Remember the days when Mel was running around shooting people with Danny Glover in "Lethal Weapon," making us all feel warm and cuddly about an intimate, on-screen friendship between a white man and a black man? Is this the same Mel Gibson who has now staked a huge amount of his wealth and all of his Hollywood prestige on making a movie that portrays Jews as demonic god-killers?
Is it the same Mel who, in the upcoming March Reader's Digest, shockingly told Peggy Noonan, when she asked him whether the Holocaust happened, "Yes of course. Atrocities happened. War is horrible. The Second World War killed tens of millions of people. Some of them were Jews in concentration camps. Many people lost their lives. In the Ukraine several million starved to death between 1932 and 1933. During the last century 20 million people died in the Soviet Union." Is he really so insensitive as to equate horrible casualties of war with a government program of genocide that turned more than six million people into ash, soap, and lampshades?
I once greatly admired Mel Gibson not only as a quality actor but as a quality human being. He was one of the few Hollywood celebrities who seemed devoted to his wife and family, and as a father of seven, I had great admiration for another father of seven who saw the blessing, rather than the burden, of having lots of kids. As a religious man, I was greatly inspired by his commitment to his Catholicism.
But all that is behind me now. Because whether Mel hit his head against a rock, or just decided to follow in the footsteps of his Holocaust-denying, anti-Semitic father, the Mel Gibson who first charmed us as an innocent-looking Australian soldier in Gallipoli seems gone forever. In his place has arisen a kooky religious fundamentalist who seems intent on reversing the reforms of Vatican II, which officially absolved the Jews of deicide, and who seems intent on convincing the world that, indeed, the Jews killed Jesus.
If I were a high-profile person and was asked to comment on my father's statement in The New York Times Magazine last year that the "Second Vatican Council was a plot put out by the Jews," or on the idea that the Holocaust could not have happened because, as Hutton Gibson's wife says, "there weren't even that many Jews in all of Europe," I would shout from the rooftops that I love my dad, but that doesn't excuse his being a racist.
Instead, Mel has yet to publicly distance himself from his father's Jew-hating tirades. Contrast this with Arnold Schwarzenegger, who reacted to the news of his father's Nazi past by petitioning the Simon Wiesenthal Center to probe whether his father committed atrocities. Schwarzenegger went further and publicly denounced the Austrian far-right politician Joerg Haider, who praised Hitler's SS troops.
There may be a way to honor your parents while distancing yourself from their more extreme positions, but Gibson hasn't found it. After Frank Rich wrote in the New York Times that Gibson was using "P.R. spin to defend a Holocaust denier [his father]" Gibson, in the Sept. 15th, 2003 issue of the New Yorker, said of Frank Rich, "I want to kill him. I want his intestines on a stick....I want to kill his dog." Gibson explains in the article, "I don't want to be dissing my father. He never denied the Holocaust; he just said there were fewer than six million. I don't want to have them dissing my father. I mean, he's my father."
Very recently, Mel made one concession--he's now agreed to delete from the movie an especially offensive scene in which the Jewish high priest, Caiaphas, calls down a kind of curse on the Jewish people by declaring of the Crucifixion, "His blood be on us and on our children."
But did Gibson really want to do this? According to the New Yorker article, Gibson talked about the scene earlier last year. "I wanted it in..My brother said I was wimping out if I didn't include it. It happened; it was said, but man, if I included that in there, they'd be coming after me at my house, they'd come kill me." However, it now appears that Gibson removed the scene because it didn't do well in focus screenings with priests and ministers. "Maybe it was thought to be too hurtful, or taken not in the way it was intended," said an anonymous Gibson associate, quoted in the New York Times. "It has been used terribly over the years."
While Mel may be prepared to do Jews the favor of deleting a single offensive scene, the whole anti-Semitic message is odious. Is there really a more serious charge against a people than that they killed G-d? Saying the Jews killed Jesus is to make every Jew the anti-Christ, possessed of dark, demonic forces. Is it surprising that this charge has led to the slaughter of so many Jews? Would any moral person have a problem killing Satan?
The simple and undeniable fact is that the Jews did not kill Jesus. He was condemned in a Roman court on a Roman charge, and put to death by a method of execution only used by the Romans, just as the two leading historians of the time, Josephus and Tacitus, expressly maintain. Jesus was put to death by Pontius Pilate, known as the Saddam Hussein of his time, a murderer of unspeakable cruelty. As I wrote in an earlier piece, "The idea that Pilate would take orders from the Jews about who should live and who should die is not just implausible but laughable."