Two movies could not be more different. Both are about Israel. Both are about heroism and love. They should be similar, two stories on the timeline of Jewish history and yet, these movies are from alternate universes.
Probably few people my age (or younger) know that in 1960, Exodus was a Hollywood blockbuster, starring the biggest movie stars of the day, Paul Newman and Eva Marie Saint.
A movie I had to see
I didn’t expect much from Exodus, old movies are slow and often the sets are bad and the acting or choice of actors unrealistic. At the same time, I knew this was a movie that was a huge hit that inspired many. Why would Hollywood produce a movie about Jews returning to their homeland to establish the State of Israel? What was in it that made the movie such a success?
Watching the movie, I found myself laughing, getting choked up and nearly bursting with admiration for these brave and wonderful people. MY people, rising from the ashes of their families murdered in the concentration camps, returning to our homeland, landing in Haifa, where I live today.
And then a sickening sensation washed over me, one that left me in utter shock.
I have never seen a movie like this before
This is the first, the only movie I have ever seen that has empathy (rather than sympathy), not for the Jewish victim but for the Jewish survivor – admiration for the people who had been to hell and back, that had more spirit than anything else and were willing to do whatever it takes to be free in the land of their ancestors.
It is the first time I have seen Jews that were smart, even cunning but not conniving. They were justified in doing whatever necessary to free themselves and their people. Here, angry Jews are understood, not condemned. They had much to be angry about.
It is the first time I have seen antisemitism portrayed as both rampant and utterly unacceptable, an attitude that is both ridiculous and inhumane.
Here non-Jews declared themselves Zionists and found themselves cheering for Jews who attain Zion.
Right and wrong are very clear. There is no doubt as to the righteousness of Jewish struggle for freedom. There is no doubt that Jews belong in the Jewish historical, ancestral homeland – then called Palestine, universally understood to be Zion, what would be Israel. The Jews are the heroes of this film. Anyone assisting them on the path to freedom is “the good guys”, anyone preventing this is inhumane, immoral and on the wrong side of history.
It is shocking to watch this and it is sickening that this is shocking.
I grew up in an alternate universe.
I was born into a post-Munich world. The Munich Massacre happened in 1972. Steven Spielberg’s movie was released in 2005.
Jews are often portrayed in films and tv shows but never like in Exodus. Never. Jews are one-dimensional characters. They might be funny, smart or successful but they are often pathetic, whiny, conniving and “money-grubbing”. The Jewish mother from Boca Raton, the Jewish gangster, the neurotic Jewish friend, the Woody Allen Jew.
The most popular, most sympathetic depiction of Jews in films are of the Jewish victim. Holocaust movies: Schindler’s List. The Pianist. Life is Beautiful. They are full of sympathy for the suffering Jew, the dead Jew. Jewish victims are easy to pity.
Jewish heroes are somehow unpalatable.
Modern movies, including Israeli movies, show conflicted Jews. Jews (especially Israelis) who are strong but feel bad about it. The IDF soldier that does not want to fight, is afraid or doesn’t want to “hurt the poor Palestinian” is a particularly popular character.
Steven Spielberg did a deep service to the preservation of Jewish heritage by creating the Shoah Foundation and documenting the testimonials of Holocaust survivors. His movie, Schindler’s List, has become a staple in teaching children about the Holocaust. I’m sure, when he chose to create Munich, he did not intend to create a film filled with poisonous, anti-Israel propaganda. And yet, shockingly, that is exactly what he created.
I never experienced the world that produced Exodus. In that world, right and wrong were very clear. Morality was a call that all people needed to follow. Jew-hate was wrong. The spirit of the Jewish people was something to admire.
The world I grew up in is completely different. History is turned upside-down and morality has somehow become relative.
Palestine always meant the land where Jews belong, Zion. But in the post-Munich world, Zion has been replaced with Palestine and Palestinians are battling the Zionists who would “steal their land”.
Black is white. Up is down. Day is night. How, for the love of God, did we get here??
In Spielberg’s Munich, the atrocities of Black September are horrible but also somehow understandable. At the very least, they are to be expected. After all, who wouldn’t fight to get back his father’s olive trees?
In Spielberg’s Munich, the heroic Jews who sacrificed their own safety and, in some cases, their lives, to announce to the world that Jewish blood is precious and cannot be stolen without retribution – they are the killers, the “butchers”. They are conflicted, questioning their own morality, even questioning their Judaism.
It is the Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, the people who came to Israel on the Exodus, the Haganah and the Etzel who vowed that Jews would never again be led to the slaughter. In Munich Jews were slaughtered, on German soil and AGAIN, the world remained silent. It was the Jewish Nation reborn who vowed that Jewish blood would never again be shed indiscriminately. The message had to be sent in no uncertain terms.
Do you really think for a moment that those sent to eliminate the perpetrators of the Munich massacre were conflicted? Today it is politically incorrect to say that they knew the righteousness of their cause.
Instead, in Spielberg’s Munich, defenders of Jews, upholders of the battle cry “Never Again”, doubt. They discuss the “cycle of violence” and how Israel “didn’t take the land by being nice.” Other Israelis in the movie explain that the Holocaust legitimizes using any means to fight Israel’s enemies. The Holocaust. Not that Jews have the right to live free, like any other nation on earth. Not that Israel is a sovereign nation that should not come under attack by terrorists. Not that terrorists slaughtering athletes at the Olympic games, a symbol of peace between nations, is utterly wrong. According to the movie script, the Holocaust is the justification for Israel to butcher Palestinian murderers.
This is one of the most anti-Semitic lies ever spewed. This is the “narrative” of Israel’s enemies:
“Israel is doing to the Palestinians what the Nazis did to Jews.”
“Israel is using the Holocaust as an excuse to commit crimes against Palestinians.”
“Israel was created on Palestinian land because of the Holocaust.”
I grew up in a post-Munich world. We are so used to hearing these lies that a glimpse into the world that created Exodus is shocking to the core.
It is truly an alternative universe.
The “post-fact” world didn’t begin today. The moment when the atrocities of Black September ceased to horrify was the moment the universe inverted and began to eat itself. We have become so used to this reality that even those of us who fight it are becoming numb at the extremities and are ceasing to notice that we are ourselves being eaten. Our identities have been inverted, our history stolen and perverted in order to make sure we have no future.
Facts still matter.
Exodus is the truth, not Munich. Moral relativism is a lie, the existence of right and wrong, good and evil is the truth.
The Jewish people returned to our ancestral homeland because it is our homeland. We did not return because of the Holocaust, we returned DESPITE the Holocaust.
Israel by any name was always Zion. Palestine meant Zion and Zion meant land of the Jews.
The defenders of Israel are good and righteous. They never had any desire or intention to hurt innocent people. There is no joy in eliminating the enemy – it simply necessary.
Israel has a sacred duty to defend herself and her people. No one else will. Like any other sovereign nation on earth, Israel has a right to live free and without fear.
Why are these simple truths not obvious? How come, when it comes to Jews, suddenly reality is inverted? How did good become bad, right become wrong?
From Exodus to Munich, how did we get here? More importantly, how do we go back?