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Crucifying The Passion: Mel Gibson's yet-to-be-released film about the passion and crucifixion of Jesus Christ has been the target of vicious attacks, but the smears may be backfiring.

The silver screen is awash with violence and mayhem, perversion and debauchery. Major Hollywood studios have no problem with churning out bloody splatterfests like the recently released Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake or Freddy vs. Jason. They revel in edgy television fare such as Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, a special love-kiss to the militant homosexual lobby.

If you are a Hollywood director who wants to make a film that mocks, blasphemes and reviles Jesus Christ, you can be sure that the major studios will line up to bankroll and distribute it, and that critics will acclaim it. If you make a film that viciously portrays Catholic priests and nuns, Protestant ministers, or Christian believers in general as ignorant buffoons, corrupt hypocrites, or intolerant bigots, you can rest assured of media accolades for your penetrating social commentary. Submerge a crucifix in ajar of urine or create a painting of the Virgin Mary out of elephant dung and you will be praised for your artistic brilliance by the self-anointed arbiters of high culture.

So why the incredible hullabaloo over The Passion of Christ (more commonly referred to simply as The Passion), Mel Gibson's forthcoming film of Christ's suffering and death scheduled to be released next Ash Wednesday, February 25? Written, directed, produced and bankrolled by Gibson himself, the independent venture reportedly cost the Hollywood superstar more tan $25 million. Perhaps never before has a movie generated such heated controversy months prior to its release. The attacks on The Passion and Mel Gibson began while the movie was still being shot in Italy this past spring, before anyone had even seen the rough-cut previews that Gibson's Icon Productions later arranged for various religious groups and media representatives.

Those who have seen screenings of The Passion have almost universally praised it as an artistic masterpiece and a profoundly moving spiritual achievement. Jewish, Catholic, Protestant and agnostic viewers alike have showered superlatives on Gibson's production, which lotuses, with intense, graphic realism, on the last 12 hours of Jesus' earthly life: His arrest, trial, torture, suffering and death. Gibson, who has been ruminating on the project for 12 years, has gone to great lengths to achieve historical accuracy, even filming all of the acting dialogue in two dead languages--the Aramaic and Latin used in Palestine of that time period. Jewish screenwriter Alan Sereboff describes it as "one of the most breathtaking, poignant movies of our time." Conservative Jewish commentators Michael Medved, Matt Drudge and David Horowitz described it, respectively, as "remarkable," "magical" and "awesome."

Liberal-left, secular Jewish groups, however, along with their usual allies, have charged that the movie is dangerous. Without having seen the movie, they attacked it as anti-Semitic and launched a preemptive strike to keep it out of theaters.

The film burners have been so vicious and irrational that they have threatened to undermine Christian-Jewish relations and stir up the very anti-Semitism they claim to deplore. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which has led the attacks, has proven its willingness over the decades to incite anti-Semitism and then to exploit the situation and profit handsomely from fundraising efforts that, supposedly, will help finance programs to fight anti-Semitism.

Abraham Foxman, nation al director of the ADL, has been the point-man in the anti-Gibson, anti-Passion campaign. "I think he's infected, seriously infected. with some very, very serious anti-Semitic views," Foxman said of the popular film star. during a panel discussion of The Passion at the ADL's 90th annual national meeting in November.

On August 28, Jewish demonstrators gathered outside the Sixth Avenue offices of News Corp., the New York headquarters of the parent corporation of Fox TV and 20th Century Fox Studios, to pressure the company not to distribute Gibson's movie. Fox, which had a joint production agreement with Icon Productions, reportedly had the first option to distribute The Passion. The demonstrators cheered when Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn) revealed that Fox had turned down its option on the film.

Assemblyman Hikind warned other movie companies that "they should not distribute this film. This is unhealthy for Jews all over the world," according to a report on the demonstration in New York's Daily News. Several protesters held signs that said The Passion was a "Lethal Weapon to Jews," a play on the title of Gibson's Lethal Weapon series of undercover cop-action movies. "Shulamit Hawtof, a Jewish administrative assistant from Borough Park, Brooklyn, didn't even want the movie go direct to video," the Daily News reported. "I would like to see it buried, frankly," she told the newspaper.

