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'Passion,' the Nazi Collaborator, and Friendship

Not surprisingly, Mel Gibson's controversial (and brilliant, I might add) film 'The Passion of the Christ,' continues to bring out the worst in some people. Mel's detractors have hurled just about every accusation they can think of to ruin his good reputation.

And they do the same to his supporters, including me.

In response to my "Mel Gibson's Brother Thanks Rabbi, Defends Father" story - in which Mel's brother, Chris Gibson, is quoted as thanking Rabbi Daniel Lapin for his support of Mel; and says that he will always honor his father, Hutton Gibson, unconditionally - I received several e-mails that were negative and, in a couple of cases, downright hostile. Their essential point: How dare I support Mel Gibson and his Holocaust-denying father!

Of course, I responded by saying that while I don't agree with Hutton Gibson's views, I do understand, even sympathize with, Gibson and his siblings who, probably in obedience to the Fourth Commandment, do not wish to publicly drag their father through the mud. And I would hope that reasonable people would come to the same conclusion.

Then I received an e-mail from one Orest Slepokura, who stated the following:

"It's interesting, sometimes, to see what had NOT been protested. A case in point:

"When the South African prime minister John Vorster made a state visit to Israel in April 1976, it began with a tour of Yad Vashem, Israel's great Holocaust memorial, where the late Yitzhak Rabin invited the onetime Nazi collaborator, unabashed racist and white supremacist to pay homage to Jews murdered in the Holocaust.

"As an old Nazi collaborator, Vorster should, of course, have been put on trial the minute he set foot on Israeli soil; instead, he was graciously welcomed by his Jewish hosts.

"Compared, say, to routine outcries from organized Jewry over often even mild whiffs of Holocaust controversy, no less remarkable was the bland equanimity both Israeli and diaspora Jews also displayed toward the Vorster visit.

"Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi recalls that [The Israeli Connection, Random House: Toronto, 1987, p.x] 'For most Israelis, the Vorster visit was just another state visit by a foreign leader. It did not draw much attention. Most Israelis did not even remember his name, and did not see anything unusual, much less surreal in the scene [a Nazi diehard invited to debauch the memory of the victims at a Holocaust memorial]: Vorster was just another visiting dignitary being treated to the usual routine.'

"The South African leader left Israel four days later; after signing several friendship treaties between the Jewish state and South Africa's racist apartheid regime. A denouement Leslie and Andrew Cockburn describe in Dangerous Liaison [Stoddart Publishing: Toronto, 1991, pp. 299-300]:

"'The old Nazi sympathizer came away with bilateral agreements for commercial, military, and nuclear cooperation that would become the basis for future relations between the two countries.'"

Finally, I offer the following - a news release from the Catholic League (www.catholicleague.org), dated March 12, 2004:

"JoaquĆ­n Navarro-Valls, the Director of the Holy See's Press Office, said yesterday that 'The Passion of the Christ' was 'a cinematographic transcription of the Gospels. If it were anti-Semitic, the Gospels would also be so.' He added that the pope would have criticized the movie if it were bigoted against Jews, but, he declared, there is 'nothing anti-Semitic about it.' The Vatican spokesman made his comments in reply to Riccardo Di Segni, chief rabbi of Rome, who had asked the Vatican to formally condemn the Mel Gibson movie.

"Catholic League president William Donohue was pleased:

"This will now settle the issue for most Catholics--the movie is not anti-Semitic. Naturally, there will always be some, most especially dissident theologians, nuns and priests, who will reject the Vatican's understanding of the film. But then again they have a long track record of rejecting lots of things the Vatican says. It would be a mistake for the millions of Catholics who have embraced this movie to allow the dissidents to distract them from the beauty of the film.

"For some Jews, this may not sit too well. That would be unfortunate, because the last thing Catholics want is bad relations with Jews. Those Jews who find the movie problematic should be treated with respect. Given what has happened to Jews throughout history, including at the hands of many Christians, it is not surprising that many Jews today would be wary of any movie that deals with the death of Jesus. But an honest dialogue between Catholics and Jews cannot proceed if Catholics--convinced the movie is a spiritual exercise absent anti-Semitism--are to pretend there isn't an honest disagreement about the movie.

"At the end of the day, however, disagreements between Catholics and Jews need not take on any greater significance than the ordinary family quarrel. It is up to the major players on both sides to see to it that our common friendship transcends any discord about this matter."

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