Mel Gibson Addresses Accusations of Anti-Semitism

Says His Father's Beliefs Have Nothing to Do With What Happened That Night

Oct. 13, 2006 —

Actor-director Mel Gibson told Diane Sawyer today that he was "ashamed" by the remarks about Jews he made during his July arrest for driving while intoxicated.

As most people have heard, Gibson is devoutly religious, which is what inspired him to make "The Passion of the Christ."

His church is a Catholic splinter group called traditionalist Catholics. The group feels the modern Catholic Church has abandoned the real faith.

His father, 88-year-old Hutton Gibson, is well known for his writings that attack the Vatican.

Gibson's church believes in the Latin Mass and literal reading of the Bible. Gibson has talked about a war of biblical proportions, though no one can say when it will happen or where.

On the night of July 28, Gibson said he knew what might have been in his mind as he drunkenly said, "Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world."

"That's fear related, OK? So, you know, you have your own fears about these things," he said on "Good Morning America."

"Now, maybe it was just that very day that Lebanon and Israel were at it, you know," Gibson said of that night.

It was the 17th day of the raging war in Lebanon. A lot of people were worrying that the crisis was escalating out of control.

"Since I was a kid in the '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s and now in the new millennium, you can read of an ever-escalating kind of conflagration over there in the Middle East that … I remember thinking when I was 20, man, that place is going to drag us all into the black hole, you know, just the … the difficulty over there," he said. "You start thinking will I ever see my grandchildren grow up? … What's going to become of the world? What's going to press the button?"

"But there's a difference between saying that place is a tinderbox and the constellation of things happening there could take us all down, and saying the Jews are responsible for all the wars," Sawyer said.

"Well, I did," he said of his comment to the officer that night.

"The Jews are responsible?" Sawyer said.

"Well. … Strictly speaking, that's … that's not true because it takes two to tango," he said. "What are they responsible for? I think that they're not blameless in the conflict. There's been aggression, and retaliation and aggression. It's just part of being in conflict, and being at war. So, they're not blameless."

Gibson said that when people are drunk, they express what they think incorrectly.

"Now when you're loaded, you know, the balance of how you see things -- it comes out the wrong way. I know that it's not as black and white as that. I know that you just can't, you know, roar about things like that. That it's wrong," he said.

When Sawyer countered that a lot of people would say he was still blaming the Jews, Gibson said he wasn't blaming them.

"No, no. Did … did I say that?" he asked.

After several rounds on the Middle East, he said this was his statement of his true feelings.

"Let me be real clear, here. In sobriety, sitting here, in front of you, national television. … That I don't believe that Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world. I mean that's an outrageous, drunken statement," he said.

But he said something else was eating at him that night. He said he had realized he had been harboring an old resentment.

"The other place it may have come from is, you know, as you know, a couple of years ago I released the film 'Passion.' … Even before anyone saw a frame of the film, for an entire year, I was subjected to a pretty brutal sort of public beating," he said.

"During the course of that, I think I probably had my rights violated in many different ways as an American. You know. As an artist. As a Christian. Just as a human being, you know."

Tens of millions of Christians who saw the film said it was simply evoking the New Testament version of Jews, Romans, and the brutal crucifixion of Jesus.

But the leaders of several Jewish organizations launched a campaign arguing that Gibson had seeded the film with deliberately anti-Semitic images. They also warned that Gibson might be inciting a new wave of hatred and even of violence against Jews.

He said that never happened.

"The film came out. It was released, and you could have heard a pin drop, you know. Even the crickets weren't chirping," he said. "But, the other thing I never heard was the one single word of apology."

"I thought I dealt with that stuff. All forgiveness, but, the human heart's a funny thing. Sometimes you can bear the scars of resentment. And … it'll come out, you know, when you're overwrought, you take a few drinks," he said. "There was anger from that, I think. … My resentment stemmed from certain individuals treating me in a certain way."

But can't the individuals he had wanted to apologize now argue they were right about what's inside him?

Gibson said he didn't know if a person could say anti-Semitic and intolerant things and not be anti-Semitic and intolerant.

"I don't know the answer to that question. Because one changes from day to day. And there are different forces exercised on you. … And people every day say things they don't mean. And things they don't feel. They may feel them temporarily. I mean we're … we're all broken," he said.

Gibson said he was now learning more about those who were hearing his words in an earlier apology. He asked the Jewish community for dialogue and help.

"I heard back that a woman who had read the apology actually wept with relief," he said. "Now, that sort of hit me. I was like, 'Relief? Oh, my God. She was afraid. She was terrified.'"

"I don't think I realized until like a couple of … four days later, five days later, that what I did was press a big fear button," Gibson said. "I didn't realize the level of fear that … that was there."

"It was just the stupid ramblings of a drunkard, you know, and I guess I had to sort of think, well, hang on. It's conceivable that they think I can be the next … uh, goose-stepping maniac to come into their neighborhood," he said.

But for several years, there has been one other question that has plagued him: the fact that his father has famously publicly expressed doubts that 6 million Jews were really murdered in the Holocaust.

Three years ago in an interview, Gibson told ABC News that he believed 6 million Jews were murdered.

But when asked to repudiate the assertions of his father, he declined.

"He's my father. Gotta leave it alone, Diane. Gotta leave it alone," Gibson said during that interview.

The last time we went down this road, Sawyer said, "Yeah, I bit your head off," Gibson replied.

But Gibson's father has gone on the record saying that the Holocaust is "mostly fiction."

"We're talking about me right now. And me taking responsibility for my words and actions. And … I'm certainly not going to use him, to sort of put anything off of me," he said. "It isn't the explanation for what happened that night. It isn't. It has nothing to do with it. … That's in my own heart."

"I was taught that there are good and bad people of any race and creed, you know," he said.

Sawyer also asked about those in the Hollywood community who say that it's too late and that Gibson should be ostracized.

Gibson said he felt sad about those people.

"They've obviously been hurt and frightened and offended enough to feel that they have to do that and. … It's their choice," he said.

In the meantime, Gibson said he had to go on battling his old demons of rage and alcohol and hoping that if there's not a Hollywood ending that somehow, somewhere there's at least another chance.

"Somebody said to me once, 'Pain is the precursor to change,'" Sawyer told Gibson.

"Yes, who said that? Socrates?" Gibson said.

But it was Gibson himself who had said it.

Gibson said he'd been very ashamed of what happened that night.

"That's the price you pay because sometimes that's what you need," he said.

But Gibson hasn't been totally alone.

"Many people have reached out. My goodness. I mean it's … I've been overwhelmed. It almost choked me," he said. "I'm so overwhelmed by the response of … of friends, family and, you know, even the Jewish community. I mean the … the letters and stuff that came in were really encouraging. They … sort of … you know, sort of broke my heart a little bit."

"Because it's like, you know, it's like they understood. There's a lot of compassion out there, so that was … kind of overwhelming for me. … And … don't want to disappoint anyone again," he said.

Now Gibson is trying to heal.

"What I need to do to heal myself and to be assuring and allay the fears of others and to heal them if they had any heart … wounds from something I may have said," he said. "So, this is the last thing I want to be is that kind of monster."