August 10, 2006
Deeds Not Words Will Reveal Real Gibson
There is a silver lining, although not necessarily an obvious one, in the recent events surrounding Mel Gibson's diatribe against Jews. That silver lining is not Gibson's
apology but the fact that he seems to have felt it necessary to apologize.
It has long occurred to me that there is one fairly simple gauge to assess whether Jews are in danger in a society: that is, what happens when a person is exposed as an anti-Semite? Does it damage the person's reputation in the community or improve it?
Unfortunately, in the Muslim world today, making known someone's anti-Semitic attacks would be more likely to enhance, rather than diminish, a person's reputation. Thus, the president of Iran can dismiss the Holocaust as a lie and suffer no criticisms of significance in the Muslim world. In fact, one gets the impression that in Iran and in other obsessively anti-Israel countries, he gained respect from many for his willingness to stick it to the Jews.
If the day ever comes when someone makes anti-Semitic attacks in the United States and the attacks enhance the person's reputation, we Jews will know we are in danger. In the 1980s, Jesse Jackson started attacking Jews and Zionism, which he called a "poisonous weed." When an African American journalist reported some of Jackson's anti-Jewish comments, Jackson felt constrained to issue an extended apology to the Jewish community and has avoided such comments since.
Conversely, when Pat Buchanan started making anti-Semitic attacks and was called on it, he refused to backtrack. And what happened? Buchanan was marginalized and driven out of the Republican Party. William F. Buckley, the patron saint of the American conservative movement, even wrote an entire book, "In Search of Anti-Semitism," in which he denounced Buchanan's statements.
These are all good signs about the character of the American people among whom we live. Americans don't see themselves as anti-Semites, with obvious exceptions, and are not happy when public figures express anti-Semitic views. As regards Gibson, do I think he dislikes Jews? Although he undoubtedly has some Jewish friends, I don't think he cares for us very much. For one thing, the way he chose to shoot "The Passion of the Christ" and comments he made at the time both suggest that.
In addition, while children are not responsible for the sins of their parents, the fact is that Gibson was raised by a father, Hutton Gibson, whose anti-Semitic views -- including Holocaust denial -- are on the lunatic fringe of anti-Semitic movements. Presumably, it made some impact on him, as well. Gibson has long refused to denounce his father's anti-Semitic views, even if all he did would be to issue a statement as innocuous as, "I love my father, but what he says about the Jews is very wrong and opposed to what I think."
How, therefore, should Jews react to Gibson's attempts at reconciliation? Let him meet with whomever he wishes to meet and whoever wishes to m eet with him. But ultimately, I am more impressed with a teaching in the Talmud that a dying rabbi offered his son when the son asked the father to commend him to his colleagues. The father said, "It is your deeds [and not my words] that will endear you [to people] and your deeds that will estrange you."
Gibson has taken a first step, disavowing his statements that Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world, a view unfortunately reminiscent of the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion." All one can say at this time is that we will see over the coming months and years if Gibson was primarily sorry about what he said or primarily sorry that he got caught.
Rabbi Joseph Telushkin is the spiritual leader of the Synagogue for the Performing Arts, Los Angeles' original entertainment congregation, and the author of more than a dozen works of fiction and non-fiction. His most recent book, "A Code of Jewish Ethics, Volume 1 - You Shall Be Holy," the first of a three-volume series, was published by Bell Tower in March.