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(photo credit: Avi Hayun)
Anti-Defamation League National Director Abraham Foxman on Tuesday defended Steven Spielberg's new film Munich from criticism that it morally equates Israel with terrorists and is historically inaccurate.
"We do not think this is an attack on Israel. We do not think this is a film of moral equivalency," Foxman told a group of journalists.
He said the movie, which recounts the murder of 11 Israeli athletes by the Palestinian group Black September at the 1972 Munich Olympics, portrays that tragedy as an act of "brutal terrorism" with no humanizing of the perpetrators.
Most of the film, however, is devoted to Israel's decision to hunt down and kill those responsible for the terror attack, a depiction which some have described as equating Israel's acts with those of the Palestinians. But Foxman - who pointed out that, unlike him, many of the critics hadn't seen the movie - said the Israelis are portrayed in human terms, asking the same sorts of questions about their task as Israelis today ask about their government's response to terrorism.
Moreover, he said, the film "shows with respect and understanding ... the need to respond to terrorism." In that sense, he added, the movie could even be seen as a defense of America's actions in Iraq.
He also dismissed the assertion that Munich strays from the historical record, since, "This is not a documentary and nobody's pretending it is."
He concluded that the subject matter was a movie-in-waiting, and overall, "If I had my choice, I would choose Spielberg, not [Mel] Gibson."
The latter directed the controversial 2004 film, The Passion of the Christ. Foxman's was among the loudest voices to complain about the film's likelihood to fuel anti-Semitism.
Foxman also repeated his criticism of the agenda of the religious right and their use of legislation to accomplish their goals - criticism which has itself been attacked, particularly by Jews who point to the support evangelical Christians have given to Israel.
Foxman countered that real friends can take criticism.
He also referred to a recent ADL poll which shows that 45 percent of the American public agree that "right-wing religious leaders are seeking to impose their religious beliefs on everyone else."
At the same time, according to the survey, 64% think that "religion is under attack" in America, with 32% disagreeing. The numbers are 80% and 19% respectively among those identifying as fundamentalist and evangelical Christians.
Sixty percent of that group also say that religion is "losing influence" in American life, as opposed to 33% who say it is "increasing." The general public breaks down 53%/32% on the same issue.
The survey was conducted in late October among 800 American adults with a 3.4% margin of error.
Foxman said he was particularly worried that the religious agenda had dropped the "Judeo" from its campaign for Judeo-Christian values. "It's not God [now], but Jesus," Foxman said. "It's one truth."
He did say, however, that have been some positive trends in Europe, including the "end of denial" of Anti-Semitism, despite an incidence of anti-Jewish sentiment that has remained high.
He described the response to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recent calls to wipe Israel off the map and outspoken Holocaust denial as telling, in that European governments condemned the comments immediately without prompting. In the past, he said, they have needed to be pushed to respond.
On the other hand, he worried that "it's a camouflage for them to say, 'See we've done something, and we don't have to act on the greater issue.'"
Sometimes taking action against anti-Semitism is limited by laws as well as a lack of will, Foxman noted.
The United States hasn't passed laws against group libel, which means many anti-Semitic Web sites can operate with impunity, he said.
Instead of pursuing legal recourse, therefore, the ADL has approached Internet companies about barring certain content.
"We've tried to reach out to servers and providers and convince them of their responsibilities even though there's no law against it," he said, and maintained there have been some positive results.
"They have begun to police themselves on condition that we don't gloat over it," Foxman said. "They also don't want regulation."