December 16, 2004
When the controversy over Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" first erupted, Jewish leaders like Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League angered Christians by coming out forcefully against the movie.
William Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Civil and Religious Rights, took umbrage. "A lot of Catholics in this town are saying, 'Is that how Jews are looking at us,'" he told The Jewish Week, "'that you scratch a Catholic and out comes a latent anti-Semite?'"
Last week, Donohue provided the answer to his rhetorical question. And the answer is, in his case, yes.
In a Dec. 10 appearance on MSNBC's "Scarborough Country," Donohue railed against the possibility that Michael Moore's documentary, "Fahrenheit 9/11," would receive an Oscar nomination, while Mel Gibson's "The Passion" would not.
"Who really cares what Hollywood thinks?" Donohue said. "All these hacks come out there. Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular. It's not a secret, OK? And I'm not afraid to say it. That's why they hate this movie. It's about Jesus Christ, and it's about truth. It's about the messiah."
Donohue continued: "Hollywood likes anal sex. They like to see the public square without nativity scenes. I like families. I like children. They like abortions. I believe in traditional values and restraint. They believe in libertinism. We have nothing in common."
The host for this Jew-bashing fest was -- surprise! -- Pat Buchanan. Instead of calling Donohue out, he turned to panelist Rabbi Shmuely Boteach and asked why secular Jews hate America and love Michael Moore.
Read the transcript, and you'll begin to wonder what looking glass you've fallen through. Boteach did a superb job in the role of Moses Nachmanides, the 13th-century scholar who was forced into public disputations over religion with Christian opponents.
"I'm amazed that we've made this a discussion about secular Jews," Boteach said. "I have got to tell you that Bill Donohue, who I otherwise love and so respect, ought to be ashamed of himself, the way he's spoken about secular Jews hating Christians. That is a bunch of crap, OK?"
Donohue's accusations, goaded on by Buchanan, turned nastier:
Boteach: The fact is that Jewish people are incredibly charitable, good, decent family people.
Donohue: I didn't question that.
Boteach: Hollywood has become a cesspit because it's secular, period. Don't do this -- don't tell us that it's secular Jews.
Donohue: So the Catholics are running Hollywood, huh?
Boteach: Soon, you're going to start telling us that the NBA is violent because it's black people, all right, Bill? No, no, no. When people behave badly, just hold them individually accountable.
Donohue is clearly on the right flank of the Catholic world, but he is far from a fringe character. His organization, based in New York, claims a membership of 350,000 and has some significant mainstream names attached to it.
On the group's Web site, Cardinal Roger Mahony, archbishop of Los Angeles, offers this endorsement: "I encourage you to join the Catholic League, which defends not only the interests of Catholics but of all victims of anti-religious bigotry."
Um, almost all.
So far, Donohue hasn't apologized, and Mahony and others haven't publicly chastised him, resigned their memberships or done anything to indicate that blaming "secular Jews" for all that is rotten in contemporary culture is perhaps out of bounds.
The comments buzzed through the entertainment community, evoking equal measures of outrage, disbelief and humor. Suffice it to say that in the wake of the scandals concerning priestly pederasty, Donohue didn't get a pass for his "anal sex" remark.
It seems indecent to have to point out the obvious, but here's a quick reality check for Donohue:
1. Jews don't control Hollywood, corporations do. If you have a problem with smut on TV, tell Rupert Murdoch -- not a Jew -- to sink "Temptation Island."
2. Hollywood is profit-friendly and risk-averse. Religion and politics are risky subjects. Knowing what they know now, 99.9 percent of studio execs would have green-lit "The Passion" faster than you could say "Scary Movie 7."
3. The vast majority of Hollywood movies are positive, uplifting and moralistic, anyway. "Ray," "The Incredibles," the upcoming "Lemony Snicket" -- great entertainment and great values.
I like the fact that Jews are represented across the political spectrum. But Jews who wave the banners of the left and right have to understand the dangers. On the left, there is a short hop from demonizing Israel to anti-Semitism. On the right, there is a finger snap from lumping together all "liberals" and "secularists" to attacking Jews. Just ask Bill Donohue.
Then ask him to apologize.