Even the title is so emotion laden. It’s OK to talk about “the Americans”, “the French”, “the Israelis”…”The Kurds”, “the Bosnians”, “the Catholics.” We often hear references to Christians and Muslims…to Hindus and Buddhists. But “The Jews” has a particularly uneasy and troubling aspect to it — this of course going back to historical associations, to elements of Christian theology, to the European holocaust….and yes indeed to Biblical times.
As the modern-day media crucifixation of superstar turned Jesus story-teller Mel Gibson continues, a brief summary of the situation in Hollywood is in order. First of course they brought great pressure on Gibson to not go forward with the movie in the first place. Then they tried hard to get the movie black-balled from distribution. Next they put on the pressure to get the cut and script of the movie changed (i.e., like the editing censorship that often goes on with op-eds and books dealing with the Middle East and “The Jews” in the U.S. and Europe). And now, with things having backfired and the movie taking off with fireworks, the attacks on Gibson personally and on the extreme violence of his film generally continue — witness today’s blockbuster assault in the New York Times (itself long known as a kind of Israeli-centric heavily Jewish-influenced ‘newspaper of record’ in the city where more Jews now live than any other).
In the mid 1970s, there was a film titled “Children of Rage” that depicted early-on the Palestinian struggle against the Israeli occupation. There was a moving love story between a courageous Jewish doctor and an attractive Palestinian woman.There was a thoughtful portrayal of the situation Palestinian young people had found themselves in, of harsh life in the refugee camps, of the increasingly bitter struggle for freedom and Statehood. In the end there was much death, destruction, and despair visited on all. Looking back, Children of Rage was very much an early warning of the historic cancer which has since metastasized into the Intifada, into the American occupation of the Middle East, and yes into 9/11, the Apartheid Wall, and the desperation of suiciders.
Children of Rage was in fact written and directed by an American Jew, Arthur Seidelman. It was a substantial motion picture that opened in major movie theaters in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and around the country. But the protests and pressures from Jewish organizations were considerable, after a few weeks the film was crushed (never to return), and the Jewish director was in a very real sense burned out by the whole affair. Seidelman remained in Hollywood directing for TV and cinema but he never again returned to the subject of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
In the 1980s a famous movie actor got interested in the story of what happened to the U.S.S. Liberty in 1967. He investigated a bit, held a few meetings with survivors, and went to top-level friends in Hollywood to try to get a movie made, himself possibly staring as the Liberty Captain. He not only failed. He was very explicitly warned by the powers that be: “Don’t even mention this again. If you even try to go ahead with this you will never work in Hollywood again.”
At the time of the first Palestinian Intifada another famous movie star, this one Jewish, was asked for his support regarding a statement being published in the New York Review of Books and other magazines by Jewish professionals — many lawyers, doctors, professors — supporting the Palestinian struggle against the Israeli occupation and calling for a suspension of U.S. aid to Israel until the Israelis ended the occupation and stopped preventing a Palestinian State. “I definitely support what you are doing, but I can’t sign it” Ed Asner said. He added softly, almost in hushed tones: “I’m a coward, I’m very sorry…my agent would kill me.”
A few years before, in the aftermath of Israel’s invasion of Lebanon and the early-on suicide bombings that drove the Americans out of Beirut, a very high-level extraordinary meeting was quietly convened near Capitol Hill in Washington. Brought together for the first, and for the only time, were top representatives of the PLO, American Jewry, Congress, and academia. In retrospect the purpose was to find a way to head off what has now considerably worsened and expanded to become the “Clash of Civilizations”. Mossad-connected operatives were soon to visit some of the participants, in private, one by one, including the high-level host of the meeting. The warning was very blunt: “Your welfare, your career, the future of you and your family are at stake. Hold no more such meetings.” Those who ‘obeyed’ were rewarded; the host with a life-long appointment to a very senior position in Washington. Those who did not comply were punished and black-listed. Though some of the key participants very much wanted to push forward, no follow-up meetings ever took place.
In ‘modern’ times crucifixtions take many forms these days beyond the old Roman way of nailing to the public cross for all to see and cower in excoriating blood and tears. Ironically, in a world of instant mass communications and incessant news spam, deciphering what is really happening may be even more difficult now than then.
As for Mel Gibson he has told a tale of Biblical proportions, one that goes to the heart of Christian theology, and one which in fact goes to the core of the Jewish predicament ever since those days of the Sanhedrin and the history-changing Jewish schism that spread worldwide from Jerusalem erupting into Christianity. Others can interpret the scriptures, both old and new, in their own ways as they determine best and true — fair enough. But to try to relentlessly crucify Gibson for trying to tell the story as he knows it, or rather as he believes it, is in itself a kind of intellectual and political blasphemy. Rather Gibson should be thanked for standing his ground, making his movie, telling his story, and making us all ponder and think and feel…whether Jew, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, atheist…or just plain human.