Regular Israellycool readers will know Mel Gibson is not the most popular person around these parts, because of his antisemitic ways.
But according to Jewish reporter Allison Hope Weiner, he’s done his time and now some of his best friends are Jewish.
This crystallized when we met each other’s families. It was hard to blame his family for being skeptical of a journalist, but the issues with my own family were more challenging. Gibson asked to meet them at my son’s bar mitzvah celebration. Imagine the scene: A room filled with Jews. In walks the person who, in their minds, might be the most notorious anti-Semite in America. Gibson attended alone and I can only imagine what was going through his head when he walked into the party.
Before the evening was over, he was chatting with many of my relatives, who saw a funny, kind, charming guy and not the demon they’d read about. Gutsier still, he attended our 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.
I’ve discussed the Holocaust with Gibson and whether his views differed from those of his father. Just as he refused to condemn his father in that TV interview with Diane Sawyer, Gibson refused to discuss his dad with me. Similar to what he told Sawyer, Gibson told me that he believed that 6 million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust. “Do I believe that there were concentration camps where defenseless and innocent Jews died cruelly under the Nazi regime? Of course I do; absolutely,” he told Sawyer. “It was an atrocity of monumental proportion.” In our conversations, I took that a step further. Why, I asked him “did you say those things about the Jews starting all the wars? Where did those unkind things come from?” Gibson thought for a moment, then answered that he’d been terribly hurt by the very personal criticism of him from the Jewish community over The Passion Of The Christ. He said that while he’d been criticized for films before, this was personal and cruel. He said that when he drinks, he can be a mean drunk and “Stuff comes out in a distorted manner…” His own faith led him to make his version of Christ’s story, and he found himself being attacked for making a film that might get Jews killed, and that he was insensitive that his depiction of Jews as Christ’s killer could inflame religious tensions. He was called names by numerous Jewish leaders and a few people literally spat on him. “The criticism was still eating at me,” he told me. “This was a different kind of hammering. A very personal attack.”
Based on my exchanges with Gibson and my own reporting on his transgressions, I’ve stopped doubting him. He worked in Hollywood for 30 years without a single report he was anti-Semitic. Before that drunken evening in July 2006, he worked all the time with producers, directors, actors and crew who happened to be Jewish, without incident. But, even if I accept the comments from those who believe his drunken remarks tapped into some deep-seated anti-Semitism back then, the Gibson I know now is clearly a different man, one who has worked on his sobriety since that awful night in Malibu.
Gibson would later tell me that he was grateful the officer pulled him off the road that night because he might have killed someone else or himself. He felt so badly for verbally attacking LA County Sheriff’s Deputy James Mee that night that he later asked him out for coffee to personally apologize. Like many things he does, Gibson never publicized that.
In his second apology on the anti-Semitic statements, Gibson promised to reach out to Jewish leaders. Gibson followed up by meeting with a wide variety of them. He gave me their names when I asked, but Gibson asked me not to publish them because he didn’t want them dragged into public controversy or worse, think he was using them. The meetings were not some photo op to him, he told me, but rather his desire to understand Judaism and personally apologize for the unkind things he said. He has learned much about the Jewish religion, befriending a number of Rabbis and attending his share of Shabbat dinners, Passover Seders and Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur dinners. I believe that effort, along with our conversations, helped him understand why Jewish people reacted as they did toThe Passion Of The Christ and why there was Jewish support for the Second Vatican Council. Gibson has quietly donated millions to charitable Jewish causes, in keeping with one of the highest forms of Tzedakah in the Jewish faith, giving when the recipient doesn’t know your identity.
Gibson went well beyond a mea culpa tour. He came out of that experience determined to film the Jewish version of Braveheart. He set at Warner Bros a film about Judah Maccabee, who with his father and four brothers led the Jewish revolt against the Greek-Syrian armies that had conquered Judea in the second century B.C. That seminal story is celebrated by Jews all over the world through Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights. Gibson planned to direct, but the effort was undermined by the decision to hire Joe Eszterhas to write it.
He wasn’t the bad person I thought he was back when I first wrote about him, and I’m telling you, he is now not the person you think he is. As one A-list star told me recently, “Mel has spent enough time in the penalty box.”
So how about it, Hollywood?
Read the entire thing. It almost made me want to invite Mel over to fast with me today.
But what do you think?