Is Mel Gibson up to his old anti-Semitic tricks?
If multimedia entrepreneur Glenn Beck is accurately recalling a recent conversation he says he had with the perpetually embattled Gibson, it could not come at a worse moment for the 60-year-old movie star and Oscar-winning director, who is busy promoting his World War II epic, Hacksaw Ridge, and hardly needs a public revival of his distasteful past.
On his radio show last Friday, and in a news story posted on GlennBeck.com, Beck claimed The Passion of the Christ director was still blaming Jews for his troubles during a 90-minute heart-to-heart, after Beck attended a late August screening of Gibson’s widely praised new movie, which reportedly received a 10-minute standing ovation this week at the Venice Film Festival.
According to Beck, Gibson claimed to him that “Jewish people” had stolen a copy of his Jesus movie more than a dozen years ago and used it to attack him and make his life hell before the film’s release.
Gibson’s 2004 film about the sufferings of Jesus at the crucifixion earned a $612 million worldwide box office but was bitterly criticized by Jewish and other religious scholars for alleged anti-Semitic stereotypes.
In newspaper columns and even on the street and in restaurants, they abused him and accused him of anti-Semitism.
“I expected Hollywood to not like it, but I lost my friends,” Gibson said, according to Beck. “People wouldn’t even speak to me because I made this movie… All of a sudden I’m a pariah.”
Recalling Gibson’s comments, Beck continued: “And then some Jewish people—I guess some rabbis or something, I didn’t get into it—somebody stole a copy of the movie before it was shown to anybody… And then they did a deal in The New York Times with all these rabbis trashing him as an anti-Semite. And he said, ‘I couldn’t believe it… Nobody was really upset that these guys stole the movie…’
“And he said, ‘Glenn, they were stopping me on the streets and spitting on me—people from all walks of life stopping and they would spit on me on the streets.’ He said, ‘I would be out some place nice, dressed up, and they would just tear me apart and [say] that I’m an anti-Semite.’”
Reached by The Daily Beast, Gibson’s publicist said he is unaware of such a conversation between the controversial radio host and the tarnished actor. Beck’s spokesman, likewise, could shed no light on the alleged encounter.
If accurate, however, Beck’s recounting of Gibson’s remarks was extremely off message for a damaged celebrity who has spent much of the last decade trying to repair his reputation by meeting with Jewish religious leaders and befriending a Jewish journalist, Allison Hope Weiner, who ardently defended him in print after he’d invested in an internet company for which she hosted online television shows—a fact she failed to disclose in her essay titled “A Journalist’s Plea On 10th Anniversary Of ‘The Passion Of The Christ’: Hollywood, Take Mel Gibson Off Your Blacklist.” Weiner and her editor denied there had been a conflict of interest.
Strangely, the GlennBeck.com story about Beck’s chat with Gibson and a 6-minute video snippet of Beck’s narrative were removed from Beck’s website Friday evening, a few hours after they were initially posted.
“Editor’s note: This post has been removed because it inadvertently revealed details of an off the record conversation. We regret the error,” said a notice on the page where the post had initially appeared—leading some to conclude that somebody from Team Gibson had complained about the potentially detrimental impact of Beck’s reminiscence about his chat with Gibson.
The Daily Beast, however, was able to retrieve the original post using Google Cache.
Weiner, in her 2014 essay, wrote that Gibson was being unfairly ostracized, and recounted how he charmed the socks off her skeptical relatives at her son’s bar mitzvah celebration, and revealed that he even showed up for her family’s Yom Kippur break-fast dinner.
“Anyone who has attended such a gathering knows there is nothing more imposing than making friends in a room full of Jews who haven’t eaten in 24 hours,” Weiner wrote admiringly.
While Gibson’s alleged comments don’t seem calculated to smooth his way for a Hollywood comeback after a decade in the wilderness without a movie, at least two Jewish leaders are not surprised.
“He never recanted, he never apologized, he never really let go,” Abraham Foxman, the former executive director of the Anti-Defamation League, told The Daily Beast.
Foxman spearheaded a campaign to alert audiences to Gibson’s alleged anti-Semitism in The Passion of the Christ, which dramatized the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate as anguished over the crucifixion, and portrayed Jesus’s fellow Hebrews as a murderous mob.
“I guess Gibson tried to engage in some PR gimmicks,” Foxman said, “but in fact this interview [with Beck] only shows how deep [his anti-Semitism] is, how ingrained it is in him.”
New York Rabbi Robert Levine, another prominent critic of Gibson and The Passion, told The Daily Beast: “He did a job on the Jews. The fact that he is not the slightest bit reflective or repentant more than 10 years later tells you all you need to know. His image took a hit, his career took a hit, and it was richly deserved. He could easily have gotten out in front of it and been apologetic. He knew what he was doing. It was perfectly obvious. There wasn’t a hint of subtlety.”
Indeed, Beck says that when he asked Gibson if he still would have made the same movie if he’d known about the outrage The Passion would provoke, “He said yes immediately. ‘I wouldn’t have changed anything with the movie.’
“It was the most amazing period of my life,” Beck quoted Gibson as saying.
This was two years before Gibson’s infamous July 2006 roadside encounter with a sheriff’s deputy in Malibu who pulled him over and subsequently arrested him for driving under the influence.
“Fucking Jews,” Gibson cursed at the law enforcement officer, according to the official police report unearthed by TMZ. “The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world… Are you a Jew?”
Foxman, for one, disputed Gibson’s alleged account of a stolen movie, saying instead that a Jewish religious adviser to The Passion sent a screenplay to the Anti-Defamation League and that a team of both Jewish and Christian biblical scholars prepared a detailed critique. When the document was sent to Gibson, “he went berserk and threatened to sue us, so we returned the script,” Foxman said.
While Gibson toured the country in 2003 arranging private screenings for church groups, and even showed The Passion in Washington to an elite group of conservative opinion leaders, Foxman said the actor-director refused to show it to Jewish religious leaders. Foxman eventually managed to see it by sneaking into a January 2004 screening at a church in Winter Park, Florida.
“He would always say about us, ‘How can they criticize it if they didn’t even see it?,’ so I slipped in to see it,” Foxman recalled. “I know I wasn’t the only one, because about 10 of us in the congregation didn’t kneel [during prayers].”
Beck, meanwhile, said Gibson seemed mystified by all criticism. “He said, ‘I would understand it if it happened after [his drunken outburst in Malibu], but he said, no, this was before.”
Beck told his listeners: “I went with one of my friends who’s Jewish. I got the impression, and so did he, that when he was at the traffic stop, he wasn’t talking about all Jews. He was horribly angry. He had so much anger in him from all kinds of stuff. He was twisted. He was drunk. He was high, and he was lashing out at that group of Jews—not Jews in general.”
Beck added: “No excuse for it. I’m not lessening it or anything else, but I don’t think it was what we thought it was. Could be.”