Fresh anti-Semitism charge against Gibson’s Jesus film

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter, June 25, 2003
By Gregg Kilday

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) – Continuing to raise concerns over “The Passion,” the Mel Gibson-directed film about the last days of Jesus Christ, the Anti-Defamation League of America (ADL) says that based on a study of an early version of the screenplay, the project could be “replete with objectionable elements that would promote anti-Semitism.”

The ADL embraced the findings of an interfaith committee of scholars that has raised objections to the unreleased film — even though the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has distanced itself from the same group.

In its statement on Tuesday, the ADL contended that Gibson and his collaborators “must complement their artistic vision with sound scholarship, which includes knowledge of how the passion accounts have been used historically to disparage and attack Jews and Judaism. Absent such scholarly and theological understanding, productions such as ‘The Passion’ could likely falsify history and fuel the animus of those who hate Jews.”

“To be certain, neither I nor my film are anti-Semitic,” Gibson said in a previously released statement, which his spokesman provided in response to the latest allegation.

“Nor do I hate anybody — certainly not the Jews,” continued Gibson, who is a devout Catholic. “They are my friends and associates, both in my work and social life. Thankfully, treasured friendships forged over decades are not easily shaken by nasty innuendo. Anti-Semitism is not only contrary to my personal beliefs, it is also contrary to the core message of my movie.”

Gibson directed “The Passion,” which he also co-wrote and produced through his Icon Entertainment banner, in Italy earlier this year. Filmed in Aramaic and Latin, the project stars James Caviezel as Christ and has not yet been shown to potential distributors.

The ADL first began to raise concerns about the film in March, in both a letter to the New York Times and a letter addressed to Gibson that the organisation posted on its website.

The controversy erupted again earlier this month when a report was leaked to the media that had been prepared by scholars, associated with both the ADL and the USCCB, based on a study of an early version of the script and containing a long list of objections.

The USCCB, however, quickly dissociated itself from the report, with Mark Chopko, general counsel for the USCCB, saying: “We regret the situation has occurred and offer our apologies. … When the film is released, the USCCB will review it at the time.”

In its current statement, the ADL says it “fully stands behind” the scholars’ report and raises a series of questions such as, “Will the final version of ‘The Passion’ continue to portray Jews as bloodthirsty, sadistic and money-hungry enemies of Jesus?”

Myrna Shinbaum, a spokesperson for the ADL, said the group issued its first official public statement on the subject Tuesday in response to repeated press inquiries.

“When these kind of issues are raised and we feel concern, we speak out even before the film has been made,” she said, acknowledging that the concerns are based on an early version of the screenplay. “We haven’t seen it yet, so we can’t speak to the film itself.

“In expressing our concerns,” Shinbaum added, “we hope we can have a dialogue with Gibson and Icon to allay the fears of the Jewish community.”

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