Gibson seeks olive branch from ADL
Feb. 1, 2004
ReligionNewsBlog.com • Monday February 2, 2004
As the controversial movie “The Passion of the Christ” nears its Feb. 25 opening, director Mel Gibson has sent a conciliatory letter to his sharpest critic asking for a halt in the volley of recriminations.
As in some latter-day Cold War, in which the sides alternate sniping with pleas for detente, Gibson asked Abraham Foxman to join him in “setting an example for all our brethren” by following the path of respect and “love for each other despite our differences.”
Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, could not be reached for comment on the letter, which Gibson sent Friday (Jan. 30).
The Los Angeles Times, which obtained a copy of Gibson’s letter, said that although the director did not address fears that the film might reignite anti-Jewish religious prejudices, Gibson assured Foxman that “I do not take your concerns lightly.”
For almost a year, Foxman and other Jewish spokesmen have warned that “The Passion,” by graphically dramatizing Jewish responsibility for the death of Jesus, could revive old anti-Semitic libels and set back Catholic-Jewish relations.
Gibson has turned a cold shoulder to Foxman’s repeated requests to preview the film and discuss its content. However, the ADL leader and a colleague managed to infiltrate a screening of the unfinished film for a group of Protestant ministers on Jan. 21 in Orlando, Fla.
Afterwards, Foxman issued a statement charging, “at every single opportunity, Gibson’s film reinforces the notion that the Jewish authorities and the Jewish mob are the ones ultimately responsible for the Crucifixion.”
Despite this criticism, two days after viewing the film, Foxman dispatched a letter to Gibson in a distinctly milder tone.
“We would like to sit with you to discuss our fears concerning the unintended consequences than might be unleashed when your film is presented to the public,” wrote Foxman.
He closed the letter by saying, “We can only hope that your Passion will move all people in a positive way and we again hope that we can be your partners in this critical enterprise.”
In another change of tone, however, on Jan. 25 the Palm Beach Post in Florida ran a sharply worded op-ed commentary by Foxman and Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor, ADL’s interfaith consultant.
The op-ed accused Gibson of producing the film “with willful disregard for the opinions and outreach efforts of mainstream Jewish organizations and many Catholic and Jewish scholars.”
In addition, “The Jews are portrayed continually as bloodthirsty and vengeful,” the op-ed continued.
Foxman and numerous Catholic scholars contend that such a depiction goes directly counter to the Second Vatican Council ruling in 1965 that Jews do not bear a collective responsibility for the death of Jesus.
However, Gibson belongs to a “traditionalist” offshoot of the Catholic Church, which rejects all reforms, as well as the legitimacy of the popes, over the last 40 years.
Adding to what has become a journalistic cottage industry is the weekend report that the Reader’s Digest, which claims some 40 million readers, will publish an extensive interview with Gibson in its March issue. It will hit the newsstands on Feb. 24, the day before the film’s opening on Ash Wednesday.
In the article, according to the Reuters news agency, Gibson claims that he was surprised by the intensity of the controversy spawned by “The Passion.”
“It kind of put me back on my heels a little bit,” he is quoted in an interview conducted by Peggy Noonan, a speechwriter for President Ronald Reagan and then-Vice President George Bush.
Gibson also objects that “My detractors would say that it [the movie] is going to promote hatred. I disagree. I think that’s utter nonsense. The absurdity of that staggers me.”
One of the ironies of the Gibson-Foxman face-off is that the ADL leader has perhaps closer ties to the Catholic Church than any other Jewish leader.
Born in 1940 in Poland, Foxman was hidden during World War II by his Catholic nanny, who had him baptized and raised in her faith. Had his parents not survived the Holocaust, wrote Foxman, “I might have even become a priest.
“I have a tremendous love and respect for the church that gave me life again,” he said. But his concerns about the negative portrayal of Jews in “The Passion” are heightened because “It is likely that more people will see [the film] in two months than saw all the Passion plays staged in the previous 2,000 years.”
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