New York (CNSNews.com) - A prominent Jewish leader declared that movie actor and director Mel Gibson was "seriously infected" with anti-Semitic views, based on recent comments the Hollywood star has made regarding his upcoming movie, The Passion of Christ.
Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) said of Gibson, "I think he's infected -- seriously infected -- with some very, very serious anti-Semitic views."
Foxman made the remarks at a panel discussion titled "Mel Gibson's The Passion: A Conversation on Its Implications for Jews and Christians." The discussion took place during the 90th annual national meeting of the ADL in New York City on Thursday.
In an interview with CNSNews.com following the panel discussion, Foxman reiterated his comments about Gibson.
"[Gibson's] got classical anti-Semitic views. If he can say that there is a cabal out there of secular liberal Jews who are trying to blame the Holocaust on the Catholic Church, that's a classic anti-Semitic canard -- that Jews operate in cabals to get their way.
"If he can say that somebody will not permit him to make another move -- who? Jewish Hollywood? The ADL? When he can say that he now understands how Jesus felt now -- not before he made the film, not because the gospel inspired him, but now -- because he has been criticized and attacked. That's anti-Semitism," Foxman told CNSNews.com.
But William Donohue, president of the conservative Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights repudiated Foxman's comments about Gibson being "infected" with anti-Semitic views.
"I would regard this as the most singular irresponsible statement we have heard yet from any one of Mel Gibson's critics," Donohue told CNSNews.com.
Donohue said the comments about Gibson and his movie at the ADL panel discussion are what you would "expect from people in an asylum." Donohue, who has seen the movie, noted that none of the three panelists featured at the ADL meeting on Thursday had yet to see the film.
Conservative media critic Michael Medved also lambasted Foxman for his comments about Gibson.
"I respect the ADL, but what [Foxman] is doing is marginalizing himself," Medved told CNSNews.com. Medved, the author of the book Hollywood vs. America and a nationally syndicated radio talk show host, said it's "ridiculous" to say that Gibson holds anti-Semitic views.
"I think it's very sad, I really do. Sad and unnecessary," Medved, an orthodox Jew, said of Foxman's comments.
Foxman did attempt to qualify his assertion regarding Gibson's views towards Jews. "I don't think [Gibson's] the type of person who gets up in the morning and says 'I want to get the Jews.' But does he have attitudes that are anti-Semitic? Yes," Foxman said.
The Passion of Christ, set to open on February 25, 2004, depicts the final 12 hours of Christ's life in bloody detail. The $25-million movie, produced by Gibson's Icon Productions and distributed by Newmarket Films, strives to achieve authenticity by featuring only Latin and Aramaic dialogue with English subtitles. The Passion of Christstars actor James Caviezel as Christ and actress Monica Bellucci as Mary Magdalene.
During the panel discussion, Foxman warned of the danger that Passion plays about the crucifixion of Christ have historically posed to Jews, because they frequently reinforce the notion of collective Jewish guilt for the death of Jesus. Foxman cited Nazi leader Adolf Hitler's praise of a Passion play from the 1930s to illustrate his point.
"When Hitler walked out [of a Passion play] in 1934, he declared that 'the whole world over should see...this Passion play, then they will understand why I despise the Jews and why they deserve to die,'" Foxman told the crowd of about 400 attendees.
Even discussing the crucifixion of Christ in Church services has had a deleterious effect on Jews worldwide, according to Foxman. Foxman claimed that "hate crimes [against Jews] go up Easter week worldwide" because in many Christian churches, "the sermon is given about the passion (the suffering of Christ)."
Foxman noted that the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, which Gibson reportedly opposes, responded to centuries of anti-Semitic interpretations of Christ's crucifixion by issuing a document in 1965 called Nostra Aetate. That document officially repudiated anti-Semitism and the deicide charge. The church also issued guidelines in the 1980s for performing Passion plays designed to avoid anti-Semitic caricatures and overtones, according to Foxman.
Foxman vowed that he will not give up his public criticism of the Gibson's film.
"After [the] Holocaust, I don't have the luxury to keep quiet about concerns about" anti-Semitism, Foxman told reporters following the panel discussion.
