August 24, 2006
High Holiday Invite Continues the Passion of Mel
Mel Gibson has easily disposed of his legal problems, but whether, when and how he will personally appear before a Jewish audience is very much up in the air.
When the actor-director was stopped on suspicion of drunk driving by a Jewish sheriff's deputy in the early hours of July 28, Gibson began cursing the "F*****g Jews ... responsible for all the wars in the world."
The slur turned a fairly routine celebrity transgression into an international cause celebre, triggering both indignant denunciations and a raft of jokes on late-night TV shows.
In a surprise legal move, Gibson's attorney appeared on behalf of his famous client in Malibu Superior Court last week and pleaded no contest to a single misdemeanor count of driving with a blood-alcohol level above the legal limit.
Judge Lawrence Mira sentenced Gibson to three years probation, an alcohol rehabilitation program, and fines totaling $1,608. The lawyer's legal maneuver preempted Gibson's later scheduled arraignment and foiled extensive media coverage.
But the court settlement has not closed out the Mel Gibson saga, with the fallout from his anti-Semitic outburst showing little sign of dispersing.
Within a few days of his arrest, and after checking into rehab, Gibson, through his publicist, released two profuse apologies, asking the Jewish community and its leaders "to help me on my journey of recovery."
First to respond to Gibson's request for Jewish help was Rabbi David Baron of the Temple of the Arts in Beverly Hills. He invited the director of "The Passion of the Christ" to speak at Yom Kippur services, "in order that you might directly express to the Jewish community your remorse."
The invitation drew some criticism, and Baron added that he expected Gibson not just to talk, but to deliver a public apology. As a pre-condition, the rabbi would meet with Gibson in advance to probe his sincerity and his "willingness to take the necessary steps to heal the pain he has caused."
The issue flared up again over the weekend, when TMZ.com, the celebrity blog that first reported Gibson's anti-Semitic outburst, quoted Baron as saying that Gibson had declined the temple's Yom Kippur invitation.
Not so, said Alan Nierob, Gibson's publicist. According to TMZ, Nierob said that "Mr. Gibson hasn't declined any offers, as I haven't discussed any offers with him. It's way too soon in his recovery, and frankly he is not interested in anything public or a photo op."
Nierob added that "Rabbi Baron completely understood my position on this and even offered to meet with my client at a later time, if and when appropriate. Also, I told him that the public nature of the request was inappropriate."
In a phone interview Sunday, Baron did not directly contradict Nierob, but emphasized that it was Gibson who had taken the initiative, by publicly pleading for the Jewish community's help.
The original Yom Kippur date is now out, Baron said, "but, sooner or later, Gibson will have to confront the issue of his anti-Semitism."
Baron said that there was a strong possibility of a future meeting with Gibson, but if the actor were sincere in his repentance, he would have to renounce his father's Holocaust denial.
"I don't expect Gibson to repudiate his father, but certainly the father's denial of the Holocaust," Baron said.
In the meanwhile, Baron said, he is ready to join a group of Jewish leaders willing to speak with Gibson about the dangers of anti-Semitism.
Baron rejected suggestions that he had issued the original invitation to Gibson "as a publicity stunt."
"The day after I sent the invitation, I left for a lengthy trip to Europe," he said. "If I had wanted publicity, I would have stayed here and responded to all the media requests for interviews."
-- Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor