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Zeffirelli Denies ‘scum’ Slur in Letter to Jewish Leader

Italian film director Franco Zeffirelli has assured an American Jewish leader that he never uttered an anti-Semitic slur attributed to him last week by the Italian media.

In a letter to Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum, international relations director of the American Jewish Committee, Zeffirelli also demands apologies for “the plethora of statements made against me by prominent members of various American Jewish organizations.”

He refers specifically to AJCommittee’s director of interreligious affairs, Rabbi A. James Rudin. Last week Rudin issued a statement calling the slur a “barbaric, poisonous sentiment.”

Italian newspapers reported Aug. 3 that Zeffirelli referred to “that Jewish cultural scum in Los Angeles” while criticizing “The Last Temptation of Christ,” the controversial film directed by Martin Scorsese that is to be released Aug. 12.

The remark was reportedly a reference to Lew Wasserman, chairman of the MCA conglomerate, and other Jewish principals in the corporation, whose Universal Pictures subsidiary is producing the film.

In denying the remarks to Tanenbaum, Zeffirelli said the words “Jewish cultural scum” were actually those of an Italian reporter.

“One reporter wanted to know what I thought of Lew Wasserman, the man that a group of fundamentalists in the States referred to as being part of ‘that larger group of Hollywood Jewish scum.’ That was the question posed to me,” writes Zeffirelli.

“I said I didn’t know anything about Mr. Wasserman being a Jew or being scum,” he adds.

Zeffirelli reminds Tanenbaum of their working relationship during the filming of the Catholic director’s own, reverent “Jesus of Nazareth.”

Tanenbaum was one of three rabbis Zeffirelli consulted to make sure the film “did not become merely more fuel for the fires of prejudice and hatred.”

‘A TERRIBLY BUM RAP’

“I would have hoped that members of the American Jewish Committee, Hadassah, B’nai B’rith, the World Jewish Congress and the Jewish community at large had the ability to recognize who their friends are in the world,” writes Zeffirelli.

In a response to the letter sent Tuesday, Tanenbaum writes that Zeffirelli had gotten “a terribly bum rap.”

“I have never collaborated with any creative filmmaker who has shown as you have such reverence for Judaism and the Jewish people,” he writes.

According to Tanenbaum, the charges made against the director by other Jewish leaders were made “impulsively and irresponsibly.” He added that Rudin’s condemnatory statement was “a personal one that does not represent the official views” of the AJCommittee.

In a telephone interview, Rudin defended his original decision to criticize Zeffirelli, saying it was based on a report by National Public Radio.

Zeffirelli has taken out full-page advertisements in Hollywood trade publications denying he made the slur.

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