Published February 27, 2004, issue of February 27, 2004.
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Now that Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” is actually playing in theaters (it opened Wednesday), Americans have the luxury of seeing the film before arguing about it. Perhaps the harshest newspaper review so far of the cinematic depiction of the final 12 hours of Jesus’ life came from Jami Bernard in the New York Daily News. She slammed Gibson’s work as “the most virulently anti-Semitic movie made since the German propaganda films of World War II.” … With critics like Bernard pulling no punches, Gibson’s defenders are coming out swinging. Bill Garner published a cartoon in the Washington Times depicting Gibson’s detractors nailing him to a cross. Conservative pundit Michael Medved continued to condemn Jewish groups over their aggressively critical approach toward Gibson and his film, during an interview on CNN. … The Anti-Defamation League, meanwhile, was raising concerns about the 25% of Americans who, according to a recent poll, say the Jews were responsible for the original crucifixion. … The executive vice president of the Orthodox Union, Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, seemed unconcerned that the film could trigger antisemitism. Instead, he issued a statement warning that the film could weaken the religious faith of Jews. “If Jews see the film and identify with the image of Jesus, they will dis-identify with their own God-given Jewish identity,” Weinreb warned. “The result might be inner doubts about their Judaism.” To ward off such a turn of events, leaders of the O.U. appealed to member synagogues to prepare what they called “an antidote to the potential challenge the film will create.” … Cardinal Jean Marie Lustiger, archbishop of Paris, issued a joint statement with World Jewish Congress chairman Israel Singer: “In the last half century, Catholics and Jews have worked successfully to build respectful religious relations,” they declared. “We will not allow the controversy surrounding the film to damage [these] relations. Our faith, mutual respect, and understanding are stronger than any tempest that might damage these relations.”… Gibson’s controversial father, Hutton Gibson, was sounding a less conciliatory note. On the eve of film’s release, he reportedly stated that the Holocaust was a “fiction” and that Jews are conspiring to take over the world. The elder Gibson told one radio interviewer that the Jews are “after one world religion and one world government,” and said that someone should “hang” Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan. The remarks were condemned by the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

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