It's the Anti-Semitism, Stupid

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...

American Prejudice
  Yes No
Muslims?   27%   72%
Arabs?   25   74
Jews?   6%   93%
American Prejudice
  Yes No Muslims?   27%   72% Arabs?   25   74 Jews?   6%   93%

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...

American Opinions
  Very/Somewhat Favorable
Jews   84%
Blacks   83
Asians   80%
Hispanics   75%
Evangelical Christians   68%
American Opinions
  Very/Somewhat Favorable Jews   84% Blacks   83 Asians   80% Hispanics   75% Evangelical Christians   68%

So what does the anti-Semtisim that Gibson is apologizing for represent?

ADL Director Foxman says that, first and foremost, he is glad to see Gibson apologizing for it at all.

And doing so unambiguously, rather than claiming, as he did to ABC's Diane Sawyer in 2004, that he wasn't in the least anti-Semitic.

"Overcoming denial is the first step to recovery," Foxman says.

Both Foxman and Kaplan say it's not clear yet whether Gibson's apology reaching out to Jews for help is from his heart or only from his publicist, but that at least it's a good beginning.

"And now, if we can walk him through to an epiphany, that's important," Foxman says.

"I think we are dealing here with classic anti-Semitism," he says. "He seems to think we run everything."

Gibson is alleged in the police transcripts that appeared on the Internet to have declaimed drunkenly that the Jews are responsible for all wars.

A number of American Jews I've spoken with express a certain relief in this incident, in that they had felt Gibson's disclaimers around the release of his film "Passion of the Christ" had not rung true.

"Now at least everyone can see the truth about Gibson," one such friend told me.

Foxman and Kaplan both reviewed the dangers of so public -- even iconic -- a figure declaiming such hatred, and remembered that when such leadership has gone unchallenged in other countries, horrors ensued.

Not least the Nazi Holocaust, which Mel Gibson's father, by all accounts, denies and in which 6 million Jews were murdered. The Nazis also killed a quarter million Roma (Gypsies) and some 2 million mostly Catholic Poles. Slavs, such as most Poles, were also considered "inferior" by Nazis, as were many of the additional 3 million to 4 million they killed, including homosexuals, Jehovah's witnesses, mentally and physically handicapped and Soviet prisoners of war.

America is also, of course, still a work in progress.

It's not only that throughout the 1930s the governments of Washington, London and Paris remained anti-Semitic and generally racist enough for most of their members to feel that somehow they could live with Hitler in Germany.

Nor is it possible even to count the numbers of Catholic immigrants from Europe, and Latino and Asian immigrants, who have felt the deep pain of exclusion and accusation of things that are in no way their fault -- nor count the even deeper insults to the native Americans these immigrants displaced.

And African-Americans?

I still do a troubled mental double-take every time I remember that there was official apartheid in my country, the U.S.A., until I was well out of college (class of '65.)

But as my Wesleyan University professor Tom Tashiro used to tell us from time to time, "Every new younger generation threatens all of civilization."

Mel Gibson, 50, wouldn't be born yet for another 10 years when Tom Tatsuo Tashiro was wowing his professors at Grinnell College during World War II while dissolving racial, ethnic and religious stereotypes in the brains and hearts of his fellow Grinnell students.

Tashiro could attend Grinnell only because his smarts won him a pass out of an American concentration camp in Arkansas -- a muddy barbed-wired collection of bare wooden barracks jammed full of Japanese, including his family, third generation Japanese-Americans who had owned a floral shop in California and from which state they were deported and robbed of all assets, solely because of their ethnicity.

"Every new younger generation" needs to be taught well about these things -- as Foxman's and Kaplan's co-religionists know all too tragically, with a load of sorrow so great that, as Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel has said, the only possible first response must be the deepest possible silence.

But when the worst of the grief passes and life goes on and the new generations arrive, then, in the United States at least, the First Amendment encourages a freedom of speech that may replace that deep silence with a public exploration of this endemic human evil, and educate the new students.

And there's now the possibility, at least, that the next such student may be Braveheart.

American Prejudice
  Yes No Muslims?   27%   72% Arabs?   25   74 Jews?   6%   93%

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...

American Opinions
  Very/Somewhat Favorable
Jews   84%
Blacks   83
Asians   80%
Hispanics   75%
Evangelical Christians   68%
American Opinions
  Very/Somewhat Favorable Jews   84% Blacks   83 Asians   80% Hispanics   75% Evangelical Christians   68%

So what does the anti-Semtisim that Gibson is apologizing for represent?

ADL Director Foxman says that, first and foremost, he is glad to see Gibson apologizing for it at all.

And doing so unambiguously, rather than claiming, as he did to ABC's Diane Sawyer in 2004, that he wasn't in the least anti-Semitic.

"Overcoming denial is the first step to recovery," Foxman says.

Both Foxman and Kaplan say it's not clear yet whether Gibson's apology reaching out to Jews for help is from his heart or only from his publicist, but that at least it's a good beginning.

"And now, if we can walk him through to an epiphany, that's important," Foxman says.

"I think we are dealing here with classic anti-Semitism," he says. "He seems to think we run everything."

Gibson is alleged in the police transcripts that appeared on the Internet to have declaimed drunkenly that the Jews are responsible for all wars.

A number of American Jews I've spoken with express a certain relief in this incident, in that they had felt Gibson's disclaimers around the release of his film "Passion of the Christ" had not rung true.

"Now at least everyone can see the truth about Gibson," one such friend told me.

Foxman and Kaplan both reviewed the dangers of so public -- even iconic -- a figure declaiming such hatred, and remembered that when such leadership has gone unchallenged in other countries, horrors ensued.

