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It Is Only a Movie
by Aaron Goldstein
01 March 2004

Jews have far more to fear from the International Judicial Court in the Hague as it condemns Israel for putting up a security fence to protects its citizens from homicide bombers.

This movie is spoken in Aramaic with English subtitles.  There is graphic violence.   If you feel the need to leave the theater please do so quietly so as not to disturb others. The subject matter is emotional.   If there are any outbursts you will be removed from the theater by security.  At the end of the movie, please leave the theater in a calm and orderly fashion.

The above was stated by a staff member from the AMC theater near Fenway Park before a sold out, Friday evening showing of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ.   I have never witnessed such a warning before a movie before and cannot imagine I ever will again.

Discussion concerning The Passion has been on the lips of many for over a year.  I decided at the outset of the controversy to refrain from speaking on the matter until after I had seen the movie.   Many on the Right view the movie as the Second Coming of celluloid and the foundation of a Christian renaissance.  Many on the Left see the movie as Heaven’s Gate, Gigli and Lethal Weapon IV all rolled into one.   I had to decide for myself.

Of course, as a Jew, I had concerns about the film.  It is well known that Gibson belongs to a Roman Catholic sect that explicitly rejects Vatican II that in 1965 shifted the blame of the crucifixion away from Jews. I wondered how that thinking would influence the film, if it all.

To be certain, the film highlights the theological differences between Judaism and Christianity.  Judaism does not recognize Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah.  Indeed, for Jews more than 2,000 years have passed, and we are still awaiting for the arrival of the Messiah.  Nevertheless, Jesus and his followers see him as the Son of G-d or the Lord Himself. Yet these differences are presently in starkly black and white terms.

The Jews (the Pharisees in particular) are presented as pure evil.    To be fair, Simon of Cyrene and Mary Magdalene are presented with compassion.  But for every good Jew in the movie there are a thousand bad ones.  Gibson portrays the Romans as brutes but it is clear where Gibson places the blame.  The fulcrum of the movie is a scene between Jesus and Pilate.  Pilate tells Jesus that he has the power to set him free or to crucify him.  Jesus retorts that Pilate only has the power that the Lord bestows upon him.  Jesus adds that Pilate’s sin are lesser than those who brought him to Pilate.  The violence is extremely graphic and most of it is inflicted by the Romans but Gibson portrays the Romans as doing the bidding of the Jews.   

The story is extremely compelling.  The performances are almost as beautiful as Gibson’s mastery of cinematic direction.  At the end of the day, the movie is one man’s interpretation of the New Testament.  Nothing more. Nothing less. Mel Gibson does not have a monopoly on the truth. He is entitled to his point of view.   As such Gibson should be prepared to have his views challenged.   If he is unprepared or ill-equipped to defend his views to reasonable scrutiny then Gibson is foolish for having undertaken this enterprise.   

This is not to meant to diminish the impact of the movie.  My friend was horrified by the violence and on the verge of tears.    After the movie, I saw one woman sitting cross-legged on the floor as if she had the need to regroup. Another woman spoke about being visibly embarrassed at her shaking.  The Passion, if nothing else, will not produce a neutral reaction.    

As for anti-Semitism, one would like to believe that a single film will not undo forty years of rebuilding between Jews and Catholics.  If it does it suggests that that relationship may not have had a strong foundation in the first place.  While I believe the film portrays Jews in an unfavorable light, I did not see anyone clamor, “Kill the Jews!!!” in the middle of Kenmore Square.  Riots in Kenmore Square are far more likely to occur after Super Bowl victories than after a movie in Aramaic.   

The Passion may contribute to social acceptability of anti-Semitism in the public sphere but will not ignite it.   That, I am afraid, has already been done largely by radical Islamists and the Left (mostly European but to a lesser extent in North America).   

Jews have far more to fear than Mel Gibson. Jews have far more to fear from the International Judicial Court in the Hague as it condemns Israel for putting up a security fence to protects its citizens from homicide bombers.  Jews have far more to fear from university campuses that refuse to protect them from violence from Palestinians, as has been the case at San Francisco State University or at the University of Toronto, where violence prevented former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from speaking.   Jews have far more to fear from police in Paris or schoolmasters in Copenhagen who refuse to guarantee the safety of Jewish people and their property from radical Islamists. Jews have far more to fear from newspapers that print anti-Semitic cartoons. Consider the Italian newspaper that printed a cartoon portraying Jesus as a Palestinian facing an Israeli tank with the caption, “Don’t tell me they want to kill me again." Consider also the cartoon that appeared in the Chicago Tribune featuring Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon bending down to pick up coins offered to him by President Bush.  The New York Times has called Gibson “a Jew baiter.”  Yet consider the headline that appeared in the August 19, 2003 edition that read, "Israelis Worry About Terror, by Jews against Palestinians.”   Keep in mind, the headline associated terror with Jews and not Palestinians. Yet I cannot recall the last time a Jew strapped a belt on his waist and killed Palestinian civilians.    Of course, the New York Times does not let the facts get in the way of its articles.    

The bottom line here is that The Passion did not change my life.    I am secure in my faith as a Jew. My fate is in the hands of G-d, not Mel Gibson or anyone else. Of course, I have friends who have taken Christ in their lives and it has made a positive difference and for that I have enormous respect and am proud to have their friendship. I can only hope that these friendships can outlast The Passion long after it has been forgotten.  It is only a movie.

Aaron Goldstein, a former member of the socialist New Democratic Party, writes poetry and has a chapbook titled Oysters and the Newborn Child: Melancholy and Dead Musicians. His poetry can be viewed on www.poetsforthewar.org.

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