- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 7, 2004

Benyamin Cohen, editor of the online publication Jewsweek, went to see Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” and came out homicidal: “My first comprehensible thought was this: I really want to kill a Jew.”

Maureen Dowd of the New York Times agreed:

“In ‘Braveheart’ and ‘The Patriot,’ his other emotionally manipulative historical epics, you came out wanting to swing an ax into the skull of the nearest Englishman. Here, you want to kick in some Jewish and Roman teeth. And since the Romans have melted into history … .”

Really? You want to kick in some Jew teeth? I mean, really want to?

If you say so. It may be that elderly schoolgirl columnists at the New York Times are unusually easy to rouse to violence. But I reckon Miss Dowd and Mr. Cohen are faking it. They don’t mean that, thanks to Mel, Times marquee columnists and liberal Jewish New Yorkers will be rampaging around looking for Jews to kill, they mean all those rubes and hicks in Dogpatch who don’t know any better will do so.

True, it’s an inspirational film. A woman who drove her Chevy Lumina into a brook in New Britain, Conn., last week told police she had been inspired to do so by “The Passion.” What’s that about? Aqua-Semitism? But, so far, even sodden sedans are a rarity. Chances of any Jew getting his teeth kicked in by one of Mel’s customers? Zero percent. OK, let me cover myself a little: Point-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-whatever percent.

Throughout the whiplash U-turn, only one feature of the “controversy” remained constant: that the movie is “anti-Semitic.” It’s true that in Europe “passion plays” often provided a rationale for Jew hatred. But that was at a time when the church was also a projection of state power.

What is happening in America is quite the opposite: One reason Hollywood assumed Mel had laid a $30 million Easter egg was that the elite coastal enclaves who set the cultural agenda haven’t a clue about the rest of the country when it comes to religion. They don’t mind Jesus when he’s hippy (“Godspell”) or horny (Terrence McNally’s “gay Jesus” play “Corpus Christi”) but taking the guy seriously is just for fruitcakes.

So, when metropolitan columnists say Mel’s movie makes you want to go Jew-bashing, they’re really engaging in a bit of displaced Christian-bashing. Ever since September 11, 2001, there has been a lame trope beloved of the smart set: Yes, these Muslim fundamentalists may be pretty extreme, but let’s not forget all our Christian fundamentalists — the “home-grown Talibans,” as the New York Times’ Frank Rich called them, in the course of demanding that John Ashcroft, the attorney general, round them up. Two years on, if this thesis is going to hold up, these Christians really need to get off their fundamentalist butts and start killing more people.

Critics berating Mr. Gibson for lingering on the physical flaying of Jesus would be more persuasive if they weren’t all too desperately flogging their own dead horse of fundamentalist moral equivalence.

The more puzzling question is why so many American Jewish leaders started crying anti-Semitism months before anyone had even seen the picture. It requires a perverse inability to prioritize to anoint Mel Gibson as the prime source of resurgent anti-Semitism. Not to mention that it’s self-defeating.

As Melanie Phillips, a British Jew, recently noted in the Observer: “Let us all agree on one thing at least. The more Jews warn that anti-Semitism has come roaring out of the closet, the more people don’t like the Jews.”

Miss Phillips is right to the extent that, with such an array of real enemies, one should be wary of picking unnecessary fights. During the New Hampshire primary, I prompted the following complaint from Barbara Baruch of New York: “What motivated Mark Steyn to describe Joe Lieberman as the ‘Yiddisher pixie’? As this has absolutely no relevance to Lieberman’s political viability, it’s obvious that Steyn’s linguistic choice is nothing less than insidious anti-Semitism.”

Oh, phooey. I called him a pixie because, in contrast to John Kerry, he was jolly and beaming, and “Yiddisher” is an allusion to the old song “My Yiddisher Momma.” since Joe was always going on about his own momma. “Yiddisher pixie” is a term of affection, and the best way to demonstrate the preposterousness of Ms. Baruch’s assertion is a simple test:

Try to imagine Sheikh Akram Abd-al-Razzaq al-Ruqayhi, the A-list imam at the Grand Mosque in Sanaa, who does the Friday prayers live on Yemeni state TV, breaking off from his usual patter on Jews — “O God, count them one by one, kill them all and don’t leave anyone” — to refer to one as a “Yiddisher pixie.”

Or the members of Calgary’s “Palestinian community” who marched through the streets carrying placards emblazoned “Death to the Jews.”

Or the gangs who’ve been torching French synagogues, kosher butchers and schools in an ongoing mini-intifada.

Or Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who says people should not be scared of America’s Jewish lobby because other scary types like “Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Pinochet, Milosevic and Idi Amin were all powerful, but in the end they bit the dust.”

Or the wife of European Central Banker Wim Duisenberg who amuses herself by doing oven jokes in public.

Mel Gibson’s movie won’t kill anyone. On the other hand, right now, at The Hague, the International Court of Justice is holding a show trial of Israel’s security fence. At the very least, a European court sitting in judgment on the Jewish state is a staggering lapse of taste. But it should also remind Jews of the current sources of “the world’s oldest hatred” — not just the Islamic world, where talk of killing them all is part of the wallpaper, but the radical secularists of modern-day Europe, who’ll have no interest in this movie but whose antipathy toward Ariel Sharon long ago crossed over into a broader contempt for the Jewish state and a benign indifference to those who use European Jewry as a substitute target. If Jewish groups think Mel Gibson’s movie and evangelical Christians are the problem, they’re picking fights they don’t need.

Mark Steyn is the senior contributing editor for Hollinger Inc. Publications, senior North American columnist for Britain’s Telegraph Group, North American editor for the Spectator, and a nationally syndicated columnist.

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