Tony Kushner, one of the screenplay writers for Steven Spielberg's "Munich," explained this week why he portrayed Mossad agents as having regrets and doubts about tracking down and killing the Palestinians who planned the murder of 11 Olympic Israeli athletes in 1972.
"I've never killed anyone, but my instincts as a person and a playwright ... suggest that people in general don't kill without feeling torn up about it," he wrote last Sunday in the Los Angeles Times.
But a documentary that aired on the Discovery Channel that same day and will air again on Feb. 15, "Munich: The Real Assassins," featured interviews with two of those Mossad agents: and revealed just the opposite.
"We trusted our leaders," said one of the agents, whose identity was concealed. "Our task is sacred. Even today, I have no doubts. ... We operated according to instructions. It was enough to be told that they were killing Israelis. In a unit like ours, you don't ask questions."
Stephen Reverand, vice president of productions for the Discovery Channel, told The Jewish Week he found that response "almost eerie."
"We were only following orders: hearing that from an Israeli operative is no small measure of irony," Reverand said a reference to the defense repeatedly cited by Nazi soldiers.
This was the first time some of the actual participants in the Israeli revenge attacks publicly discussed their mission, dubbed Operation Wrath of God, Reverand noted. Although his documentary makes no reference to differences between the Spielberg movie and the facts as uncovered by the documentary's researchers, some are inescapable.
For instance, in the Spielberg movie the Israeli bomb maker is a novice who was recruited because he knew how to disarm bombs. In the new documentary, the Israelis used an expert bomb maker. The Spielberg movie suggests that the Mossad agents were basically left on their own to track down and kill their targets. According to the documentary, the operation was tightly controlled from Tel Aviv, and before any assassination was ordered it was reviewed by Prime Minister Golda Meir and a secret government committee.
Reverand said the biggest difference is that Spielberg's movie does not mention the final assassination, that of an innocent Moroccan waiter in Lillehammer, Norway, in July 1973. Six Israeli agents were caught and five were convicted in connection with the attack. The bungled mission exposed Operation Wrath of God and put an end to it.
Meanwhile, as Spielberg's film looks to get a best-picture nomination for the upcoming Oscars, one of the producers of "Munich" charged a neocon smear against the film by "a loud right-wing constituency." Quoted in a Los Angeles Times piece Monday, Kathleen Kennedy said "political pundits" (Leon Wieseltier and Charles Krauthammer, among them) "took swipes at the movie very early on ... which has been difficult to overcome. Unfortunately, theyíve found a louder voice than the people who've supported the movie."
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