Mel Gibson’s Maccabee pic plan stirs ire

Jewish orgs scrutinize actor's contrition, studio's vision

Some Jewish orgs have reacted with consternation to Mel Gibson’s announcement that he will make a film about Jewish hero Judah Maccabee, questioning why Warner Bros. would put such a movie into development given the controversy over Gibson’s past anti-Semitic remarks.

Gibson has the first option to direct the drama, set up at Warner and to be produced through his Icon Prods. The parties are awaiting completion of the script by Joe Eszterhas.

In a statement issued Friday, Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League said, that the org “would have hoped that Warner Bros. could have found someone better than Mel Gibson to direct or perhaps star” in the biopic. “As a hero of the Jewish people and a universal hero in the struggle for religious liberty, Judah Maccabee deserves better. It would be a travesty to have the story of the Maccabees told by one who has no respect and sensitivity for other people’s religious views,” Foxman said in the statement.

Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center told Variety that “to me, it is like asking (Bernard) Madoff to play the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission. It is an insult.” He said Gibson had not “resolved his mistakes by making amends” for his past remarks with actions like “having a dialogue with the Jewish community,” writing op-eds or visiting a concentration camp during his travels.

Shortly after his 2006 DUI arrest, during which he made anti-Semitic slurs to sheriff’s deputies, Gibson issued an apology in which he called his remarks “despicable” and said that he was “reaching out to the Jewish community for its help.” “I know there will be many in that community who will want nothing to do with me, and that would be understandable,” Gibson said, “but I pray that that door is not forever closed.”

Hier said: “My issue is not a press release, probably written by a public relations agency. Anybody can do that. That is not what Mel Gibson should do in terms of reaching out. It is making that statement believable by deeds.”

The studio had no comment other than to confirm that the project was in development.

Gibson’s spokesman, Alan Nierob, said of the ADL’s objections, “I believe their comment is directed at Warner Bros. and not my client for comment.” Hier’s comments, he said, were “not worth a response.” He added that he has heard nothing about the suggestion that Gibson would star in the movie given that “it doesn’t really make any sense, as the lead character of Judah Maccabee is a lot younger.”

The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg wrote on the publication’s website Friday that Gibson had long been interested in making the project. Goldberg, who is working on a book about Maccabee, met with Gibson to talk about the project, and the star told Goldberg that his interest stemmed from reading the Book of Maccabees as a teenager and finding the stories therein “ripping good reads.” Gibson also recounting the cinematic aspects of the story, which is the basis for the Jewish holiday of Hannukah.

Goldberg asked him about his famous outburst during the 2006 DUI arrest, and Gibson replied, “I was loaded, and some stupid shit can come out of your mouth when you’re loaded.”

Hier and Foxman also object to Gibson’s involvement for “The Passion of the Christ,” which generated a storm of protest from Jewish orgs even as it became a breakout hit at the box office in 2004.”Rather than listen to respected religious leaders, both Christian and Jewish, who voiced concerns then about the insensitive elements of his depiction of the last hours and crucifixion of Jesus, Gibson showed contempt for those voices and refused to make changes that might have helped turn his passion of hate into a passion of love,” Foxman said.