The Mel Gibson affair
By now the whole world knows that the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department reports that after being stopped for drunken driving early on the morning of July 28, actor Mel Gibson began yelling about the "blanking" Jews who start all the wars in the world.
Within a few hours Gibson publicly admitted that he had "said things that I do not believe to be true and which are despicable. I am deeply ashamed of everything I said, and I apologize to anyone who I have offended."
Immediately thereafter, one of the self-anointed Jewish "leaders" proclaimed with breathtaking chutzpah that Mel Gibson's apology is unremorseful and insufficient. "It's not a proper apology because it does not go to the essence of his bigotry and his anti-Semitism," he said. "We would hope that Hollywood now would realize the bigot in their midst and that they will distance themselves from this anti-Semite."
It is all too easy to join the circling hyenas and denounce Gibson while he is down. On the other hand, though he has provided some financial support to my organization, Toward Tradition, I don't feel obliged to leap to his defense. That is not the purpose behind my writing this column.
The purpose of my writing this account is to respond to the question of how recent events have affected my views of the man and his work. It also is to place a gentle restraining hand upon the shoulder of those in the Jewish community making yet another mistake.
There really are anti-Semites in this world of ours right now who not only wish to destroy all Jews but are doing all within their powers to bring that about. Does the name Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian leader, suggest anything?
Does it really make a lot of sense to treat Mel Gibson as a threat to Jews anywhere?
As for the remarks Gibson made while intoxicated, ancient Jewish wisdom informs us that one way we can know what a person is really like is by how he behaves when he is drunk. From this we can safely assume that Mel Gibson doesn't think much of Jews.
However, there is another nugget of ancient Jewish wisdom emphasizing that we owe atonement for that which lies in our hearts, only to God.
If I have an unworthy thought in my heart about you, I need to make good with God but I don't owe you an apology unless I act upon that thought. We humans are morally obliged to make good to other people only for those things we do and not for any thoughts we have in our minds.
Let us address Gibson's apology. I have no way of knowing what is in Mel Gibson's heart but I do know that he has no need to act obsequiously toward Jews or curry favor with us. If Gibson never makes another film, he will still be able to buy gas for his Lexus. He is not a politician trying to win an election after an imprudent remark, like Georgia state Rep. Billy McKinney, who blamed "J-E-W-S" after his daughter, U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney, was defeated in a congressional primary in 2002.
By the way, there was virtually no Jewish criticism of that remark for which there was little apology and which was not made while Billy was drunk. More cynical observers than I suggest it might have something to do with the McKinneys being Democrats.
The same explanation could probably be advanced for why Marlon Brando's infamous outburst on "Larry King Live", about the "kikes" running Hollywood, also received pretty much of a free pass. And Brando was sober.
Filmmaker and Democrat propagandist Michael Moore has made the most preposterous statements about Israel for which he has never apologized and for which the Jewish community has never criticized him. For instance, he has identified Israel as one of the epicenters of evil in the world; he has explained how "Arabs came up with the idea that Americans are supporting Israel in its oppression of the Palestinian people when a Palestinian child looked up in the air and saw an American Apache helicopter firing a missile into his baby sister's bedroom just before she was blown into a hundred bits."
Yet, Gibson publicly apologized and the Jewish response was so beyond ungracious that one must ask, what exactly would Gibson have had to do or say in order to win Jewish absolution• Furthermore one would have to ask, why would any rampant bigot even bother to do this• I haven't heard any apologies from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The next question is, what effect do recent events have on what I wrote about the movie "The Passion of the Christ" in February 2004?
Weeks before its release, I made four predictions:
- Mel Gibson and Icon Productions will make a great deal of money. (I was right.)
- "Passion" will become famous as one of the most serious and substantive biblical movies ever made. (I was right.)
- The faith of millions of Christians would become more fervent as "Passion" uplifts and inspires them. (I was right.)
- There would be no anti-Semitic incidents perpetrated by those exiting the theater after viewing the movie. (I was right. In fact every poll revealed an increase in philo-Semitic feeling among viewers.)
I also explained that those Jewish organizations that have squandered both time and money futilely protesting "Passion," ostensibly in order to prevent pogroms in Pittsburgh, can hardly be proud of their performance. They failed at everything they attempted. They were hoping to ruin Gibson rather than enrich him. They were hoping to suppress "Passion" rather than promote it. Finally, they were hoping to help Jews rather than harm them.
Nothing I wrote then about "The Passion" has changed.
This incident helps me explain why I am on record as opposing "hate-crime" legislation. It is time for all Americans and particularly American Jews to grow up and recognize that you cannot force anyone to love or even like anyone else. You cannot force people to love Jews, Christians, women, men, blacks, white, handicapped people or people who drive red cars.
We most definitely can and must insist on lawful behavior and we must demand respectful interaction. However we must stop pretending we can police people's thoughts. I know of nobody who would be willing to be hooked up to a machine that would disclose his innermost thoughts to the world.
If Mel Gibson really does hate Jews, as his drunken diatribe might indicate, his behavior toward the many Jews he knows has always been nothing but cordial and respectful. He has never supported (as have too many Jews) Palestinian causes and other organizations that encourage the murder of Jews.
Amazingly, Mel Gibson has utterly resisted the natural human temptation to snap back at the "Jewish Establishment" for its vicious assaults on "The Passion of the Christ."
He deserves censure for being drunk and for the anti-Semitic remarks. But he already knows that -- which is why he apologized. A balanced and reasonable view would be that if indeed he really does hate Jews, then he deserves respect for his self-control when not drunk.
I would rather be surrounded by people who hate me in their heart but whose conduct toward me and my property is exemplary than by people who love me in their hearts but who kill my cat, kick my kids and key my car.
I would be very happy to switch today's dangerous Muslim Jew-haters for Muslims who hate me only in their hearts but who act toward Jews with nobility and kindness.
My question for Jews, especially the heads of the alphabet organizations, is this: Which is more likely to lead to increased affection and respect for Jews everywhere• Recognizing that human prejudices exist and working respectfully and amicably to change people's minds and hearts, or grabbing headlines by strident accusations full of self-righteousness and intolerance?
I believe that most people know the right answer.
Rabbi Daniel Lapin is founder and president of Toward Tradition, a national bridge-building organization of Jews and Christians and a talk-show host on San Francisco's KSFO radio.