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Zeffirelli Denies Making ‘jewish Cultural Scum’ Slur

August 5, 1988
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Italian director Franco Zeffirelli has denied using the term “Jewish cultural scum” to describe the producers of Martin Scorsese’s film “The Last Temptation of Christ,” but reiterated his criticism of Lew Wasserman, chairman of MCA, the entertainment conglomerate whose Universal Pictures subsidiary is producing the film.

In a statement by Zeffirelli, published Wednesday in the Italian media, announcing his intention to withdraw his own film from the Venice Film Festival to protest the inclusion of Scorsese’s, Zeffirelli was quoted as saying “Temptation” was the work of “that Jewish cultural scum in Los Angeles” who wanted to strike a blow at the Christian world.

In a new statement published Thursday in the newspaper Corriere Della Sera, Zeffirelli reiterated his sharp criticism of Wasserman but denied having used the crude phrases.

“I could never use the term ‘Jewish scum.’ I have always been a friend of the Jews. When I made (the television movie) ‘Jesus of Nazareth,’ I requested the presence and counsel of three rabbis.”

Zeffirelli added that “it wasn’t I who defined Wasserman in this way. That label was already given him by an organization called Christian Anti-Defamation League.”

Zeffirelli said he had been commenting on the attacks, many with anti-Semitic overtones, by this and other fundamentalist groups in the United States.

Nonetheless, he said, he judged Wasserman to be “a merchant on the lookout for dollars, and not, certainly, of quality films that respect precise universal values.”

Zeffirelli’s statement continued: “As opposed to Scorsese and Wasserman, I did not intend in any way to manipulate in an improper way the Jewish world and culture” in making “Jesus of Nazareth.”

“I ask Lew Wasserman, with irony: What would he say if one day an Italian decided to make a film about Abraham sodomizing Isaac?

Zeffirelli’s original statement was quoted extensively in several main Italian newspapers and on the state-run television news.

Corriere Della Sera and another leading newspaper, La Stampa, ran a story on the statement but omitted the anti-Semitic reference.

Wire service reports published in American newspapers Wednesday, including The New York Times, also omitted the “Jewish cultural scum” statement.

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