New York, NY, February 11, 2004 … The potential for actor/director Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" to foment anti-Semitism was the focus of a discussion by interfaith experts during the Anti-Defamation League's National Executive Committee Meeting, February 5-7 in Palm Beach, Florida. Recognized scholars, religious and communal leaders discussed their impressions of the film, the controversy and the potential repercussions for Christian-Jewish relations once the "Passion" movie is released in theaters nationwide on February 25, Ash Wednesday.
Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director and author of Never Again? The Threat of the New Anti-Semitism, in his keynote address underscored the Jewish concerns about the film. Mr. Foxman screened the Gibson film a week prior to the ADL meeting at an evangelical religious convention in Orlando.
"I believe in epiphany. If I did not believe that we can change the hearts and minds of people, I wouldn't go to work, and the Anti-Defamation League wouldn't have been around for 90 years," Mr. Foxman said. "Is Mel Gibson an anti-Semite? No. He's a true believer. Is his anti-Semitism intentional? I don't believe so. But I worry about unintended consequences, especially when they mesh in history. Is the film anti-Semitic? No. But its consequences, its impact, its message may fuel anti-Semitism."
The film's damaging portrayal of Jews as being responsible for the Crucifixion could be countered by the voices of responsible Christian leaders, said Mr. Foxman, who revealed that Franklin Graham, CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and Gary Bauer, a Republican candidate for president in 2000 and conservative Christian advocate, had contacted him to expressed their willingness to speak to the sensitivity that Jews have regarding Gibson's film.
In a panel discussion titled "Will Mel Gibson's 'Passion' Damage Christian-Jewish Relations?," three prominent interfaith scholars voiced concerns about the film's potential to inflame hate and bigotry. The panel, moderated by Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor, ADL Interfaith Consultant, included remarks by the Rev. John Pawlikowski, a member of the panel of scholars who reviewed an early copy of Gibson's "Passion" script; and Rabbi Robert Levine of Congregation Rodeph Sholom in New York City.
Rev. Pawlikowski, Director of Catholic-Jewish Studies at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, said Gibson's ties to neo-conservative Catholics have negatively influenced the actor's version of biblical events. "The Passion can be a tool for bringing Jews and Christians closer," Rev. Pawlikowski said. "But the Passion movie doesn't bring us one iota in that direction."
Rabbi Bretton-Granatoor said many of the offensive parts of Mel Gibson's "Passion" film came not from the Bible but from extra-Biblical sources. "He (Gibson) says his film is historically and scripturally accurate, but it's not. What happens if it goes to DVD and gets shown on youth retreats? And gets translated into Spanish and Arabic and Polish? It would turn back 40 years of Catholic-Jewish teachings," Rabbi Bretton-Granatoor said.
Sessions on the Middle East and Global Anti-Semitism
Other highlights included an address by Tzipi Livni, the Israeli Minister for Immigration and Absorption, who provided an update on the status of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Israel's efforts to stem Palestinian terrorism through the construction of a security fence and a proposed unilateral withdrawal from the territories.
In sessions dealing with global anti-Semitism, European ambassadors provided an update on efforts to combat anti-Semitism within the European Union. Ambassadors Alvaro Ozores of Spain and Jacques Huntzinger of France described how their countries are working to counteract the disturbing trend of rising anti-Semitism in Europe. ADL leaders heard from Susan V. Berresford, President of the Ford Foundation, on her organization's efforts to ensure that their funding does not flow to groups who engage in anti-Semitic incitement and anti-Israel campaigns, such as the infamous 2001 U.N. World Conference Against Racism, in Durban, South Africa.
Tommy Hilfiger, President of Tommy Hilfiger USA and a leader in the fashion industry, described the company's public-private partnership with ADL to teach about the importance of diversity through education.
In recognition of the 50th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision leading to school desegregation, Brown vs. Board of Education, the League presented its prestigious ADL Joseph Prize for Human Rights to Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole, President of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, North Carolina. The award was presented by Barbara B. Balser, ADL National Chair. The 14th president of Bennett College, Dr. Cole is a graduate of Oberlin College and earned her masters and Ph.D. degrees in anthropology from Northwestern University before launching her career in teaching and research in cultural anthropology, African-American Studies and Women's Studies.
The Hon. Rudolph W. Giuliani, former Mayor of New York City, delivered the keynote address at the meeting's Gala Opening Dinner.