I recently had the opportunity to talk by phone with Lior Raz, who plays Isser Harel in Operation Finale, the story of the 1960 Israeli covert mission to capture Adolph Eichmann in Argentina. Since Lior is an Israeli, I focused on the importance of this story in Israel today.
How much does the story of the Eichmann capture and trial still resonates in Israel?
In Israel, it is a story that every kid knows. Because we are learning about the Holocaust since we are very young. We are learning about what happened there, and what Israel did, and about the Eichmann trial, and all the evidence. So I was very familiar with this story of Adolph Eichmann and the capture of him.
So does that bring a special meaning for you to be in a film like this?
Of course. I think it’s a very important movie now. And I think it’s important because in those days we had genocide, we had racism, we had antisemitism all over the world. I think this movie comes out and shows the world: don’t forget what happened and we don’t want history to repeat itself. We need to stop it. We can’t stand outside and just watch horrible things happening. So being an Israeli, and a Jew, and a man with a family, it’s very important that these values go to everyone in the world.
The film plays out as a thriller. I’m not sure how much was added to enhance that aspect, but it is true that they were trying to get Eichmann out of the country while Argentine forces were trying to find them, right?
That’s true. It happened. Those people in the Mossad, what happened to them was very dangerous for them and the people who helped them. All the agents risked their lives in order to bring someone to justice in Israel, and not just kill them over there to revenge. And still those Mossad people do crazy stuff every day that we don’t know, but it was amazing what they did then.
It was interesting that Israel made the decision that they wanted Eichmann brought back to Israel for trial, not just to assassinate him.
Because it is very easy to assassinate. The decision was a very hard decision. It was Israel’s decision to bring him to justice and not to kill him over there. This decision is about morality. It’s about real justice. I think in those days in Israel all the Holocaust survivors wanted another way of revenge. It was to hear everything that happened and to be heard. So the trial was well published and it was on television every day. And it was a big thing in those days in Israel, people just wanted to be there and to understand what happened. To see this mastermind, master of evil, come to justice in a Jewish state.
I think that was an important decision, and as it plays out in the movie it was hard for those taking part in the capture because it was personal for them.
Yes, it is. But one thing, as you know, you have to be better than him. It was the easy way to assassinate him. But although all of them had been hurt by the Holocaust in a way, they were very professional, and just wanted to bring him back to Israel.