Hollywood’s top guns have answered actor-director Mel Gibson’s vicious anti-Semitic slurs — with deafening silence. Gibson, director of the controversial “The Passion of the Christ,” was pulled over in the early hours of July 28 while speeding along the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu, Calif. He was booked on suspicion of drunk driving.
In the original report filed by the arresting officer, Gibson was described as belligerent and cursing the “F*****g Jews. The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world.”
He then asked Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy James Mee, “Are you a Jew?”
In an apology Tuesday to “everyone in the Jewish community,” Gibson admitted to the anti-Semitic slur and asked to meet with Jewish leaders “with whom I can have a one-on-one discussion to discern the appropriate path for healing.”
Gibson added that “there is no excuse, nor should there be any tolerance, for anyone who thinks or expresses any kind of anti-Semitic remark. Please know from my heart that I am not an anti-Semite. I am not a bigot. Hatred of any kind goes against my faith.”
Prior to Gibson’s statement, attempts to elicit reactions from some 15 leading Jewish producers, directors, actors and writers proved fruitless. A remarkably large number were said to be on vacation or out of the country, while others did not return messages.
Even Alan Nierob, a Jewish man who is Gibson’s official spokesman, was said to be on a two-week vacation at the height of his employer’s crisis.
Well-connected entertainment industry journalists ran into the same reticence. Michael Speier, managing editor of the trade publication Variety, explained the reluctance to speak out in this way: “In Hollywood, you can never help yourself by saying something critical on the record. You don’t want to piss anyone off because you never know when you might need him later on. Who knows, in a few years Gibson might be a changed man and give $10 million to the Anti-Defamation League.”
Bernie Brillstein, a veteran talent agent and manager, said, “Hollywood is a small company town and you figure everyone is entitled to his position. Anyway, everybody takes it for granted that Gibson is an anti-Semite, so people say, ‘Well, he did it again.’ “
However, he added, “if Gibson’s statement, if true, had been anti-gay or anti-black, there would be an uprising in Hollywood like you’ve never seen before.”
Jewish defense organizations, usually quick to respond to anti-Semitic slurs, were initially a bit muted. But Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League and a fierce critic of Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” said, “We would hope that Hollywood now would realize the bigot in their midst and that they will distance themselves from this anti-Semite.”
On Tuesday, after Gibson’s specific apology to the Jewish community, Foxman said it “sounds sincere” and that after Gibson’s “rehabilitation for alcohol abuse, we will be ready and willing to help him with his second rehabilitation to combat this disease of prejudice.”
David Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, also welcomed the apology and said that “we look forward” to “Gibson matching his contrition with his own deeds.”
The one exception to the general silence in Hollywood was talent agent Ari Emanuel, the model for agent Ari Gold in the HBO series “Entourage” and brother of Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.).
In a widely circulated statement to The Huffington Post blog, www.Huffingtonpost.com, Emanuel said, “At a time of escalating tensions in the world, the entertainment industry cannot idly stand by and allow Mel Gibson to get away with such tragically inflammatory statements. When ‘The Passion of the Christ’ came out, Gibson was quoted as categorically denying anti-Semitism attributed to him.
“Now we know the truth… 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. There are times in history when standing up against bigotry and racism is more important than money.”
While many in Hollywood have privately praised Emanuel’s gutsiness, hardly any were willing to emulate him. It has been left largely to some outspoken bloggers to hold Gibson to account.
After scoring Hollywood executives and talent for lack of moral courage and putting dollars ahead of principle, commentator and author Arianna Huffington urged Disney studios to scrap plans to distribute Gibson’s next film, “Apocalypto,” or to show his miniseries on the Holocaust on ABC-TV.
On Tuesday, ABC, which is owned by Disney, announced that it was going ahead with the film but canceling the Holocaust series, ostensibly because it had yet to see a script.
In a phone interview, Huffington said, “With rising anti-Semitism and the situation in the Middle East,” the Gibson incident “is not a minor issue, and not a freedom of speech issue.”
As to Gibson’s future, “it depends on how much pressure Hollywood people will exert in this case,” she said.
Such pressure will have to come mainly from the public, said Meyer Gottlieb, president of Samuel Goldwyn Films.
“Personally, and as a child survivor of the Holocaust, I find Gibson’s statement despicable and unforgivable. But the public generally forgives a celebrity if he shows contrition and apologizes for his trespasses,” Gottlieb said.
The day after his arrest, Gibson issued a written apology, blaming his heavy drinking and history of alcoholism for acting “like a person completely out of control.” He added: “I said things that I do not believe to be true and which are despicable. I am deeply ashamed of everything I said.”
Some observers have questioned whether Gibson was so drunk when he was pulled over that he had no idea what he was saying. A field test showed a blood-alcohol level of 0.12 percent, while the legal limit for driving in California is 0.08 percent.
In an analysis on www.salon.com, cultural critic and Hollywood historian Neal Gabler cast the Gibson incident as a symptom of the “radicalization of America” under the Bush administration, which has “given license to hatemongers.”
Were Disney to back out of distributing Gibson’s next film or not air his Holocaust miniseries, “Gibson could be screaming that he is once again suffering for his faith and at the hands of the infidels,” Gabler said.
Gibson entered an alcohol rehabilitation center over the weekend and was not available for comment. He is scheduled to appear in court Sept. 28 on the drunk driving charges.
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.