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May 21, 2019 8:14 am

Mel Gibson’s Chutzpah

avatar by Jonathan Feldman

Opinion

Actor Mel Gibson at the 89th Academy Awards in Los Angeles, California, Feb. 26, 2017. Photo: Reuters / Mike Blake.

It’s bad enough to make a film about a dysfunctional family that alludes to a wealthy Jewish family. But casting Mel Gibson as the sinister grandfather? Come on.

There is a select group of iconic family dynasties with great wealth. Some examples are the Vaderbilts, the Morgans, the Rockefellers, and the Carnegies. There are also Jewish families who fit that profile, such as the Bronfmans, the Lauders, the Tisches, and the Rothschilds.

One of these Jewish families — the Rothschilds — stands out, because it is one of the oldest of these dynasties, and perhaps the largest and the wealthiest. And what truly differentiates this clan from the rest is that they are the subject of numerous conspiracy theories that are particularly popular among antisemites and white supremacists.

The legends go back 200 years and span a wide array of claims, among them that the Rothschilds control the banks, own most of the world’s wealth, control the Federal Reserve, and have even rigged presidential elections. (Just last year, a Washington, DC councilman, Trayon White, Sr., declared in a Facebook video rant, after an unseasonal snowstorm, that the Rothschilds controlled the climate and were causing natural disasters for their own personal benefit.)

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It was recently announced that a new movie will be made about a fictional wealthy family named Rothchild. It’s about a family outcast who tries to make his way back into the family and enjoy their wealth, and it is obviously no accident that the name they chose for the family is piggybacking off the Rothschilds’ allure and their great wealth.

The Hollywood website Deadline, which declares itself “the authoritative source for breaking news in the entertainment industry,” says that the film’s name “puns” the Rothschild banking family. This is far more than a pun; it’s almost as close as you can get to being a direct reference to the family. The website also notes that the movie is a dark satire, which I am certain will not put the Rothschilds in a good light.

What is deeply disturbing is that the figure playing the sinister grandfather, Whitelaw Rothchild, is none other the Mel Gibson, who is perhaps the most famous Hollywood antisemite of our times. This infamous distinction is largely due to the widely reported 2006 incident where Gibson was stopped for a DUI — during which he went on a tirade against a police officer, who he thought was Jewish, saying that “the Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world.”

So here we have a notorious conspiracy theorist who is being cast as a fictional character that alludes to a family that is on the receiving end of the worst conspiracy theories. Gibson’s publicist, Alan Nierob, insists that the name of the movie is not a reference to the Rothschilds because the name leaves out the “s” and is simply called Rothchild.

What chutzpah.

It was bad enough when Mel Gibson made the movie The Passion of the Christ, with its antisemitic stereotypes, and then considered making a film about the Maccabees and the Hanukkah story. It is bad enough that this new production team is making a movie about a dysfunctional family that alludes to a super-wealthy Jewish family. But casting Mel Gibson, a known antisemite, in the role of the Whitelaw Rothchild? And then to say that it has nothing to do with the Rothschild family? Then why not call the movie Rockefeller?

David Syms wrote in The Atlantic: “Gibson’s involvement is hard to interpret as anything but a whole other level of provocation, a ludicrous addition to a project that already sounds potentially offensive.”

This affront is not just a question of semantics or what is deemed “appropriate” or “sensitive.” Right-wing conspiracy theories are the driving force behind the antisemites who have shot up two synagogues in the past six months, who are singing in Dutch football stadiums to gas another six million Jews, and who are attacking Hasidic Jews on the streets of New York. Negative stereotypes about wealthy Jews are not child’s play; they are playing with fire.

This is what I say to you, Mel Gibson and the production team of Rothchild: peddle your movie at the Cannes Film Festival and call it Rockefeller. And hopefully all those who have heard Gibson’s antisemitic and racist rants will vote with their wallets and make the film a resounding bust.

Rabbi Jonathan Feldman, PhD, is Community Educator for Am Yisrael Foundation, an organization that runs programming for young olim and expats from all over the world in Tel Aviv.

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