In the history of cinema, few movies have generated as much controversy as Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ." Gibson, either by accident or design, has created a film that has given the Jew-haters of the world an old weapon with a new edge. He has revived in excruciating cinematic detail the ancient charge of deicide against Jews.
That false charge, which holds all Jews from ancient times to the present day responsible for the death of Jesus, has caused the deaths of huge numbers of Jews, millions if you include those slaughtered during the last century in concentration camps. Millions more have been assaulted. Not until 1965 did the Catholic Church under Pope Paul VI end the charge of deicide. At the Second Vatican Council, called into session by Pope John XXIII in 1962, the Council in a statement entitled "Nostra Aetate" stated the following: "What was perpetrated against (the Lord) in His Passion cannot be imputed either to all the Jewish people of that time or the Jewish people of our time.Accordingly, all must be careful that nothing is taught about this matter in preaching or in catechizing that fails to agree with the truth of the Gospel and the Spirit of Christ." The current Pope, John Paul II, said in 1986, "No ancestral or collective blame can be imputed to the Jews as a people for what happened in Christ's Passion: not indiscriminately to the Jews of that time, nor to those who came afterwards, nor to those of today."
Nevertheless, the false charge of deicide continues to be made, particularly in Eastern Europe and Russia, where the Eastern Orthodox Church which never had anything comparable to Vatican II, exerts substantial influence. The charge of deicide is even heard today in Catholic Poland, albeit less frequently than in the past.
Gibson's movie graphically depicts the many humiliations suffered by Jesus during the last day of his life. It portrays Jews as responsible for demanding the arrest of Jesus and his ultimate death by crucifixion at the hands of the Roman Governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate. Pilate is portrayed more sympathetically, even though he ordered the crucifixion.
Only time will tell whether Gibson's movie will actually increase anti-Jewish feeling throughout the world. The movie will be seen throughout Europe and the Middle East, and you can bet anti-Semites will use it to spread even greater anti-Jewish sentiment.
Christian friends of Jews will likely not change their loyalties as a result of Mel Gibson's movie. As was recently pointed out to me at a speaking engagement in California, the Pentecostals (Protestants) in the U.S. are particularly supportive of Jews and the State of Israel. I had made a plea for Jews to work to improve relations with Catholics and other Christians, because Jews number only 13 million in the whole world and many Muslims, of which there are 1.2 billion, want to destroy Israel and are bent on killing and assaulting Jews everywhere. A member of my audience-an older Jewish woman-said, "Mayor I am uncomfortable with the 70 million Pentecostals who support Israel. They do that because they believe Jesus as Messiah can not return until the Jews are in full possession of the Holy Land. They believe when He returns, we must all convert or we will all die." I replied, "Look, if a verifiable Messiah comes among us, the first question you should ask Him is 'Are you Jewish?' If He replies 'yes,' then you must ask Him, 'Is this your first or second visit?' If He says 'first,' then we were right. If He says 'second,' we should convert."
Gibson has told TV interviewers he is shocked to be called an anti-Semite. He says he loves Jews and often prays for us. Instead, Gibson should pray for forgiveness for what he has done. His revival of the false charge of deicide may spark new violence against Jews at a time when anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic violence is spiraling out of control.
During [the] Academy Awards show, the deaths of film artists occurring in the last year were noted. Leni Riefenstahl, who wrote, produced and directed "Triumph of the Will" was mentioned. The objective of her film was to create a worldwide sense of the invincibility of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany. She succeeded. I propose that a new Academy Award be established in her infamous name and that Mel Gibson be its first recipient.