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Shadows of Doubt: Spielberg’s Emotional Propaganda in the Face of Conflict

Spielberg's portrayal of Israeli-Palestinian tensions: the fine line between emotional storytelling and historical propaganda
Steven Spielberg

In December 2023, Steven Spielberg spoke out about the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel, expressing shock at the barbarity against Jews. “I never imagined I would see such unspeakable barbarity against Jews in my lifetime,” Spielberg said. His statement was released through the USC Shoah Foundation, which he founded to collect testimonies from survivors of the Israel-Hamas conflict and the Holocaust. Spielberg emphasized the importance of these testimonies in countering the rise of antisemitism and hatred. The Foundation is also involved in documenting post-Holocaust antisemitism. The wife of filmmaker Yahav Winner, who was killed in the attack, shared her harrowing experience of escaping with her newborn daughter while her husband confronted a Hamas terrorist. This testimony and others are part of Spielberg and the Foundation’s efforts to record and share survivor stories to fight against antisemitism and hatred.

That’s commendable, but if he doesn’t also cover the ongoing Israeli war crimes in Gaza, with testimonies from Palestinian survivors, then he’s exploiting emotions to justify the ongoing genocide. Emotional fallacy sidesteps reasoning. Spielberg used this tactic in his movie Munich, which depicted Israeli retaliation after the Munich Olympics massacre: an Israeli squad illegally eliminated, in Europe and the Middle East, 11 Palestinians believed by Israel to be behind the murder of 11 Israeli athletes. At the movie’s end, Avner Kaufmann, the Mossad officer leading the squad, expresses doubts about the guilt of the slain Palestinians in a conversation with another Mossad member in New York. Then Spielberg forces a connection: as Avner walks away, the Twin Towers loom in the background. An absurd but emotionally powerful link that seems to retroactively justify the illegal Israeli retaliation of 1972. And if you watch Munich today, that imagery also seems to justify the current illegal retaliation. That’s how emotional propaganda works.

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