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Across the Former Soviet Union ‘Passion’ May Draw Lawsuit in Russia Even As It Fails to Generate Muc

May 3, 2004
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A Russian human rights group said it would examine the possibility of filing a lawsuit against the producers of the movie "The Passion of the Christ" and the Russian company that is distributing it.

Alexander Brod, director of the Moscow Bureau on Human Rights, which is affiliated with the Washington-based Union of Councils for Jews in the Former Soviet Union, said the decision to consider a lawsuit was made after his office received complaints from several local Jewish communities that expressed fears the movie could spur anti-Semitism.

"We have received at least five such letters from Jewish leaders who believe that the movie propagates the anti-Semitic myth about the collective guilt of the Jewish people for the crucifixion of Christ," Brod told JTA.

He said the final decision about whether to file a lawsuit would be made soon. In the meantime, his group is awaiting responses from Russian Orthodox, Catholic and Jewish officials, as well as other experts, on the matter.

A spokesman for Central Partnership, the Russian company that is distributing the movie, which opened in Russia on April 8, said the company was unaware of the initiative but is prepared to defend the movie in court if the lawsuit is filed.

The movie is doing well, the spokesman said, but it has not drawn the crowds it did when it opened in the United States earlier this year.

Representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church, the country’s leading religion, said they don’t believe the movie is anti-Semitic.

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Alexey II gave Mel Gibson’s movie a positive review. And Father Mark Golovkov, a spokesman for the Moscow Partiarchate, told journalists last month the movie is "very strong medicine," but denied that it is anti-Semitic.

There is nothing in this movie that would "humiliate any nationality," the priest said. "One should not judge the movies that carry a religious character as regular works of art."

Some Russian Orthodox clerics condemned the movie as blasphemous because it is based on the Gospels and does not incorporate other biblical accounts of Jesus’ death.

But members of Radonezh, a conservative Russian Orthodox group, said the movie is "a big religious event."

On the eve of the Russian premiere of the film, the movie distributor organized a charity screening of "The Passion" to benefit Radonezh, the group’s popular Christian radio station.

One Jewish leader said the movie is not anti-Semitic.

"Of course, there will be those in Russia who would say otherwise," said Zinovy Kogan, chairman of the Congress of Jewish Religious Communities and Organizations, an umbrella group.

But Kogan did not like the film.

"I was disappointed by the movie. I expected it would help me better understand my Christian neighbors and my Jewish ancestors," he said. "But I haven’t noticed any real-life Christians or Jews in the movie. To me, it all looked like a Hollywood production."

Most Russian Jewish leaders are keeping silent on the matter.

Leading Russian Jewish newspapers, however, published articles discussing the movie’s alleged anti-Jewish bias.

In a recent issue, one Moscow Jewish weekly, Yevreiskoe Slovo, published three full-page articles devoted to the movie.

A columnist for the Moscow weekly Yevreiskie Novosti called the film "a movie about God made by devil."

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