THE BLOG

Thanks for the Missiles, Mel

05/25/2011 11:55 am ET

Mel Gibson's Hollywood career is over, and that's not a bad thing. I kind
of liked him in the Mad Max movies,
but it was all downhill after that. The worst thing to come of his
anti-Semitic outburst is that it will be used to
justify another expedited shipment of missiles to Israel.

In the course of my lifetime, American racism, misogyny and anti-Semitism
have diminished perceptibly. From
separate drinking fountains, we have had two black secretaries of state.
From separate job listings for females,
we have women in every echelon (okay, maybe not the CEO quarters) of
business. From country clubs that
routinely excluded Jews, we now have Jews sharing power with Gentiles
across the United States.

The question of course is whether race, religion and gender prejudice have
truly diminished or just been driven
underground, to bubble up out of the mouths of drunken millionaires. We
surely have not entirely eradicated
the sentiments, but we have succeeded in stigmatizing them. That is a big
step toward eradication.

Now when a real, frothing public racist or anti-Semite or misogynist
reveals himself among us, most of us are
appalled. Lynchings, rapes, ghettoes and Nazis come to mind. We ask
ourselves: How far have we advanced,
really?

The truth is that we kind of knew where Mel was coming from, did we not? To
have it confirmed this way, to see
him isolated and never work in Hollywood again, is hardly shocking, except
in the way it is always shocking to
see a famous person implode.

The fact of this one anti-Semite's existence in the entertainment industry
should not be seen as proof that
there's a Nazi groundswell in the United States, just waiting for the
opportune moment to rise up and erect gas
chambers. There's a big difference between the raging whack job that is Mel Gibson
and the notion of a kind of organized,
anti-Semitic sentiment so often used to silence debate about Israel, or
criticism of U.S. Middle East policy in
general.

Mel's an anti-Semite all right, but who is really paying the price right
now? According to the last report I saw, civilian deaths in the Lebanon war are
running 50 Israelis to 500 Lebanese. This was the death count before the recent expedited shipment of American
missiles had arrived at the Israeli
bases. Outside the United States, this lopsided kill toll has provoked almost
universal outrage. Here in Canada, where
I'm writing from today, the papers are full of condemnation and horror.
Inside the United States, however, the response is muted and at the higest
levels of government it's all tacit
approval. In the United States, Israel's policies toward the Arab people
are off the table. For merely suggesting
this, I risk getting tarred as an anti-Semite.
Plus ça change.

During the unimpeded run-up to the Iraq War in 2003, my husband had the
temerity to suggest that the New
York Times' curiously laissez-faire attitude about the impending folly had
something to do with the paper's
historical pro-Israel stance. Our dinner guest, an otherwise liberal member
of the journalism faculty at one of
the nation's premier colleges, looked him dead in the eye and called him an
anti-Semite for making that
suggestion.

Imagine for a moment, that the New York Times was owned by three
generations of a Lebanese family. Would
the paper not have had a reporter on staff more attuned to the Arab world's
realities than Judith Miller? Would
the suggestion that its pro-Lebanon stance had something to do with it's
owners' roots be seen as racist?

When a real anti-Semite rears his head, as Mel Gibson just did, we can all
see the sickness, which makes it that
much more offensive to be tarred with that ugly label for criticising
Israeli violence or American Middle East
policy. There is a big difference between the sickness and a reasoned
opposition to the policies of the United
States and Israel when it comes to the indiscriminate killing of Arabs.
Let's try to keep that difference in mind as
Mel stops getting taken to lunch in Beverly Hills.