It’s strange to say, but the best response to Rabbi Daniel Lapin’s predictable minimizing of the significance of Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitic diatribe is Gibson himself. Whether Gibson’s second apology — in which he said that there is no excuse and no place for the anti-Semitic remarks he made — was sincere will be evidenced in the months and years ahead.
At least Gibson, unlike Lapin, recognized that his initial statement was nowhere near satisfactory and did not address the seriousness of the problem.
Gibson’s second apology has exposed the absurdity of Lapin’s approach to issues, in which he never fails to apply his religious-right ideological test.
Those who meet the test are never wrong or at least not seriously so, while those who fail the test are to be condemned in the harshest terms.
We in the business of fighting anti-Semitism cannot afford to eye things through a distorting lens like the one Lapin sees through. We know that anti-Semitism can spring from many sources — left and right, Christian and Muslim, religious and non-religious, black and white.
Our task is to expose it and educate the public to reject and condemn such manifestations of bigotry, no matter where they come from.
Does that mean that we don’t distinguish the more serious anti-Semitic threats from the less serious, as Lapin accuses us and others of doing? Nonsense. Criticizing Gibson in no way even remotely signals that we do not see far greater threats to the Jewish people.
We do not take a back seat to anyone in combating Islamic extremism — whether from Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas or Al-Qaida — and identifying it as the greatest threat to Jews since the Nazi era.
Still, this reality should not be used as an excuse to minimize the seriousness of Gibson’s anti-Semitism. As a revered filmmaker and movie idol, his words and actions take on added meaning because of their possible impact on many ordinary people.
That’s why a real apology was important. As to Gibson’s motivation for his 2004 film, “The Passion of the Christ,” it is no longer feasible to believe that the revived, dangerous stereotypes of Jews as Christ-killers and as all-powerful money-lovers, did not come from a deep-seated problem Gibson has with the Jewish people.
The important point here is that this incident should open the eyes of many who dismissed Jewish concerns about the film, both with regard to its content and the filmmaker’s goals.
Ultimately, Lapin’s defense of Gibson serves one useful purpose: It reminds us that if organizations like the Anti-Defamation League are to be successful in the fight against bigotry, it’s vital to be consistent and non-ideological.
Hatred is hatred, anti-Semitism is anti-Semitism, and any effort to obscure a particular manifestation of it because it comes from a particular camp undermines credibility in the struggle.
At a time when Israeli citizens are attacked by missiles, when too much of the world and media see Israel as the source of the Middle East’s problems, and when global anti-Semitism continues to surge, the proper approach is not to ignore a Gibson-like story. Rather, the proper course is to address it and move on.
We have done exactly that. There is, finally, a larger point that Lapin misses. We believe that one of the contributions the ADL has made to civil society in America over the years is to make it unacceptable for individuals — especially, but not only, those who are well-known — to make anti-Semitic or racist comments.
This has not made hatred disappear, but it has made America a much more humane and welcoming place.
It has not eliminated anti-Semitism, but it has, along with the hate-crime legislation that Lapin vilifies, made Americans more aware of the pain that hatred — whether expressed through words or actions — causes. Fighting anti-Semitism is a serious and complicated business.
Lapin demonstrates anew that he is not really serious about the subject. Those of us who are cannot take him very seriously.
Abraham H. Foxman is national director of the Anti-Defamation League and author of “Never Again? The Threat of the New Anti-Semitism.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.