmmakers never set out to make a documentary
Eyal Arad
Israel publicist for Munich

The film has also been criticised for suggesting equivalence between terrorism and Israel's response to it, the assassination of some of the Munich perpetrators.

Eyal Arad, the Israeli publicist for Munich, told the BBC News website the accusations were overblown and the film "is a thriller inspired by real events, and the film-makers never set out to make a documentary".

Inspired by the George Jonas book Vengeance (1984), Spielberg's film follows a team of Mossad agents tracking down and assassinating those directly or indirectly involved in the Munich massacre.


But Yossi Melman, an intelligence affairs specialist with the Israeli daily Haaretz, has strong criticism of the film.

"There is no connection between the film and the book, and what actually, really happened," he told the BBC.

The book Vengeance was based on the first-hand account of Mossad agent Yuval Aviv as he tracked down and assassinated those responsible for Munich.

The movie does not properly present the way Mossad operates... it is movie is a negative contribution to the state of Israel and dishonours Mossad
Shabtai Shavit
Former Mossad chief

But according to Mr Melman, Yuval Aviv never served in Mossad and the closest he got to working as a spy was working as a gate guard for the Israeli airline El Al in New York.

Mr Melman says the film's depiction of Mossad agents soul-searching while out on operation is nonsense.

"Mossad doesn't work that way," says Mr Melman, who saw Munich at a private screening in New York in December.

"The film's message is that people defending themselves through semi-legal means are the same as terrorists," he says.

"History works with causes and actualities and the film seemed to forget that."

'Image damaged'

For some Israelis there is a fear that Munich will harm the image of their country.

At a screening of the film last week, former Mossad chief Shabtai Shavit was unsparing in his criticism of the film.

The film is based on a book that may itself be a fraud

"The movie does not properly present the way Mossad operates, nor does it represent Mossad agents faithfully," said Mr Shavit to an audience at the Institute for Counter-terrorism at the Herzliya.

He also warned that the "movie is a negative contribution to the state of Israel and dishonours Mossad".

But Mr Arad, who oversaw the publicity for the Israeli government's withdrawal from Gaza settlements last summer, plays down criticism of the film.

He says the producers of Munich are allowed artistic licence.

"It's like Shakespeare writing Julius Caesar. That's the way drama works, you dramatise certain events," he says.

"I've seen the film seven times with hundreds of Israelis and none of them, apart from people who formed their opinions before seeing the film, said there was any moral equivalence being made between the terrorists and the Mossad agents, or that it degrades Mossad or the victims.

"In the case of Munich, some people seem to judge the film before seeing it."

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