Prominent Jewish leaders are beginning to speak out against Mel Gibson and Warner Bros. over their planned movie based on the life of religious icon Judah Maccabee.
Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti Defamation League, who criticized Gibson’s controversial 2004 film The Passion of the Christ, issued a statement to The Hollywood Reporter in response to the news.
“Judah Maccabee deserves better. He is a hero of the Jewish people and a universal hero in the struggle for religious liberty. It would be a travesty to have his story told by one who has no respect and sensitivity for other people’s religious views,” Foxman tells THR of the project, which is being co-developed by Basic Instinct writer Joe Eszterhas.
In the lead-up to Passion’s release, Foxman could be found on numerous talk and news programs slamming the drama. In a speech to the ADL’s national executive committee just before the film’s release, Foxman questioned whether Passion could trigger anti-Semitism.
Rabbi Marvin Heir, founder and dean of Los Angeles's Simon Wiesenthal Center Museum of Tolerance, also is speaking out against the new film. He tells THR that the project is merely the latest slap in the face to Jewish people by Gibson, who has been accused of making anti-Semitic comments.
Heir tells THR in a statement:
"Mel Gibson has shown nothing but antagonism and disrespect to Jews. First of all there were the anti-Semitic remarks he made, his portrayal of Jews in The Passion of Christ. I’m talking about those Jews who did not accept Christ, they were all portrayed as idiots, buffoons or people who were tyrants, with a very unfair portrayal. He’s had a long history of antagonism with Jews. Casting him as a director or perhaps as the star of Judah Maccabee is like casting Madoff to be the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission, or a white supremacist as trying to portray Martin Luther King Jr. It's simply an insult to Jews."
Heir also is criticizing Warner Bros., a unit of publicly-traded Time Warner, for agreeing to distribute the movie.
"Warner Bros. is making a terrible mistake," Heir says, adding, "most of the people that are going to come to a film about Judah Maccabee are the Jewish community. Surely they know the Jewish communities are not going to come to this film."
Heir says he has no objection to Gibson making a living as an actor or director, but he has not apologized sufficiently for comments deemed anti-Semitic:
"Has he shown any sensitivity to Jews after those incidents? Has he gone out of his way to write an editorial to explain himself, to do some outreach and to understand better the implications of the Holocaust or maybe on one of his visits to Europe to stop at a concentration camp and show some sensitivity? Nobody would say a person doesn’t deserve another chance. There’s no question about that. But he has not shown any of that evidence at all. I am sort of appalled by such a portrayal, because it’s a complete misfit for the role of Judah Maccabee, one of the greatest Jewish heroes in all of history to be portrayed by someone who has shown nothing but antagonism and anti Semitism toward Jews."
Gibson has not said whether he will play Maccabee, or even whether he will act in the movie.
Still, regardless of his opposition to the project, Foxman says, "America is a free country and anyone can do whatever they want, so long as they don’t hurt others."