- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 28, 2003

NEW YORK — A group of Jewish leaders yesterday condemned Mel Gibson’s yet-to-be-released movie, “The Passion,” and sought to hinder its distribution, saying its depiction of Jesus’ final 12 hours will endanger Jews around the world.

“This film can potentially lead to violence directed against the Jewish community,” said Assemblyman Dov Hikind, an Orthodox Jew and Democrat from Brooklyn.

“It will result in anti-Semitism and bigotry. It really takes us back to the Dark Ages … the Inquisition, the Crusades, all for the so-called sin of the Crucifixion of Jesus.”

Mr. Hikind, who said he had seen only a seven-minute clip from the film, staged his protest with about 25 Jewish leaders and local politicians in front of the midtown offices of the Fox News Corp., the parent company of 20th Century Fox film studio, which has first rights to distribution.

In a statement released Wednesday night, FNC said that Icon, Mr. Gibson’s production company, had indicated that “It has a number of alternative distribution options that it is pursuing. In light of that, Fox and Icon have agreed not to partner on this project.”

Nevertheless, Mr. Hikind said he is urging all distributors to make no deals with Mr. Gibson for “The Passion.”

Standing barely 20 feet from the group of about 25 was William A. Donohue, president of the Catholic League, who has seen the entire movie.

“There is no collective guilt. Anybody who teaches Jews are collectively responsible for the death of Christ is an anti-Semite bigot. But the movie doesn’t do that,” Mr. Donohue said.

Although it is not scheduled for release until next year’s Lenten season, “The Passion” has been making headlines for months. Its critics say the movie, which Mr. Gibson has shown to various religious leaders, places responsibility for the Crucifixion on the Jews.

“This film clearly depicts a Jewish mob — not some Jews, but a Jewish mob — the leaders of the Jews, being directly responsible for the Crucifixion of Jesus. Sounds awfully familiar, doesn’t it?” Mr. Hikind said.

Aggravating the issue is a March New York Times Magazine depiction of Mr. Gibson’s father, Hutton, as a Holocaust denier who belongs to a hyper-traditional Catholic group that denies the legitimacy of the Second Vatican Council and all subsequent popes. A 1965 Vatican declaration of that council, “Nostra Aetate,” denied that Jews bear collective guilt for the death of Jesus.

Mel Gibson is a devout Catholic but has no connection with his father’s splinter group.

A handful of city politicians joined the protest yesterday.

City Councilman Simcha Felder, a Brooklyn Democrat, said it appeared that Mr. Gibson had a passion for inciting hatred and bigotry, and that his movie should go straight to the video stores instead of theaters.

Mr. Donohue responded by saying he thought it extreme to accuse Mr. Gibson of fomenting violence.

“How anybody could watch this movie and come out with hatred toward Jews, that person belongs in Bellevue Hospital,” he said.

Mr. Gibson’s film has also drawn the wrath of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith and the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles.

The small but vocal group carried signs that read, “The Passion is a lethal weapon against Jews.” Little boys wearing yarmulkes chanted the same slogan.

Malka Moskowitz, an elderly woman from Brooklyn wearing a straw hat, said she was a Holocaust survivor and compared the atmosphere of dispute surrounding the movie with the bloody reign of the Third Reich. “This is the way it started,” she said, her voice breaking.

A rabbi from Brooklyn called the film pornography. He told Mr. Donohue that he would be responsible if violence broke out.

“How can you say that?” Mr. Donohue asked. “I’ll be no more responsible than if violence broke out against Germans after you show a film of the Holocaust.”

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