Re-exposing Mel Gibson’s Antisemitic Hate
Recently, Winona Ryder recalled Mel Gibson’s racist comment asking her if she was an “oven dodger,” referring to the Nazis gassing and cremating millions of Jews during the Holocaust. After a recorded drunken rant in Malibu in 2006, Gibson issued a plea through his PR spin master, asking to “meet with Jewish leaders for a discussion to discern the appropriate path for healing.” If he had been sincere about his apology and wanted to change — especially for his children’s sake — that would have been one thing. But this statement was a fraud concocted for damage control. At the time, I and many others called him out on it.
Upon hearing his questionable “plea for help,” I invited him to publicly apologize before a large gathering at my largely entertainment-industry synagogue. I knew full well that his deeply rooted father-induced years of Holocaust denial and antisemitism would never allow him to issue a genuine mea culpa.
His PR team immediately went to work making me the target, despite the fact that I turned down numerous network morning and news program requests for interviews on the subject. Their objective was to protect a star client and blunt any efforts to expose the insincere cry of a Jew-hater caught in the act.
Gibson’s extremist Catholic doctrine of hatred was evident in his film The Passion of the Christ. A nun who attended the clergy screening with me called it “a Jesus snuff film,” with the Jews in a strong supporting role directly responsible for the torture and crucifixion of Jesus. Even the Vatican denounced this interpretation, which had served as the basis for centuries of persecution of Jews by Christians.
Shortly afterwards, Rob Reiner invited me to his home to address a group at a screening of the film. A non-Jewish high-end carpenter pulled me aside later that night, and said, “Rabbi, I built Gibson’s library and at the end of a working day, he would sit me down for a drink. After imbibing four or five drinks, he would begin with his F*ng Jews rants. It made me extremely uncomfortable and I wanted to share this experience with you .”
On rare occasions, you can convert a truly repentant antisemite into an ally in the battle against hatred and bigotry. With Gibson, there was never a chance of that happening. One is left wondering why his friends in the industry won’t confront him on his bigotry. One also wonders why black Muslim celebrities and athletes won’t condemn another vicious antisemite, Louis Farrakhan. Ignorance as displayed by Chelsea Handler and others is no excuse, and failure to call out hate is unacceptable — especially these days.
Rabbi David Baron leads the Temple of the Arts in Beverly Hills, California.