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Otto Preminger's Exodus, a dramatized presentation of Israel's case, during its early years generated enormous global goodwill for the Jewish state. In contrast, if the critics are to be believed, Steven Spielberg's Munich effectively undermines Israel's moral justification for taking tough measures to defend its people from killers. Like Preminger, Spielberg is a Jew. In fact, his magnificent production of Schindler's List and other good deeds, such as creating the Shoah Visual History Foundation, earned him widespread admiration among Jews.
Yet this proud Jew produced a film on the Munich Olympics terrorist outrage based on a book by a discredited author who had falsely maligned the Mossad. Moreover he selected Tony Kushner, a bitter Jewish castigator of Israel, to write the script.
Kushner never bothered to conceal his enmity. He repeatedly stated that Israel was born in sin, and even went so far as to claim that its creation was "a mistake" and a "historical and moral calamity." Moreover, he also openly endorsed groups seeking to divest from Israel.
What did Spielberg expect when he handed over this sensitive role to a man so bitterly hostile to the Jewish state? How was it possible for a good Jew to promote a film which undermines Israel's right to defend itself by implying moral equivalence between Mossad operatives and terrorist murderers?
IN A sense, Spielberg is not to be blamed. His attitude is merely a byproduct of the general drift which began with Oslo when Israeli governments began to soft pedal the justice of Israel's case, and concentrated on persuading Israelis and Jews that Yasser Arafat was a genuine peace partner. There were Israeli leaders who even instructed Diaspora activists to stop defending Israel's actions because the "irreversible peace process" made such activity counter-productive. As a consequence, the passion previously invested in promoting our case in the war of ideas evaporated. The flow of lies and calumnies from those seeking to destroy us went unanswered. Revisionist historians promoted the lie that Israel was indeed born in sin, and distorted the origins of the repeated wars of aggression Israel had to face. Invariably, the lies impacted on global public opinion and the image of Israel was transformed from that of an underdog to an aggressor and occupier.
To make matters worse, elements on the Israeli Left initiated a drumbeat of unprecedented self-hatred in the media and universities. Outlandish views that had hitherto been restricted to inconsequential fringe groups filled the op-ed columns of Haaretz, the media flagship of the Israeli intelligentsia, and whose English-language edition began publication in recent years.
Within the Israeli polity, such post-Zionist propaganda only had marginal impact because being in the front lines of terror, Israelis were not unduly influenced. However when the English-language versions of these masochistic articles were globally disseminated on the Internet, they impacted negatively - especially on Jews living in societies where application of double standards and demonization of Israel by the local media had already become daily fare.
IN THIS new era, Jews like Kushner, formerly regarded by the community as marginal, were provided with an imprimatur to promote their outlandish attacks on Israel as respectable alternative approaches. Even Israel's right to exist became a subject for debate. In effect, Jewish anti-Zionism became validated in mainstream institutions and most Jewish leaders opted to bury their heads rather than face unpleasant confrontations.
Take for example Limmud of England, a highly successful adult Jewish educational program in which over 2,000 people of all ages participate annually. At the recent conference in Nottingham, virtually the entire range of Jewish civilization was covered. Aside from the Orthodox rabbinate which foolishly instituted a boycott because of the participation of non-Orthodox rabbis, the full spectrum of Jewish viewpoints was aired, including blatant anti-Israel libels.
Limmud had no qualms in providing a platform to Queen Mary College Professor Jacqueline Rose whose The Question of Zion is an abominable book that conveys the message that Israel was a colonial implant and effectively a criminal state. On a previous occasion, Robert Fisk, the venomous anti-Israel demonizer, who was sacked from The Times for his unabashed anti-Israeli outbursts, had participated.
There was a panel at Limmud on "Just Wars" comprised of Jews and British imams in which Muslim clerics discussed whether the intifada was an "obligatory war." And no less than Gideon Levy, the prolific pro-Palestinian journalist from Haaretz, also participated.
Needless to say, those exposed to anti-Israeli diatribes are not in danger of being transformed into enemies of Israel. But a basic question of principle is involved. Surely, even a pluralistic Jewish educational conference whose declared objective is the enhancement of Jewish identity must have its red lines.
Are there no limits? Does anything go? Is it a requirement of freedom of expression for a Jewish organization to provide a platform for those who delegitimize Israel? Are views which question the right of a Jewish state to exist to be accepted as a legitimate "alternative" Jewish viewpoint?
Would anti-Semites be tolerated? Would Kahanists qualify? And why, in a society which is already saturated with hostility against the Jewish state, should a respectable Jewish platform be provided for Jewish defamers of Israel? I contacted the Limmud organization to pose such questions to them but failed to obtain a response.
LIMMUD'S TOLERATION of anti-Zionist hate mongers is merely the latest example of a trend which is proliferating in Jewish communities throughout the world. Such a climate of permissiveness would have been inconceivable only a few years ago. Is it therefore any wonder that in this atmosphere, Spielberg, a liberal, did not feel inhibited from turning to a person like Kushner to write his script on Munich?
We live in complex times. Israel remains the principal anchor for Jewish identity for most Jews. If, distinct from legitimate criticism of Israel, reputable Jewish organizations are willing to tolerate debates in which the verities of the Jewish state are undermined, we are paving the way for our own moral self-defeat. Diaspora Jews will simply not survive if they lack the backbone to purge the enemy from within. As Jews, we must not become absorbed into the moral turpitude associated with post-modernism which blurs distinctions between good and evil.
The writer chairs the Diaspora-Israel relations committee of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, and is a veteran international Jewish leader.
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