Michael Medved on Mel Gibson’s arrest

A few readers yesterday disagreed with my reaction to the story of Mel Gibson’s arrest and the anti-Semitic comments he made during the arrest.

Michael Medved today has written a piece that I think we can all find some common ground on, in particular:

4. At a time of surging Jew-hatred around the world, Gibson’s drunken, after-midnight remarks to arresting officers on a lonely stretch of Malibu highway represent a less serious threat to the Jewish people than the very public anti-Semitic and anti-Israel comments by numerous celebrities, academics, UN officials and politicians. In April of 1996, for instance, the Oscar-winning actor Marlon Brando declared on Larry King Live: “Hollywood is run by Jews, owned by Jews, and they should have greater sensitivity about the issue of people who are suffering. Because they have exploited….We’ve seen everything but we never saw the Kike.” The Anti-Defamation League criticized Brando, of course, but never suggested that he should be ostracized and boycotted, as they recently demanded in Gibson’s case. Meanwhile, Gibson had already attempted a public apology for his loathesome private remarks, declaring that “I acted like a person who was completely out of control when I was arrested and said things that I do not believe to be true and which are despicable.I am deeply ashamed of everything I said.” Compare this contrition to the unapologetic, and ceaselessly repeated attacks on Israel by another controversial Hollywood director, Michael Moore, who declared in Liverpool (quoted in the New York Times, June 26, 2004) that the embattled Jewish state represented one of the modern world’s centers of evil: “It’s all part of the same ball of wax, right? The oil companies, Israel, Halliburton.” Ironically, Michael Moore’s agent, Ari Emanuel (brother of a Democratic Congressman from Illinois), is one of the entertainment industry figures leading the charge to demand that the show biz establishment blacklist Gibson.

That’s a point I made in more general terms on yesterday’s Allman and Smash show: Yes, the issue of Gibson’s comments needed to be discussed, but what should really be cause for alarm are statements that have the potential to undermine Israel’s very existence that come from people who are in positions of influence (like UN officials, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Jimmy Carter and Ed Peck, Islamic scholars, etc).

5. The “Mad Mel” Moment in Malibu may change the way we perceive the dark hatred that lurks within Gibson’s heart but it alters nothing about the images and messages he put on screen in “The Passion of the Christ.” It’s still the same movie, frame for frame, line for Aramaic-and-Latin line, that it was before his tirade and arrest. The tens of millions of people who felt overpowered and inspired and uplifted by a remarkable piece of cinema need not now apologize because they responded in good faith to the work of a deeply flawed, bigoted filmmaker. Mel Gibson’s personal disgrace makes me feel pity for his family but it does nothing to force my reconsideration of my critical admiration of his movie. At the time of its release, I argued vehemently against hysterical charges (many of them emanating from people who hadn’t even seen the film) that “The Passion” represented some vicious, anti-Semitic screed, and I also decried dire predictions (“He’ll have blood on his hands,” thundered one commentator in The New Republic) that the movie would inspire anti-Jewish incidents around the world. I tell the story of my high profile involvement in this dispute in my recent book RIGHT TURNS (everyone should read it!), and in the aftermath of Mel’s meltdown and arrest I wouldn’t change a word of it. The fact remains that all the predictions of pogroms in Pittsburgh proved preposterous: while earning some 1 billion dollars in movie theatres and on DVD, “The Passion” inspired no anti-Semitic incidents anywhere in the world. In fact, several surveys of audience attitudes showed that anti-Jewish sentiments actually decreased when movie-goers saw the film. The worst part of this latest controversy is that Gibson’s revolting statements give people like Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League a juicy, retroactive excuse to say “I told you so” — long after the benign and warm-hearted worldwide reaction to the movie had utterly undermined all the smug denunciations claiming that this wildly popular entertainment would foment implacable hate.

6. Once again, the most visible leaders of the Jewish community are in the process of horribly mishandling this latest incident with their indignant denunciations of Gibson’s initial attempts to apologize, and their profoundly ill-considered calls for ostracism and banishment of one of today’s most influential and successful filmmakers. After Gibson’s comments on the incident (which included the abject line “I disgraced myself and my family with my behavior and for that I am truly sorry”) Abe Foxman of the ADL officiallly categorized this apology as “unremorseful and insufficient.” Aside from obvious questions about who appointed Foxman as the ultimate judge of Gibson’s damnation and possible redemption, doesn’t it seem patently unfair to describe a statement that includes the words “I disgraced myself” as “unremorseful.”? Even worse, Foxman concludes the official ADL statement with the words: “We would hope that Hollywood now would realize the bigot in their midst and that they will distance themselves from the anti-Semite.” Super-agent Ari Emanuel calls even more unequivocally for a new industry blacklist that focuses, for now, on Mel Gibson alone: “People in the entertainment community, whether Jew or gentile, need to demonstrate that they understand how much is at stake in this by professionally shunning Mel Gibson and refusing to work with him, even if it means a sacrifice to their bottom line.” The most ill-considered aspect of such calls for “distancing” and “shunning” is that they stand no chance of eliminating Gibson’s ability to make movies (he has enough money to pay for his projects himself for the rest of his life, just as he did with “The Passion of the Christ”) or destroying his influence on popular culture. Like it or not, Mel Gibson will not simply disappear (though he might well take some time off for rehab) and the Jewish community will hardly benefit by isolating him as a permanent enemy and encouraging him in the far more open expression of anti-Semitic attitudes. Does Ari Emanuel believe it would somehow help the Jewish cause if his client, Michael Moore, could now welcome a new colleague –Mel Gibson — as a participant in the poisonously anti-Israel rallies, conferences and demonstrations that Mr. Moore regularly addresses? Those who believe that Gibson’s anti-Semitism couldn’t get any worse simply lack imagination. Public amplification of the bigotry that Mel revealed privately in Malibu might well spoil his popularity in the United States, but imagine how it could boost his already considerable following in Europe, Latin America, and the former Soviet Union– not to mention the Islamic world!

Read it all.

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