Asked why many prominent Jews in Hollywood have not joined him in criticizing Gibson, Foxman responded, "It's sad, but that's the way it is."
"It is a club, like any other club of doctors or lawyers. So you have a club of Hollywood people, who are not willing to criticize and stand aside from that club," he told reporters.
'Not something I would say'
Sister Mary C. Boys, a liberal Catholic nun and a professor of Judeo-Christian Studies at New York's Union Theological Seminary, said based on what she has seen and heard, the movie "certainly goes 100 degrees against Catholic principles of interpretation of scripture." Boys was among an ad hoc group of scholars who produced a harsh public critique of an early script version of Gibson's film last spring.
But Boys distanced herself from Foxman's declaration that Gibson was "seriously infected" with anti-Semitic views.
"That's [Foxman's] view, it's not something that I would say," Boise told CNSNews.com.
"I have never called [Gibson] an anti-Semite nor have I ever demonized him," she added.
Boys mocked Gibson's reported comment that the "Holy Spirit" guided him during the production of the film.
Boys noted that the movie is already "dividing evangelicals and Catholics -- Catholics and Catholics, and Christians and Jews."
"I don't believe that [given the divisive] result that he could claim that the Holy Sprit is behind this," Boys said.
Boys summed up her concerns about the film, stating, "Our concern is what happens after people see the film? Will anti-Semitic actions happen or will attitudes against the Jews be exacerbated by this film? That is the question."
Steve Lyons, an ADL member from California who watched the panel discussion, said that Gibson might very well be an anti-Semite.
"From what I have read, it appears that way," Lyons told CNSNews.com .
Another panelist, Paula Fredriksen, a professor of Theology at Boston University and also one of the ad hoc scholars who harshly criticized the film last spring, believes Gibson's production will prove to be "an inflammatory movie."
Fredriksen said the movie continues the "toxic tradition of blaming the Jews for the death of Jesus."
"A movie like this could very possibly elicit violence against Jews," Fredriksen added.
But William Donohue of the Catholic League ridiculed Fredriksen's warning that Gibson's film may incite violence, andhe noted that there have been no reported incidences of violence associated with the recent release of the slasher film, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
"We are supposed to believe that Mel Gibson's movie will do what the evenThe Texas Chainsaw Massacre did not do, which is bring violence into the streets?" Donohue asked.
Kenneth Jacobson, the associate national director of the ADL, said the solution to ending the film controversy is for Gibson to alter the film and present the story "in a way that could be pleasing to Christians and not offend Jews."
Medved, who has seen the film said, "Mel Gibson is obviously uninterested in Foxman's input on the film and the movie will come out, win critical praise and become a box office hit in spite of any ADL fulminations."
Medved said the ADL's criticisms of Gibson's film are not helping Jews.
"My concern is that the campaign against The Passion is provoking far more anti-Semitism than the movie itself ever could," Medved said.
"It's a battle, frankly that the Jewish community doesn't need," he added.
'Verbal hate crime'
Jennifer Giroux, the foundation director of the group Women Influencing the Nation (W.I.N.) called the Foxman's statement that Gibson was "infected" with anti-Semitic views a "verbal hate crime."
Giroux, who founded the See the Passion website, called the ADL panel's rhetoric "intellectually reckless and irresponsible."
"I think [Foxman] has now defined what a verbal hate crime is, because he just committed it against Mel Gibson [on Thursday]" Giroux told CNSNews.com.
Several efforts to contact Gibson's Icon Production seeking reaction to the ADL's panel discussion were not returned, but Gibson has repudiated any suggestion that he or his movie promotes anti-Semitism.
On June 13, Gibson said in a statement published in the entertainment trade paper Variety, " The Passion is a movie meant to inspire, not offend."
"My intention in bringing it to the screen is to create a lasting work of art and engender serious thought among audiences of diverse faith backgrounds," Gibson stated.
"If the intense scrutiny during my 25 years in public life revealed I had ever persecuted or discriminated against anyone based on race or creed, I would be all too willing to make amends. But there is no such record," Gibson added.
See Earlier Article:
Mel Gibson's Film About Christ Still Stirring Passions ( June 17, 2003)
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