Not least the Nazi Holocaust, which Mel Gibson's father, by all accounts, denies and in which 6 million Jews were murdered. The Nazis also killed a quarter million Roma (Gypsies) and some 2 million mostly Catholic Poles. Slavs, such as most Poles, were also considered "inferior" by Nazis, as were many of the additional 3 million to 4 million they killed, including homosexuals, Jehovah's witnesses, mentally and physically handicapped and Soviet prisoners of war.

America is also, of course, still a work in progress.

It's not only that throughout the 1930s the governments of Washington, London and Paris remained anti-Semitic and generally racist enough for most of their members to feel that somehow they could live with Hitler in Germany.

Nor is it possible even to count the numbers of Catholic immigrants from Europe, and Latino and Asian immigrants, who have felt the deep pain of exclusion and accusation of things that are in no way their fault -- nor count the even deeper insults to the native Americans these immigrants displaced.

And African-Americans?

I still do a troubled mental double-take every time I remember that there was official apartheid in my country, the U.S.A., until I was well out of college (class of '65.)

But as my Wesleyan University professor Tom Tashiro used to tell us from time to time, "Every new younger generation threatens all of civilization."

Mel Gibson, 50, wouldn't be born yet for another 10 years when Tom Tatsuo Tashiro was wowing his professors at Grinnell College during World War II while dissolving racial, ethnic and religious stereotypes in the brains and hearts of his fellow Grinnell students.

Tashiro could attend Grinnell only because his smarts won him a pass out of an American concentration camp in Arkansas -- a muddy barbed-wired collection of bare wooden barracks jammed full of Japanese, including his family, third generation Japanese-Americans who had owned a floral shop in California and from which state they were deported and robbed of all assets, solely because of their ethnicity.

"Every new younger generation" needs to be taught well about these things -- as Foxman's and Kaplan's co-religionists know all too tragically, with a load of sorrow so great that, as Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel has said, the only possible first response must be the deepest possible silence.

But when the worst of the grief passes and life goes on and the new generations arrive, then, in the United States at least, the First Amendment encourages a freedom of speech that may replace that deep silence with a public exploration of this endemic human evil, and educate the new students.

And there's now the possibility, at least, that the next such student may be Braveheart.

Not least the Nazi Holocaust, which Mel Gibson's father, by all accounts, denies and in which 6 million Jews were murdered. The Nazis also killed a quarter million Roma (Gypsies) and some 2 million mostly Catholic Poles. Slavs, such as most Poles, were also considered "inferior" by Nazis, as were many of the additional 3 million to 4 million they killed, including homosexuals, Jehovah's witnesses, mentally and physically handicapped and Soviet prisoners of war.

America is also, of course, still a work in progress.

It's not only that throughout the 1930s the governments of Washington, London and Paris remained anti-Semitic and generally racist enough for most of their members to feel that somehow they could live with Hitler in Germany.

Nor is it possible even to count the numbers of Catholic immigrants from Europe, and Latino and Asian immigrants, who have felt the deep pain of exclusion and accusation of things that are in no way their fault -- nor count the even deeper insults to the native Americans these immigrants displaced.

And African-Americans?

I still do a troubled mental double-take every time I remember that there was official apartheid in my country, the U.S.A., until I was well out of college (class of '65.)

But as my Wesleyan University professor Tom Tashiro used to tell us from time to time, "Every new younger generation threatens all of civilization."

Mel Gibson, 50, wouldn't be born yet for another 10 years when Tom Tatsuo Tashiro was wowing his professors at Grinnell College during World War II while dissolving racial, ethnic and religious stereotypes in the brains and hearts of his fellow Grinnell students.

Tashiro could attend Grinnell only because his smarts won him a pass out of an American concentration camp in Arkansas -- a muddy barbed-wired collection of bare wooden barracks jammed full of Japanese, including his family, third generation Japanese-Americans who had owned a floral shop in California and from which state they were deported and robbed of all assets, solely because of their ethnicity.

"Every new younger generation" needs to be taught well about these things -- as Foxman's and Kaplan's co-religionists know all too tragically, with a load of sorrow so great that, as Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel has said, the only possible first response must be the deepest possible silence.

But when the worst of the grief passes and life goes on and the new generations arrive, then, in the United States at least, the First Amendment encourages a freedom of speech that may replace that deep silence with a public exploration of this endemic human evil, and educate the new students.

And there's now the possibility, at least, that the next such student may be Braveheart.

But as my Wesleyan University professor Tom Tashiro used to tell us from time to time, "Every new younger generation threatens all of civilization."

Mel Gibson, 50, wouldn't be born yet for another 10 years when Tom Tatsuo Tashiro was wowing his professors at Grinnell College during World War II while dissolving racial, ethnic and religious stereotypes in the brains and hearts of his fellow Grinnell students.

Tashiro could attend Grinnell only because his smarts won him a pass out of an American concentration camp in Arkansas -- a muddy barbed-wired collection of bare wooden barracks jammed full of Japanese, including his family, third generation Japanese-Americans who had owned a floral shop in California and from which state they were deported and robbed of all assets, solely because of their ethnicity.

"Every new younger generation" needs to be taught well about these things -- as Foxman's and Kaplan's co-religionists know all too tragically, with a load of sorrow so great that, as Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel has said, the only possible first response must be the deepest possible silence.

But when the worst of the grief passes and life goes on and the new generations arrive, then, in the United States at least, the First Amendment encourages a freedom of speech that may replace that deep silence with a public exploration of this endemic human evil, and educate the new students.

And there's now the possibility, at least, that the next such student may be Braveheart.