When news hit several weeks ago that Mel Gibson is working on a new movie project about the Maccabees, I thought “O boy – here we go again!”
Given Mel’s penchant for bloody and gory stories, the Jewish civil war that raged 2175 years ago in the Judean hills between the extreme Hellenized Jews and the traditional Jewish priestly class (i.e. the Hasmoneans) seems a natural for him. A film-maker of Gibson’s abilities and notoriety will probably net him and everyone associated with the film a fortune, not that he needs the money!
Already, Jews are worrying. Given Gibson’s offensive track record concerning Jews (e.g. the anti-Semitic “Passion of the Christ”, his drunken anti-Semitic rant on the PCH and his father’s anti-Vatican II and philo-Nazi sentiments), we have come out of the woodwork to comment – me included.
What can we expect in Gibson’s treatment of our uniquely Jewish story of Judah Maccabee and the Maccabean Wars? Will he distort the history beyond recognition? Will he cast the story in a self-serving way that characterizes Jews, ancient and modern, using negative stereotypes? We can’t know at this point as no one has seen a script, and we can only hope for the best.
A more immediate question: Is Mel Gibson an anti-Semite? His history suggests that he is, but I’m not so sure. Though it’s usually true that if a creature looks like a duck, walks like a duck and talks like a duck, it’s a duck, I have questions about what Gibson really believes and feels about Judaism and the Jewish people based on what people who know him say about him.
My friend, Alan Nierob, is one of Gibson’s chief public defenders. Alan is Gibson’s long-time publicist and so, understandably, it is his job to manage Gibson’s image, but Alan also considers Gibson a friend and has told me for years that Gibson is not an anti-Semite. Alan is a child of Holocaust survivors, and I would think that if he believed Gibson were anti-Semitic, he would fire him just as Ari Emanuel did immediately after Gibson’s long-time agent died this past year.
I am also cautious to characterize Gibson as an anti-Semite because Rabbi Irwin Kula, President of Clal, The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership based in New York, is consulting with Gibson about the Maccabee movie. I can’t imagine that Rabbi Kula would do so if he thought Gibson were an anti-Semite.
This past week The LA Jewish Journal featured a substantial four-column expose, “Could Gibson Be Good for the Maccabees?” (written by Danielle Berrin) on Gibson and the run-up to this movie. It is an excellent piece that addresses all the relevant issues, interviews Gibson’s friends and foes as well as a number of Jewish leaders. It is worth reading (see below).
In the meantime, though Gibson has not asked the Jewish community for forgiveness for his past misdeeds and insensitivity to our tradition and people (note: without a sincere request for s’lichah – forgiveness, we are under no obligation to forgive), we need to remember that forgiveness is more about us than about the person who hurt us. To continue to nurture the wounds inflicted upon us long ago gives ultimate victory to the perpetrator. On that basis alone, it is best that we (regardless of what the other says or does) move on, live our lives forward, not bother ourselves overly much with who Gibson is or isn’t, and wait to see what comes of his project.
L’shanah tovah u-m’tukah!