Mel Gibson the Maccabee? How an Irony-Filled Project Fell Apart

December 12, 2012 1:37 am 5 comments

Mel Gibson at the 2011 Cannes film festival. Photo: Georges Biard.

For Mel Gibson and Joe Eszterhas—who had planned to collaborate on a recently shelved film on the life of Judah the Maccabee, one of the Hanukkah story’s heroes—it was an unlikely shidduch to begin with.

The Eszterhas family has a history of anti-Semitism. Eszterhas’ father was a Nazi propagandist in World War II Hungary who escaped detection until the late 1990s. When his father’s past was revealed, Eszterhas cut off all contact. “I turned my back on my father and his beliefs: my loyalty is to the 6 million dead,” he wrote for The Daily Beast.

Gibson’s father Hutton is a known Holocaust denier and a member of the “Latin Church,” a Catholic sect that rejects the Vatican II declaration that “decries hatred, persecutions, displays of anti-Semitism, directed against Jews at any time and by anyone.” In contrast to Eszterhas, however, Gibson, has “stayed loyal to his father’s beliefs,” Eszterhas said.

Perhaps the most notorious evidence of Gibson’s attitude came to light on a summer night in Malibu, Calif. in 2006, when Gibson was stopped for driving drunk. According to police reports, he called the officer who cited him a “motherf*r” and threatened to “get even.” Then came the line that reverberated throughout the Jewish world.

“The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world. Are you a Jew?” Gibson demanded of the deputy.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center, as well as a film producer and member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts, said in an interview with JNS.org that Gibson “has never shown the slightest inkling to come to terms with his anti-Semitism” despite the tapes exposing him.

“Considering Gibson to play Judah Maccabee was outrageous,” Hier said. “He never earned a second chance, never apologized. For me Mel Gibson is a non-starter.”

How did Gibson and Eszterhas come to collaborate in the first place, and how did their unlikely partnership fall apart?

In September of 2011, Warner Brothers announced that it would produce a film based on the life of Judah Maccabee with Mel Gibson. Eszterhas was to write the screenplay, and Gibson was to star on the big screen as Judah. Work began, and Eszterhas and his family were invited to Gibson’s house in Costa Rica.

In The Atlantic that December, columnist Jeffrey Goldberg (who is writing a biography of Judah Maccabee) questioned Gibson about why he wanted to make a movie about the 2nd-century BCE Jewish hero. Gibson, according to Goldberg, responded that the Book of Maccabees (I and II) makes “ripping good reads.”

By April 2012, slightly more than six months into the project, the Maccabees project was put on hold by Warner Bros. Eszterhas says he quit; Gibson claims he was fired. JNS.org was not able to reach either one of them for this report.

Eszterhas, speaking with radio host Howard Stern, recalled his family’s Costa Rica experience, specifically Gibson’s alleged threatening and hate-filled anti-Semitic rants, recorded by Nicholas, his 15-year-old son. Eszterhas claims the child was so fearful that he slept with a kitchen knife.

Eszterhas wrote a nine-page letter to Gibson in which he accused the actor of using “The Maccabees” film project—a story about Jewish heroism—“in an attempt to deflect continuing charges of anti-Semitism which have dogged you, charges which have crippled your career.” He continued, “Let me remind you of some of the things you said which appalled me… You continually called Jews ‘Hebes,’ ‘oven-dodgers,’ and ‘Jewboys.’… You said the Holocaust was ‘mostly a lot of horsesh*t… I’ve come to the conclusion that the reason you won’t make “The Maccabees” is the ugliest possible one. You hate Jews.”

Gibson, in a letter to Eszterhas, called Eszterhas’s assertions “fabrications.”

“In 25 years of script development, I have never seen a more substandard first draft or a more significant waste of time,” he wrote. “The decision not to proceed with you was based on the quality of your script, not on any other factor.”

Eszterhas claims Gibson never intended to make the movie, but rather, that he just wanted to garner positive PR. He told Stern, “I worked for a year without pay because I wanted to write the story of the great Jewish hero.”

“I strongly believe that unless he seeks and receives some kind of psychiatric help, someone is going to get hurt,” Eszterhas told Stern regarding Gibson.

The Wiesenthal Center’s Hier told JNS.org that Gibson “is an unrepentant anti-Semite” who “repeatedly exhibits his position despite having done real damage.”

Hier does “believe that [Gibson] uttered those words” to the police officer in Malibu in 2006. “There’s an old Yiddish expression: what you do or say when you’re drunk, is what you’re really thinking,” Hier said.

Jewish comedian Jackie Mason was among those who defended Gibson after the 2006 incident.

“He never afflicted a Jew in his life personally,” Mason said in a Fox television interview. “How a guy lived for 50 years is what should count, not one remark when you’re drunk. He never joined a club that was anti-Semitic. He never refused to give a guy a tip at a restaurant because he found out he was Jewish. His house doesn’t have a sign in front of it that says ‘no Jews allowed.’”

But even before the episode with the police officer, in 2004 Gibson “solidified his anti-Semitic position” with the production of “The Passion of the Christ” film, “portraying Jews so negatively” and conveying an “insult to the entire Jewish people,” Hier said.

“Everyone identified as a Jew in the movie is shown as a buffoon, an idiot, or a sadist,” Hier said. “It is a cruel portrayal.”

