holy hand grenade II

(in my prior post, I discuss the movie from the point of view of a film consumer.)

I think that the most salient point of controversy over The Passion of the Christ is the charge of anti-semitism. Certainly Gibson has parlayed his free media access over that charge with brilliant ability, the subtext to Christians being "this is the movie that Jews don't want you to see." On that score alone you have to grant those who charge the movie with anti-Semitism their point.

And while I've not read the Gospels, it's my understanding that Pilate was a brutal ruler who single-handedly masterminded the crucifixon of Jesus, and the one account in the Gospels that blames the Jews rather than him was written some time after the crucifixon, as a means of soft-pedaling the origins of the Christian faith in the face of persecution. I find that concept related to that of taqqiya in Islam, ie a deliberate dissimulation of belief in order to survive in the face of oppression. So all in all, Gibson's selective emphasis on the parts of the Gospels that reinforce the notion that Jews (note, not The Jews) were to blame is a pretty clear signal of intent.

But some accounts go over the top in their effort to paint the movie as another modern-day Blood Libel (a charge which I'm all too familiar with). This Ha'aretz story, for example, is simply overwrought, going to great lengths to try and bring the entire Israeli-Palestinian conflict into the argument. It's impossible to take an argument that shrill seriously. I have much more respect for the restrained analysis of jewish analysts like Diana Moon, who is able to concede that the establishment response from the ADL was counter-productive even as she outlines the same points I made above about the selectivity of Gibson's attention to historical detail.

The basic assertion that the film will inflame anti-Semitism seems unwarranted to me, but I'll leave debating the issue to people who actually have a stake in the outcome. It's impossible IMHO to validate the basis for that assertion. But the direct charge that the actual film itself is anti-semitic, and promotes blood libel against Jews, is one I have trouble understanding. Fine, Gibson blames Jews and not Pilate for Jesus's death. That is his (eccentric) belief and he's entitled to it, since there is at least one Gospel that asserts as such.

But does that translate to a larger anti-semitic intent? I dont see how any reasonable person could conclude that Gibson holds The Jews (ie, the sum totality of the race and religion's adherents) responsible for the actions of Some Jews over two thousand years ago. In fact Gibson himself has repudiated that notion explicitly.

If this movie is anti-semitic because it criticizes the actions of some Jews, then we are once again on the same tired path that any critique of any Jewish person is equivalent to anti-Semitism. This charge is repeated vehemently all the time, with the purpose of intellectual intimidation. This dynamic is most active in discussions about Israel, where the critique of the nation is routinely equated with genocidal intent.

This is just a movie, and by most accounts a rather poor one. It's being marketed towards conservative Christians, as a prosletyzation tool. It has no bearing on the Israel-Palestinian conflict, the rise of anti-semitism in Europe, or the neoconserative foreign policy of the United States which disproportionately benefits the Nation of Israel. And any animus towards (some) Jews for the crucifixon of Jesus has been restricted explicitly by the director to the temporal window of two millenia past.

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