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Jewish Journal

Hush Falls Over Jewish Hollywood Post-‘Mad Mel’

by Tom Tugend

August 3, 2006 | 8:00 pm

Mel Gibson Hollywood's top guns have been quick to answer a vicious anti-Semitic slur, attributed to actor-director Mel Gibson -- by staying mostly mute.

Gibson, the director of the controversial "The Passion of the Christ," was pulled over in the early hours of July 28 while speeding along the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu and booked on suspicion of drunk driving.

In the original report filed by the arresting officer, Gibson was described as belligerent and cursing the "F*****g Jews. The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world."

He then asked Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputy James Mee, "Are you a Jew?" (According to an Associate Press interview with the deputy, Mee is Jewish.) In a contrite apology Tuesday to "everyone in the Jewish community," Gibson admitted his anti-Semitic slur and asked to meet with Jewish leaders "with whom I can have a one-on-one discussion to discern the appropriate path for healing."

Gibson added in his statement that "There is no excuse, nor should there be any tolerance, for anyone who thinks or expresses any kind of anti-Semitic remark. Please know from my heart that I am not an anti-Semite. I am not a bigot. Hatred of any kind goes against my faith."

Prior to this statement, attempts to elicit reactions from some 15 leading Jewish producers, directors, actors and writers proved fruitless. A remarkable number were said to be on vacation or out of the country, others did not return phone requests.

Even Alan Nierob, who is Gibson's official spokesman and Jewish, was said by his office to be on a two-week vacation, although he did make statements to other news outlets.

Well-connected entertainment industry journalists ran into the same shyness. Michael Speier, managing editor of the trade publication Variety, explained the reluctance to speak out in this way: "In Hollywood, you can never help yourself by saying something critical on the record. You don't want to piss anyone off because you never know when you might need him later on. Who knows, in a few years Gibson might be a changed man and give $10 million to the Anti-Defamation League."

Bernie Brillstein, a veteran talent agent, manager and resident iconoclast, said, "Hollywood is a small company town and you figure everyone is entitled to his position. Anyway, everybody takes it for granted that Gibson is an anti-Semite, so people say, 'Well, he did it again.'"

However, he added, "if Gibson's statement, if true, had been anti-gay or anti-black, there would be an uprising in Hollywood like you've never seen before."

One widely admired exception to the general public silence was talent agent Ari Emanuel, the model for agent Ari Gold in the HBO series "Entourage" and brother of Illinois Democratic Congressman Rahm Emanuel.

In a widely circulated statement to The Huffington Post blog, Emanuel said, in part:

"At a time of escalating tensions in the world, the entertainment industry cannot idly stand by and allow Mel Gibson to get away with such tragically inflammatory statements. When 'The Passion of the Christ' came out, Gibson was quoted as categorically denying any anti-Semitism attributed to him... "Now we know the truth.... People in the entertainment community, whether Jew or gentile, need to demonstrate that they understand how much is at stake in this by professionally shunning Mel Gibson and refusing to work with him, even if it means a sacrifice to their bottom line. There are times in history when standing up against bigotry and racism is more important than money."

Emanuel declined to elaborate on his statement.

While many in Hollywood have privately praised Emanuel's gutsiness, hardly any are willing to emulate him. It has been left largely to some outspoken bloggers to hold Gibson to account.

After scourging Hollywood executives and talent for lack of moral courage and putting dollars ahead of principle, commentator and author Arianna Huffington, of the eponymous huffingtonpost.com, urged Disney studios to scrap plans to distribute Gibson's next film "Apocalypto" and to cancel his miniseries on the Holocaust on ABC-TV. (On Tuesday, the Disney-owned ABC network announced that it canceling the Holocaust series, although Disney itself is going ahead with the film.)

In a phone interview, Huffington said, "With rising anti-Semitism and the situation in the Middle East, [the Gibson incident] is not a minor issue, and not a freedom of speech issue."

"People in this country are becoming so fearful, and Hollywood is the most fearful of all," she said. "There is a real unwillingness to say in public what they say in private."

As to Gibson's future, "it depends on how much pressure Hollywood people will exert in this case," she said, Such pressure will have to come mainly from the public, said Meyer Gottlieb, president of Samuel Goldwyn Films.

"Personally, and as a child survivor of the Holocaust, I find Gibson's statement despicable and unforgivable. But the public generally forgives a celebrity if he shows contrition and apologizes for his trespasses," Gottlieb said. The day after his arrest, Gibson issued a written apology, blaming his heavy drinking and history of alcoholism for acting "like a person completely out of control...I said things that I do not believe to be true and which are despicable. I am deeply ashamed of everything I said."

Huffington expressed skepticism of Gibson's sincerity and noted that he did not specifically apologize for his anti-Jewish slur.

"What will happen is that he'll make some even more fulsome apologies and then he'll write some checks to Jewish charities," Huffington said.

Some observers have also questioned whether Gibson was so drunk when he was pulled over that he had no idea what he was saying. A field test at the time of his arrest showed a blood-alcohol level of 0.12 percent, while the legal limit for driving in California is 0.08 percent, Dr. Joel Geiderman, co-chairman of the UCLA Department of Emergency Medicine, said that a 0.12 percent level is not particularly high, especially for chronic alcoholics, and was equivalent to consuming three drinks in an hour.

Cultural critic and Hollywood historian Neal Gabler, in an analysis on www.salon.com, saw the Gibson incident as a symptom of the "radicalization of America" under the Bush administration, which has "given license to hatemongers... hate does not carry the stigma it once did."

However, were Disney to back out of distributing Gibson's next film, or not air his Holocaust miniseries, "Gibson could be screaming that he is once again suffering for his faith and at hands of the infidels," Gabler said.

Jewish defense organizations, usually quick to respond to anti-Semitic slurs, have also been largely inactive, perhaps preoccupied with the shooting at the Seattle Jewish federation and the Israel-Hezbollah fighting.

But Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League and a fierce critic of Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ," 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, after Gibson's specific apology to the Jewish community, Foxman said that apology "sounds sincere" and that "after [Gibson's] rehabilitation for alcohol abuse, we will be ready and willing to help him with his second rehabilitation to combat this disease of prejudice."

David A. Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee, also welcomed the apology and said "We look forward ... to Gibson matching his contrition with his own deeds."

Rabbis Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who were in Israel, urged Gibson "to drop any plans to produce a miniseries on the Nazi Holocaust -- [you] do not have the legitimacy to make a film about Jewish martyrdom and suffering during the Nazi era."

Gibson entered an alcohol rehabilitation center over the weekend and was not available for comment. He is scheduled to appear in court Sept. 28 on the drunk driving charges.

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