“Pope Benedict has acknowledged that Jesus was not killed by the Jews,” yet “in The Passion of the Christ, the actor crucified the Jewish people,” according to Hier.

“Jews portrayed by Gibson are cruel, dishonest,” he said.

Hier is sharply critical of Gibson for his “so-called apology” conveyed after the 2006 anti-Semitic outburst, when a public relations professional was hired to write the apology.

“This is not what you do,” Hier said. “You use the opportunity to apologize to the Jewish people personally… Find a quiet way of showing repentance, perhaps visit a concentration camp. But do it yourself! Then people might forgive.”

5 Comments

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Jewish Identity Sports Cycling the Desert: New Israel Bike Trail Connects Mitzpe Ramon to Eilat

    Cycling the Desert: New Israel Bike Trail Connects Mitzpe Ramon to Eilat

    As the popularity of cycling continues to increase across the world, Israel is working to develop cycling trails that make the country’s spectacular desert accessible to cyclists. The southern segment of the Israel Bike Trail was inaugurated on Feb. 24 and offers for the first time a unique, uninterrupted 8-day cycling experience after six years of planning and development. The southern section of the Israel Bike Trail stretches over 300 kilometers in length and is divided into eight segments for mountain biking, [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Theater Forthcoming Major Action Movies Inspired by Jewish Comic Artist Jack Kirby

    Forthcoming Major Action Movies Inspired by Jewish Comic Artist Jack Kirby

    JNS.org – With the recent Oscars in the rearview mirror, Hollywood’s attention now shifts to the rest of this year’s big-screen lineup. Two of the major action films coming up in 2015—Avengers: Age of Ultron, which hits theaters in May, and the third film in the Fantastic Four series, slated for an August release—have Jewish roots that the average moviegoer might be unaware of. As it turns out, it took a tough Jewish kid from New York City’s Lower East [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Jewish Identity When Torah Teaches Life and Life Teaches Torah (REVIEW)

    When Torah Teaches Life and Life Teaches Torah (REVIEW)

    JNS.org – Rabbi Gordon Tucker spent the first 20 years of his career teaching at the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) and the next 20 years as the rabbi of Temple Israel Center in White Plains, N.Y. I confess that when I heard about the order of those events, I thought that Tucker’s move from academia to the pulpit was strange. Firstly, I could not imagine anyone filling the place of my friend, Arnold Turetsky, who was such a talented [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Oscars 2015: Reflecting on Love at First Sight

    Oscars 2015: Reflecting on Love at First Sight

    JNS.org – I’m in love, and have been for a long time. It’s a relationship filled with laughter, tears, intrigue, and surprise. It was love at first sight, back when I was a little girl—with an extra-terrestrial that longed to go home. From then on, that love has never wavered, and isn’t reserved for one, but for oh so many—Ferris Bueller, Annie Hall, Tootsie, Harry and Sally, Marty McFly, Atticus Finch, Danny Zuko, Yentl, that little dog Toto, Mrs. Doubtfire, [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Book Reviews Examining America’s First Foray into the Middle East (REVIEW)

    Examining America’s First Foray into the Middle East (REVIEW)

    At the turn of the 21st century through today, American involvement in Middle Eastern politics runs through the Central Intelligence Agency. In America’s Great Game: The CIA’s Secret Arabists and the Shaping of the Modern Middle East, historian Hugh Wilford shows this has always been the case. Wilford methodically traces the lives and work of the agency’s three most prominent officers in the Middle East: Kermit “Kim” Roosevelt was the grandson of president Theodore Roosevelt, and the first head of [...]

    Read more →
  • Relationships US & Canada Seniors at Los Angeles Jewish Home Give Witty Dating Advice Ahead of Valentine’s Day (VIDEO)

    Seniors at Los Angeles Jewish Home Give Witty Dating Advice Ahead of Valentine’s Day (VIDEO)

    Residents of the Los Angeles Jewish Home give dating advice to a young Jewish man in a comedic video posted Monday on YouTube just in time for Valentine’s Day. Jonathan, an associate at the Jewish home, quizzes the senior citizens on an array of topics including having sex on the first date, kissing a girl, who should pay for dinner and whether online dating is a good idea. When the 28-year-old asks a male resident named Lee about his experiences [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish History Kutsher’s Documentary an Amazing, and Tragic, Look at the Past (REVIEW)

    Kutsher’s Documentary an Amazing, and Tragic, Look at the Past (REVIEW)

    Anyone who spent time in the Jewish Catskills hotels – especially those like me, who returned for decades – must see the new documentary,”Welcome to Kutsher’s: The Last Catskills Resort.” Not only will the film transport you back to the glory days of your youth and thousands of memories, but it will also make you long for a world that is now lost forever. I returned to Kutsher’s one last time in the summer of 2009, but by then, the [...]

    Read more →
  • Education Jewish Identity Lifestyle Riding the Wave of Change in Part-Time Jewish Education

    Riding the Wave of Change in Part-Time Jewish Education

    JNS.org – Amid the numerous studies and analyses regarding Jewish American life, a simple fact remains: part-time Jewish education is the most popular vehicle for Jewish education in North America. Whenever and wherever parents choose Jewish education for their children, we have a communal responsibility to devote the necessary time and resources to deliver dynamic, effective learning experiences. The only way we can do this is by creating space for conversations and knowledge-sharing around innovative new education models. That also [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.