It's the Anti-Semitism, Stupid

ByABC News
August 2, 2006, 1:57 PM

Aug. 2, 2006 — -- Mel Gibson' anti-Semitic tirade when police arrested him on suspicion of drunk driving Friday morning and his subsequent apology have brought the issue of prejudice against Jews -- and others -- into focus for many Americans.

Jewish leaders say they accept Mel Gibson's apology and his reaching out to ask Jewish leaders to help him discover "the appropriate path for healing."

Behind their acceptance there is ancient wisdom, unspeakable modern suffering, and grounds for American pride.

"This is the apology we had sought and requested," says Abe Foxman, national director of the Jewish Anti-Defamation League, on the ADL Web site. "We welcome his efforts to repair the damage he has caused."

Foxman told me on the phone that "in America, unlike Europe today, there are consequences" when people try to institutionalize prejudice, or gain any social standing for it.

"That's the great news about America," says Joel Kaplan, president of B'Nai Brith International, "not just the good news, the great news. Jews are for the most part treated well in America. Every time I travel abroad I thank God I am American."

Kaplan says that over the past 10 years in Western Europe there has been an increase in socially and publicly stated anti-Semitic sentiments and ideas that pass there with an ease that would never be accepted in America.

"In America, that would be socially unacceptable," says Kaplan. "We're fortunate in the U.S. that anti-Semitism is relatively low."

One Jewish friend and colleague here at ABC told me yesterday, while musing on Mel Gibson, that it's his impression that many Jews here in the United States grow up not even thinking there is any anti-Semitism here ... until they suddenly experience it in some incident.

Gary Langer, our ABC News director of polling, confirms Foxman's and Kaplan's optimism about the United States: "Almost every group in the U.S. has experience with prejudice," Langer says, "and there may be some surprises for some in how that shakes out."

Langer points to polls of large samples of Americans:

ABC News: "If you honestly assessed yourself, would you say you have at least some feelings of prejudice against...

Evangelical Christians' experience may be another surprise for some. They receive markedly lower "favorable" attitudes from Americans than do Jews. Langer cites a Pew poll of four months ago:

Pew: Please tell me if you have a very favorable, somewhat favorable, somewhat unfavorable, or very unfavorable opinion of...