Anti-Semitism a New Thing for Me
The voice coming through my telephone courtesy of Mother Times' voice mail system this morning was matter-of-fact and calm -- like he was discussing the prospects for the Devil Rays or whether it would rain today.
But his sentiment -- that Mel Gibson's drunken, anti-Semitic triade was right and Jews are the cause of all the trouble in the world -- was not.
It's the price you pay for putting your telephone number at the end of your stories. But I never though my piece about prominent Jews' reaction to Mel Gibson trying to take back his public Jew-hating comments would draw that kind of response.
I've gotta admit, as a black man raised in Indiana, I never understood the whole anti-Semitism thing. Growing up, I was used to the idea that some white people hated black people simply because they looked different -- that's an easy concept for a kid to get.
But when I transferred to a private, Jewish middle school in 5th grade -- my mom, a public school teacher in Gary, knew the school was better than any I would attend in the public sphere -- I learned some white Christians hated Jews the same way ("They're all white!" I would say to myself, unable to grasp the logic).
These days, such attitudes make even less sense, for different reasons. Of particular surprise to me is the way some conservative Christians embrace supporting Israel on the one hand, but love movies like the Passion of the Christ and Left Behind on the other. In these movies, the only way Jews find redemption is by converting to Christianity; the Christian Right may hate Arabs more than it hates Jews, but they seem to hold a secret hope that their Kosher friends will eventually jump to their side.
"They don’t understand: we are never going to covert to Christianity. It hasn’t happened for 2000 years," said Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, host of TLC's Shalom in the Home and an up-and-coming self-help guru. He's felt Gibson was a bigot since viewing 2004's Passion of the Christ and seeing how it depicted Romans showing sympathy to Jesus while Jews plotted and schemed to kill him.
"It’s a huge propaganda exercise," said Boteach, who has brought his brand of fix-yourself counseling to Oprah and 15 books. "Yassir Arafat was hailing the film. I was shocked that my Christian bothers and sisters were promoting it almost as a sacrament....promoting a movie promoting lies. The most shocking thing of all, was the fact that so many Jewish conservatives also promoted the film.”
But Rabbi Richard Birnholz of Congregation Schaarai Zedek in Tampa noted something else: "I saw the film and found it interesting that when Christians viewed it they came away with a very different conclusion than I did. Like Shmuly Boteach, I felt it did perpetuate the image of the Jew as Christ-killer. But most Christians never really thought about that image of it. They were concentrating on Jesus’ suffering as a way of thinking about their own suffering and renewal."
Here's a few quotes about the whole thing which couldn't fit in my story today:
Elie Wiesel, Nobel Prize-winning author, Holocaust survivor and former chair of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council: "How many anti-Semites say they are not? And who is to say someone is an anti-Semite – the perpetrator, or the victim? The victims of racism and intolerance are the ones to make that determination, I think. I believe in atonement, but there must be real atonement. He must almost go from one Jew to another and ask for forgiveness. If he does it only to please the public and for goood press relations, it means nothing."
Boteach: "He’s clearly filled with self loathing. The person he hates is himself. You don’t drink yourself into oblivion unless you hate yourself, and have a need to find an external target to focus your hatred. I believe there’s a direct relationship between his anti Semitism and his self loathing. Like a lot of people, he probably thought being rich and famous would solve his problems. And as you can see, that hasn’t worked for him.”
Jonathan Ellis, chair of the Jewish Community Center/Federation's Community Relations Council: "He says I’m not a racist and this thing just happened…but how does that pop into your mind of all the things you can possibly say? And can you get past it, if you won't even admit that's how you really feel? What are Mel Gibson’s true and real feelings on Jewish issues, anti Semitism and the Holocaust? You have to sit down and have some kind of dialogue; saying 'I said it , I’m sorry I’m not anti-Semitic'...well, which comment are you supposed to believe? If you’re going to tell the truth is it more likely to happen during a media interview, or when you get pulled over at night when you’re intoxicated?"
Boteach: "To have one of the biggest stars in the world to be an out and out anti Semite, is amazing. American men in general are very broken. They’re told they have to make a success for themselves in a very early age, and success has only two criteria: money and reknown. It is a very dehumanizing message. You always have to be a human doing. You never have any soul time. And with celebrities, they reach the apogee of success – and you’re still not happy. Because that stuff is never going to make you happy. Success is when you feel at one with your gifts. That’s why (Gibson) has become so focus driven. 'Why am I so miserable? Those damn Jews.' And to hate so much and to blame others for your situation is profoundly disemopowering.”