| Mel Gibson: In the eye of the storm
London, Aug. 26: British Jewish leaders have joined the furore surrounding Mel Gibson’s controversial film The Passion, which charts the final 12 hours of Christ’s life and includes a brutal depiction of the Crucifixion.
The Board of Deputies of British Jews say they share the growing fears voiced in America that the film could fuel bigotry and anti-Semitism and damage relations between faiths.
The Passion, which is funded, co-written and directed by the Hollywood star, has provoked a storm in America, with Jewish and Roman Catholic scholars calling for changes before its release early next year.
Gibson, a Catholic traditionalist, has defended it as a truthful portrayal of the events surrounding the Crucifixion, and has even insisted that the dialogue is in Latin and Aramaic, the vernacular in Palestine at the time.
He has denied that the film is anti-Semitic or designed to upset Jews, although he told one interviewer: “It’s true that, as the Bible says: ‘He came into His own and His own received Him not’. I can’t hide that.”
He has also made extensive efforts to win round his critics by organising private screenings and describing the film as a work in progress which he has already “softened” following criticism.
However, Jewish groups continue to insist that the film portrays the Jewish authorities and “bloodthirsty” mob as primarily responsible for the decision to crucify Christ.
Catholic scholars have also expressed reservations, especially as Gibson is a member of a conservative church which does not acknowledge the validity of the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s. One of the reforming council’s pronouncements was that Jews could not be held culpable for Christ’s death.
Rabbi Eugene Korn, director of inter-faith affairs at the influential Anti-Defamation League in New York, said after a private viewing last week that the film was “toxic” and would be loved by “anti-Semites and bigots”.
He told the Jewish Chronicle: “Jews are uniformly characterised as negative, and the Jewish mob is depicted as forcing the decision on to Pontius Pilate, when in reality it was Pilate’s decision alone. There are gross historical inaccuracies, and there is massive, and gratuitous, violence.”
In a statement, the Board of Deputies, the official voice of the British Jewish community, called for an “early opportunity” to see the film so that they could make a “definitive judgment”.
They expressed fears that it may fuel anti-Semitism “by portraying Jews in an unfavourable light, and perpetuating myths which have been refuted by various religious authorities in the past”.
The statement added: “We are aware that some leaders of the American Jewish community have voiced their concern on the matter which, in principle, we would share.”
Not all opinion has been negative, though. A number of those who have seen the film, including Jewish commentators, have praised it. The £18-million production, starring James Caviezel as Jesus, will be distributed by 20th Century Fox. Its American premiere is due on Ash Wednesday, but no British release date has been set.