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(photo credit: Universal Studios)
"In 1972, the world watched as 11 Israeli athletes were murdered in Munich. This is the story of what happened next," reads the Israeli poster for Steven Spielberg's film Munich, which premiered in Israel at the Azrieli Towers cinema in Tel Aviv Wednesday night.
That claim, that the movie portrays Israel's response to the massacre at the Olympic village, was debunked outright by former Mossad chief Shabtai Shavit, who spoke at a panel discussion following the film's screening.
"It has no connection to reality whatsoever," Shavit said.
"There is no comparison between the reality and the movie," he told a crowd of former intelligence operatives, journalists and other invited guests at a panel organized by the Institute for Counterterrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.
"The movie does not properly present the way the Mossad operates, nor does it represent faithfully Mossad agents," Shavit said.
The former Mossad boss was unsparing in his criticism of the film's authenticity, and of its possible negative effects on Israel's image abroad.
Claiming that the real events were "far more dramatic" than the presentation in the movie, Shavit, who served as head of the Mossad from 1989 until 1996, accused Spielberg of creating a movie that made a negative contribution to the State of Israel.
He also said Spielberg had "much to learn about the way these things really work." Shavit added that had Munich been directed by anyone other than Spielberg, it would have "not received as much attention and fanfare."
"Spielberg's movie Schindler's List and his work to document Holocaust victim's testimony was a huge contribution to Israel," he said. "But this movie is a negative contribution to the State of Israel and dishonors the Mossad."
The movie, which claims to have been "inspired by real events," is a historical thriller about a Mossad hit team that was sent to avenge the murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games. Shavit said that by starting his movie with the caveat "inspired by real events," Spielberg had unburdened himself of responsibility for any impact the movie may have on those people who were affected by the Munich massacre and its aftermath, as well as on the Israeli cause.
"He has chosen to focus on antiterrorism, and not terrorism," Shavit added. "Out of a conflict spanning 100 years, Spielberg decided to take one piece of history, disconnect it from its context and base it on a book written by an imposter, who was never party to the events and was not a member of the Mossad."
Among his audience were dozens of former defense officials, including former OC Air Force Maj.-Gen. (res.) Eitan Ben-Eliahu and current Traffic Police chief Cmdr. Shahar Ayalon. Ayalon was a member of the Israeli Olympic team sent to the Munich games.
Rafi Eitan, who served as the Mossad's chief of operations during the period following the Munich massacre, called the movie "unprofessional" and totally "unrealistic."
"This is an unprofessional movie, and the gap between what really happened and the way the events are portrayed in the movie cannot be bridged," Eitan told The Jerusalem Post. "We are better off not speaking about the movie so people will just forget about it."
Alan Mayer, Spielberg's representative in Israel for the movie, countered that "Spielberg, a strong supporter of Israel, is a storyteller. This movie is not a documentary. It is a story. Steven is under no illusions that Mossad agents in the field hold moral conversations during operations. You can't hold drama to the same standards as documentary and journalistic work."
Mayer added that Spielberg made the movie "so that the world will not forget what happened in Munich."