Ducking a Jewish leader’s request to condemn anti-Semitism in the form of protests of “The Last Temptation of Christ,” television evangelist Pat Robertson has in turn asked the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith to condemn MCA, the corporation that released the film, because the chairman is Jewish.
ADL director Abraham Foxman, who initiated the correspondence, said Wednesday that he was “astonished” at Robertson’s response, and that a request to repudiate anti-Semitism did not demand a “quid pro quo.”
Earlier this month, Foxman wrote Robertson asking that the former Republican presidential candidate “condemn and counsel” those Protestant leaders, including the Rev. Jerry Falwell, who were injecting anti-Semitism into their protests over the film’s controversial portrayal of Christ.
The protests targeted Lew Wasserman, chairman of the MCA conglomerate, whose Universal Pictures subsidiary was releasing “Temptation.”
Although the film’s director, Martin Scorsese, and other principals in the project are not Jewish, the protesters warned of an anti-Semitic backlash because Wasserman is a Jew.
“The irony is that 2,000 years ago, the Romans crucified Christ and the Jews got blamed. Now another Roman (Scorsese) crucifies Christ again, on film, and again the Jews get blamed,” Foxman said.
Some Christian groups, including the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and the National Association of Evangelicals, were quick to repudiate the anti-Semitic nature of the protests. Falwell backed off on his statement before the film was released and denounced the film’s critics.
Foxman said he turned to Robertson for a statement because, after Falwell, Robertson is “the other great leader of the fundamentalist, evangelical Christian movement.”
He and Robertson have consulted frequently in the past, said Foxman, and refer to each other in the letters as “Abe” and “Pat.”
Calls to the offices of the Christian Broadcasting Network, of which Robertson is chairman of the board, were not returned.
In his response to Foxman’s first letter, Robertson suggests that he will “raise my voice” against anti-Semitism only after Foxman uses his “influence with Lew Wasserman and others at MCA to eliminate this affront to Christianity.”
After Foxman wrote back saying he was seriously disappointed with Robertson’s reply, Roberson made his request more explicit.
If the ADL “comes out against this blasphemous movie and in the process condemn MCA,” wrote Robertson, “you will have said to all Americans that you are not a part of this movie and that it does not have the endorsement of the Jewish leadership in America.
“I will then be delighted to feature your statement on my television network and to give it as much press as I possibly can in the media.
“Then instead of you coming off shrilly blaming the Christians for a problem caused by MCA, you will be coming off as you are — a champion of all people against all forms of bigotry and intolerance.”
In a third letter to which he has yet to receive a reply, Foxman wrote that he was “flabbergasted” at Robertson’s accusations that ADL was “blasting Christians.”
” ‘The Jewish leadership’ is not the film industry — why should anyone believe otherwise?” asked Foxman. “Why should Jews be put on the defensive because age-old false stereotypes unfortunately still exist in some quarters?
“We will not be blamed for the crucifixion a second time.”
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.