But The Passion will not be buried. It will be distributed to theaters by New Market Films, though information is not yet available regarding how many screens it will open on and what theaters will be showing it. In the end, the controversy may wind up helping the movie at the box office. Regardless, it is a project Gibson believes in--passionately. Plagued by drinking and womanizing in his early years, Gibson credits his Catholic faith with helping him survive and reform his life. According to some of his colleagues at Icon, he has been obsessed with making this film for several years.

Intensifying Culture War

The fierce attacks on the Gibson film come amidst an intensification of the ongoing culture war, with many of the same individuals who are attacking The Passion also leading the charge to promote abortion, pornography, sodomy and depravity of every sort, as well as to purge the public square of the Ten Commandments and all Christian symbols. Unfortunately, as Orthodox Rabbi Daniel Lapin has courageously pointed out, a disproportionate percentage of those leaders are secular Jews, whose actions are reinforcing an old, sickening stereotype of the Jew as a corrupting agent. Their actions are driving a wedge between Christians and Jews and setting the stage for conflict.

In a blistering essay that appeared on Rabbi Lapin's Toward Tradition website (as well as in a number of print publications) on September 22, 2003, Rabbi Lapin took off the gloves and named names. The rabbi not only blasted prominent Jews who have attacked The Passion and actively aided the efforts to undermine morality, but also rebuked his fellow Jews who have remained silent while their liberal-left brethren have vocally misrepresented them as a community. "I believe those who publicly protest Mel Gibson's film lack moral legitimacy," said Rabbi Lapin in his essay. "What is more, I believe their actions are not only wrong but even recklessly ill-advised and shockingly imprudent. I address myself to all my fellow Jews when I say that your interests are not being served by many of those organizations and self-appointed defenders who claim to bc acting on your behalf."

Rabbi Lapin continued:
 I believe the attacks on Mel Gibson
 are a mistake because while they may
 be in the interests of Jewish organizations
 who raise money with the
 specter of anti Semitism, and while
 they may be in the interests of Jewish
 journalists at the New York Times and
 elsewhere who are trying to boost
 their careers, they are most decidedly
 not in the interests of most American
 Jews who go about their daily lives in
 comfortable harmony with their
 Christian fellow citizens. You see,
 many Christians see all this as attacks
 not just on Mel Gibson alone or as
 mere critiques of a movie, but with
 some justification in my view, they
 see them as attacks against all Christians.
 This is not so different from the
 way most people react to attack. We
 Jews usually feel that we have all
 been attacked even when only a few
 of us suffer assault on account of our

Rabbi Lapin cited a number of incidents to explain why he says "those Jews protesting Passion lack moral legitimacy." He pointed to Arnold Lehman, "the Jewish director of the Brooklyn Museum," who presented the notorious show called Sensation featuring "works which debased Catholicism including Chris Ofili's dung bedecked Madonna."

The same Arnold Lehman, said Rabbi Lapin, "screened Hell's Angel, a film denouncing Mother Teresa as a religious extremist and depicting her in obscenely uncomplimentary and ghoulish terms." Rabbi Lapin then pointed at prominent New York Jewish ACLU lawyers Norman Siegel, Arthur Eisenberg, Steven Shapiro and Floyd Abrams as cnablers who had publicly defended Lehman's "artistic freedom.'"

Rabbi Lapin also slammed Universal Studio's Lew Wasserman for releasing the infamous movie The Last Temptation of Christ and the Weinstein brothers at Miramax for producing the 1994 film Priest, which was blatantly offensive to Catholics. In addition, he cited well-known record company executives Michael Fuchs, David Geffen and Gerald Levin, who have been responsible for producing obscene and violent recordings. These are all sad examples, he noted, of conduct that violates "'what ancient Jewish wisdom commends as ... conducting our public affairs in a way best calculated to bring credit upon as as a group."

