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Why Take Mel Gibson to Task, when More Virulent Anti-semites Abound?

August 4, 2006
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

By now the whole world knows that after being stopped for drunk driving early last Friday morning, Mel Gibson began yelling about the “f****ing Jews” who start all the wars in the world. Within a few hours Gibson publicly admitted that he had “said things that I do not believe to be true and which are despicable. I am deeply ashamed of everything I said, and I apologize to anyone who I have offended.”

Immediately thereafter, Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, proclaimed with breathtaking chutzpah that Gibson’s apology was unremorseful and insufficient.

“It’s not a proper apology because it does not go to the essence of his bigotry and his anti-Semitism,” Foxman 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, Gibson apologized specifically to the Jewish community, and Foxman and several other Jewish leaders accepted it.

It’s all too easy to join the circling hyenas and denounce Gibson while he is down. On the other hand, though Gibson has provided some financial support to Toward Tradition, I don’t feel obliged to leap to his defense.

That’s not the purpose behind this column; the purpose is to respond to how recent events have impacted my views of the man and his work. It’s also to place a gentle restraining hand upon the shoulder of those in the Jewish community making yet another mistake.

There really are anti-Semites in the world right now who not only wish to destroy all Jews but are doing all within their power to bring that about.

Does the name Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, suggest anything? Does it really make a lot of sense to treat Gibson as a threat to Jews anywhere?

As for the remarks Gibson made while intoxicated, ancient Jewish wisdom informs us that one way we can know what a person is really like is by how he behaves when he’s drunk. From this we can safely assume that Gibson doesn’t think much of Jews.

However, another nugget of ancient Jewish wisdom emphasizes that we owe atonement only to God for what lies in our hearts. If I have an unworthy thought in my heart about you, I need to make good with God but I don’t owe you an apology unless I act upon that thought. We humans are morally obliged to make good to other people only for those things we do, not for the thoughts in our minds.

I have no way of knowing what’s in Gibson’s heart, but I do know that he has no need to act obsequiously toward Jews or curry favor with us. If Gibson never makes another film, he will still be able to buy gas for his Lexus. He is not a politician trying to win an election after an imprudent remark.

There are three important questions that Foxman should answer:

First, just whom did Gibson’s words harm? I would submit that not a single Jew was harmed by that silly drunken diatribe. The only person it hurt was Gibson himself.

Second, does Foxman believe that dismissing Gibson’s first apology as insufficiently remorseful and attacking Gibson’s 2004 movie, “The Passion of the Christ,” made Americans feel more warmly toward Jews, or less warmly?

Finally, had the drunken tirade come from the lips of George Clooney instead of Foxman’s arch-foe Gibson, would he have been equally incensed?

I think the answers are obvious.

This incident helps me explain why I’m on record as opposing hate-crime legislation. It’s time for all Americans, and particularly American Jews, to grow up and recognize that you cannot force anyone to love or even like anyone else.

We can insist on lawful behavior and we must demand respectful interaction, but we must stop pretending we can police people’s thoughts.

If Gibson really does hate Jews, as his drunken diatribe might indicate, his behavior toward the many Jews he knows has, however, been nothing but cordial and respectful. He has never supported — as have too many Jews — Palestinian causes and other organizations that encourage the murder of Jews.

Gibson deserves censure for being drunk and for his anti-Semitic remarks. But he already knows that, which is why he apologized. A balanced and reasonable view would be that if indeed he really does hate Jews, then he deserves respect for his self-control when not drunk.

I would be very happy to switch today’s dangerous Muslim Jew-haters for Muslims who hate me only in their hearts but who act toward Jews with nobility and kindness.

My question for Jews, especially the heads of the alphabet organizations, is this: Which is more likely to lead to increased affection and respect for Jews everywhere — recognizing that human prejudices exist and working respectfully and amicably to change people’s minds and hearts, or grabbing headlines by strident accusations full of self righteousness and intolerance?

I believe most people know the right answer.

Rabbi Daniel Lapin is founder of Toward Tradition, a group of Jews and Christians promoting Judeo-Christian values.

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