09/22/2011 06:59 pm ET | Updated Nov 22, 2011

Could Mel Gibson Be Good for the Maccabees?

As loathsome and absurd as it may seem to many, Mel Gibson's plan to produce a movie about the Maccabees is not an existential threat to Jews -- unless, of course, he decides to change the ending so that the Maccabees lose.

Of course, that a man who, in 2006, turned a drunk-driving arrest into an opportunity to assail Jews for waging all the wars in the world should now set about making a film based on two of the Jewish holy books does seem bizarre. Is this Gibson's attempt at some kind of perversion of teshuvah, or just a deeply insensitive expropriation of Jewish lore?

At best, the notion resonates as a kind of grand farce.

"If you were making a satire of Hollywood, you would have the anti-Semitic, drunk, racist, misogynistic movie director making the Judah Maccabee biopic," The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg said to me by phone from Washington, D.C. "It's an act of outrageous chutzpah for an anti-Semite to appropriate a Jewish hero for a movie. Would you have a person who is widely believed by black people to be a racist involved in a movie about Martin Luther King Jr.? Would you have a person most gay people believe is a homophobe direct Milk?"

At worst, the film could become a kind of insidious Christian propaganda film, à la The Passion of the Christ, in which Jews were mostly depicted as extremely unattractive, blood-lusting and demonic, not to mention complicit in deicide. "If this [movie] were shown in the theater during the Third Reich or in Iran, people would cheer that the Jews, who rejected Christ, are finally shown for what they are," said Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center Museum of Tolerance.

But, in fact, no Jews were harmed in the making of that film -- or in the movie theaters that showed it, or even outside of them. Mostly, The Passion played out in the pages of the press, and life went on. Hurt feelings aside, the worst grievance Jews could direct at The Passion of the Christ was that it made its already wealthy anti-Semitic creator even richer.

Any Gibson-produced Maccabee movie is unlikely to pose actual danger to Jews. In an age of real violent threats, "This is not a crime against humanity," Goldberg said wryly. But even so, that is not why many Jews oppose it.

When the story broke, Jewish outrage was palpable. Anti-Defamation League National Director Abe Foxman told The Hollywood Reporter that the decision was a travesty. "Judah Maccabee deserves better," he said. Hier called the project antagonistic and disrespectful -- "an insult to Jews." Others called it "bottom-feeding on the bottom line."

The danger, as these Jewish leaders see it, is that allowing an anti-Semite to have his way with Jewish history in this far-reaching and influential medium casts him as a kind of cultural authority on the subject and lends legitimacy to his worldview, which they believe comprises deep theological hostility to Jews and Judaism.

They don't look at Mel Gibson and see a great artist; they see a Nazi.

Read the rest at Hollywood Jew

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