In a November 10 interview with Cybercast News Service (CNSNews), Rabbi Lapin directly criticized Abraham Foxman and the ADL:
 In a way that has been unprecedented
 in 2,000 years, there is an
 atmosphere of friendship and
 mutual respect between Jews and
 Christians in America, literally of
 the kind that has not been seen in
 2,000 years, and this is being
 jeopardized--flagrantly jeopardized
 by Abraham Foxman in a
 cynical attempt to promote the
 agenda of secular liberalism.

The ADL, Lapin told CNSNews, does not seek to promote or defend the Jewish faith. "They are merely preaching secular fundamentalism," he said.

Why the Controversy?

Christians viewing Gibson's movie will have trouble understanding the objections voiced by the ADL, according to Lapin, and this could lead to a backlash. "Millions of Christians are going to be uplifted by the movie, find themselves moved by Gibson's movie, by the obvious fervor and sincerity of the man who made the movie," Lapin said.

The ADL's relentless attacks on the film, he worries, may cause many Christian moviegoers to view Jews with suspicion. "I believe that many of them will remember Abraham Foxman's hysterical rantings and think of them as attacks on Christianity," Rabbi Lapin said. "What [Foxman] is doing is actually attacking core beliefs in Christianity."

Foxman and other critics of The Passion have been very explicit in announcing that it is not only Gibson's film, but the actual Gospel accounts of the Passion of Jesus Christ that they find objectionable. They claim that the Gospel accounts slander the Jewish people with the blood libel of deicide and thereby pro yoke retaliation by Christians against Jews in general.

Mel Gibson has categorically denied that the film in any way promotes bigotry or intolerance toward Jews. In an interview with Fox TV's Bill O'Reilly, Gibson pointed out that each of us, by his own sins, is culpable for Christ's suffering death:
 I think it's meant to just tell the troth.
 I want to be as truthful as possible.
 But when you look at the reasons why
 Christ came, why He was crucified--He
 died for all mankind and He suffered
 for all mankind. So that, really,
 anyone who transgresses has to look
 at their own part or look at their own

Mr. Gibson also emphatically denies the charges by Foxman and others that he, personally, harbors anti-Semitic views. "If the intense scrutiny during nay 25 years in public life revealed I had ever persecuted or discriminated against anyone based on race or creed, I would be all too willing to make amends," Gibson has stated. "But," he continued, "there is no such record."

Film critic and commentator Michael Medved, an Orthodox Jew who saw an early screening of the film, shares Rabbi Lapin's apprehension. "My concern is that the campaign against The Passion is provoking far more anti-Semitism than the movie itself ever could," Medved said in a CNS-News interview. He told the Washington Post that he didn't think it would make sense for Gibson to make any concessions to his ADL critics, since "I don't see that Abe Foxman and Co. have displayed the least bit of open-mindedness or good faith."

Thanks to the outspoken courage of Rabbi Lapin, Michael Medved and other prominent Jews who have defended The Passion, the ADL's attempt to further polarize America along ethnic and religious lines, and to force expressions and symbols of Christian faith from the public sphere, may be averted.

Mel Gibson has said that "The Passion is a movie meant to inspire, not offend." An impressive number of voices from very diverse backgrounds have testified, after viewing his film, that it is indeed one of the most profoundly inspiring movies ever made. According to Gibson, "My intention in bringing it to the screen is to create a lasting work of art and engender serious thought among audiences of diverse faith backgrounds." Let us hope that it will be allowed a fair showing so that people of good will may be allowed to form their own opinion on The Passion.

RELATED ARTICLE: Viewers of The Passion speak out.

Jewish, Catholic and Protestant leaders who have seen screenings of The Passion found the film to be inspirational, remarkable and faithful to the Gospels. Anti, no, they did not find anti-Semitism.

Millions of Christians are going to be uplifted by the movie, find themselves moved by Gibson's movie, by the obvious fervor and sincerity of the man who made the movie....

I believe that many of them will remember Abraham Foxman's hysterical rantings and think of them as attacks on Christianity.... What [Foxman] is doing is actually attacking core beliefs in Christianity.

