Mel Gibson is in trouble with the Jewish community again. In 2004, Gibson produced a movie based on the death of Jesus, "The Passion of the Christ," which was both highly successful and controversial. Many people felt the movie depicted Jews in hateful stereotypes and would stir up anti-Semitism among Christians, who were the film’s target audience.
But even for those who rejected claims that "The Passion" was anti-Semitic (as I did when the film came out), Gibson’s vicious tirade against Jews a few days ago when he was arrested for drunk-driving leaves little doubt about his personal views. Gibson’s vile accusation that "Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world" is proof enough for me that the man is an anti-Semite.
Gibson has now issued a mea culpa for his attacks: "I want to apologize specifically to everyone in the Jewish community for the vitriolic and harmful words that I said to a law enforcement officer the night I was arrested on a DUI charge," he said in a written statement. But he also went on to claim, "I am not an anti-Semite. I am not a bigot," and he seemed to blame his alcoholism for his actions. He even implied that because his Catholic faith forbids "hatred of any kind," that he couldn’t possibly be an anti-Semite.
Of course this defense is nonsense. The Catholic Church defines anti-Semitism as a sin, and, Heaven knows, Catholics are as capable of sinning as anyone else. Ironically, Gibson seems to be aware that admitting he is an alcoholic is a necessary prerequisite to overcoming his alcoholism. So, he should understand that admitting his anti-Semitic prejudices are the first step to ridding himself of them.
Anti-Semitism is one of the oldest and ugliest forms of bigotry, which even the horror of the Holocaust has not seemed to eradicate. One would think that after the systematic torture and murder of 6 million innocent men, women and children, the world would recoil at Jew-baiting. But that has not happened. Indeed, some forms of anti-Semitic stereotyping seem on the rise.
Gibson’s claim that Jews have caused all the world’s wars is only a less subtle and more grandiose version of the current mantra that "neoconservatives" have led us into war in Iraq. Make no mistake, most critics on both the left and right who inveigh against "neoconservatives" really mean "the Jews" or "Jewish influence" has caused this war. Old-fashioned anti-Semitism used to blame "Jewish bankers" for controlling the world, now, apparently, it’s Jewish intellectuals who pull the strings. The Rothschilds have been replaced as villains by Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, William Kristol and Charles Krauthammer.
Many liberals, who recognize anti-Semitism when Mel Gibson is spewing it, however, are less willing to tackle the new anti-Semitism that blames Jews for involving the United States in the current war in Iraq. These modern conspiracy theorists are simply reworking ancient stereotypes to fit a new mold. In this bigoted view, Jews are only interested in themselves, have no loyalty to the nation of their birth or citizenship, and are willing to sacrifice others’ lives to advance an agenda that benefits their co-religionists. You can hear these sentiments, barely veiled, when Pat Buchanan or Air America start spinning stories about the neoconservatives and their supposedly wild ambitions.
Mel Gibson may yet be rehabilitated from his delusional thinking. After all, he has reached out to the Jewish community and asked for forgiveness in the wake of his drunken outburst. And chances are, his prejudices stem from growing up with a father who disliked Jews and passed on his fears to his son.
If Gibson can face his own bigotry, he might let go of it. I am less confident that the new anti-Semitism will be eradicated as easily, in part because its adherents will never admit their thinking is disordered in the first place. But the bigger danger is that others won’t recognize this anti-Semitism for what it is because it relies on code words rather than straightforward hate speech.