--Rabbi Daniel Lapin radio talk-show host and president of the Jewish group Toward Tradition

It is an awesome artifact, an overpowering work. I can't remember being so affected by a film before. It is extremely painful to watch and yet the violence is never gratuitous. You never feel like you want to take your eyes off the screen. It is a wracking emotional journey which never strays from its inspirational purpose. It is as close to a religious experience as art can get. It is not anti-Semitic, as the film-burners have charged.

--David Horowitz Jewish columnist, author and president of the Center for the Study of Popular Culture and editor of Front Page

Quite simply, I believe you [Mel Gibson] have made one of the most breathtaking, poignant movies of our time. I cannot recall a film that has had such a profound effect on my understanding of history, religion and, perhaps most importantly, what we as human beings are capable of in relation to our treatment of one another....

As a Jew, I left the movie feeling a greater sense of kinship and closeness to my Christian brothers and sisters than I ever thought imaginable. I see The Passion as one of the most powerful uniting tools to ever take advantage of the single medium capable of such a task, namely, film.... I know you're in no way, shape, or form anti-Semitic. I wish with a passion that everyone could know as I do the innate kindness and goodness in your heart. I believe that when they view this movie unencumbered, they will. The film, like any other, deserves that chance.

--Alan Sereboff Jewish screenwriter who worked with Gibson at Icon Productions

Despite the blood and the violence, it's a beautiful film. I believe it brings an important message, a peace message.

--Maia Morgenstern Jewish actress who plays Mary, the mother of Jesus

It conveys, more accurately than any other film, who Jesus was.

--Ted Haggard president of the National Evangelical Association

As a work of film it's remarkable, though flawed. Most Biblical movies are laughable reminiscent of The Life of Brian--but The Passion of Christ is intense, persuasive, believable. The controversy, meanwhile, centers on charges from people who have never seen any version of the film that it is anti-Semitic. Those charges are unfair and inappropriate, in my opinion.

--Michael Medved Jewish columnist, author, radio talk-show host and movie critic

I don't see what the controversy is all about. This is a compelling piece of art. I just called Kirk Douglas and told him that this is the movie to beat. You can quote me--Mel Gibson's The Passion of Christ is not anti-Semitic.... I found it genuinely moving, serious, a compelling tale.

--Jack Valenti president of the Motion Picture Association of America

Hard-core atheists and those who passionately despise Christianity are going to attack this film without mercy. Never has the essence of the Christian gospel--"Jesus Christ and Him crucified"--been so powerfully illustrated by Hollywood.

--Joel C. Rosenberg best-selling author and Jewish convert to Christianity

I was very impressed. It's certainly the most powerful portrayal of the passion I've ever seen or heard about. The movie is historically and theologically accurate.

--Donald Hodel president of Focus on the Family

This is the ultimate film. It's magical. Best picture I have seen in quite some time.... It depicts a clash between Jesus and those who crucified him, and speaking as a Jew, I thought it was a magical film that showed the perils of life on earth....

--Matt Drudge Jewish columnist and radio talk-show host

The movie is biblical, powerful and potentially life-changing.

--Dr. Jack Graham president of the Southern Baptist Convention

... having seen the film, I don't think anything in The Passion of Christ qualifies as anti-Semitism. I think that secular hostility to the film comes film something deeper and more inarticulate than any worries about religious prejudice.... The reason the secular world hates films like The Passion of Christ is because they persuade the heart with the logic of love.

--Archbishop Charles J. Chaput Catholic bishop of Denver

The real issue of The Passion is not anti-Semitism; after all, Jesus was Jewish, as were the disciples.

--Ted Baehr chairman of The Christian Film & Television Commission

Gibson's artistic choices make the film faithful to the meaning of the Gospels, as understood by the Church.... I experienced moments of profound spiritual intimacy withJesus Christ. It is a film that leads the viewer into prayer and reflection, into heartfelt contemplation. In tact, as I told Mr. Gibson after the screening, I would gladly trade some of the homilies that I have given about the passion of Christ for even a few of the scenes of his film.

--Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, Vatican City
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Title Annotation:Hollywood
Author:Jasper, William F.
Publication:The New American
Date:Dec 15, 2003
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