By now, sufficient time will have elapsed to know whether Mel Gibson will get up and over his latest set of faux pas—he’s too decent a chap to fall permanently under the wheels of alcoholism and anti-Semitism. But they are a vicious double and this year’s engagement by Gibson with Malibu police brought them out of the actor with such potency that his name and reputation as a class Hollywood filmmaker may be permanently blemished.
It is difficult to know what the appropriate response to Gibson should be—pity for his alcoholism or outrage for his apparent anti-Semitism? It is not difficult to feel pity for one struggling with booze—even if Mel is rich and famous. Those who are possessed by that bottled demon merit compassion, one may argue. But by his strident expression of anti-Semitism, Mel may remain bitten a little longer because he comes by it honestly.
His father is obviously a sad case of extremist right-wing Catholicism known for its anti-Semitic strain of theology that basically understands Jews as Christ-killers—and therefore deserving of their fate. The fact that the Bible teaches the sins of the world killed Christ and His was a voluntary and unique submission to this kind of death—irrespective of who demanded it (the Jewish elite and their mob) and who carried it out (the Romans and their soldiers)—seems lost on the Gibsons.
Nativist Christians nevertheless seem to think that the Bible justifies their derogatory attitude and in some cases, racial discrimination, toward Jews—that Jews “asked for it” through the crucifixion mob’s willingness to accept the responsibility for Jesus’ death sentence during his farcical trial.
It is also part of the extremist Christian belief that God has rejected Israel and Jewish people in some total and absolute way, in favour of the church and Christians. In the nativist Catholic construction of this version of events, the Jews have been hounded from pillar to post because of their own fault in rejecting Jesus as their Messiah. Such a view ignores the persecuted history of the Jews for all of the 2000 years before Jesus appeared on the scene. Something Mel discounted as he stated that the Jews “cause all the wars.”
This view is as ancient as it is wrong. The Syrian king, Antiochus Epiphanes, was perhaps history’s first political leader committed to a genocide of the Jewish people. Returning from his Egyptian campaign in the second century BC, the Seleucid ruler first tried Hellenising the Jews and their culture. He insisted they be turned into Greeks.
To do so, he removed the Jewish High Priest and put a puppet in his place, one who cooperated with his Hellenisation program. The puppet, Joshua, thanked Antiochus by changing his name to (the Greek) “Jason” and by introducing Greek customs and institutions (such as setting up a Greek gymnasium adjacent to the Jewish Temple).
But Jason didn’t last long and was deposed by another pro-Greek, Menelaus, who set about ransacking the Jewish Temple of its gold ornaments in order to pay personal debts. Those who protested this abuse of office were duly executed.
In the meantime, Jason, still licking his wounds over his removal by Menelaus, attempted a coup, and succeeded in imprisoning Menelaus in the sacred Temple. When Antiochus heard he sent his general, the appropriately named Apollonius, to quell Jason’s rebellion and to finish off the Jewish religion. Attacking on the Jewish Sabbath, Apollonius’s soldiers reduced Jerusalem to rubble.
According to one account from the era, King Antiochus “fell upon the city suddenly, and smote it very sore, and destroyed much people out of Israel.” He took “the spoils of the city and set it on fire and pulled down the houses thereof and the walls thereof.” The king “shed innocent blood on every side of the sanctuary” and it was “laid waste like a desert.”
As if this were not enough, Antiochus then enforced Greek customs on the Jews, imposing the death penalty on those caught practising their historical religion. What remained of the Jewish Temple was rededicated to the god Zeus, and pagan altar-worship was made compulsory on December 25 every year.
Antiochus might have succeeded in his Hellenisation campaign had it not been for the courage of a Jewish priestly family, Maccabeus, from the little town of Modin, just north of Jerusalem. Their patriarch, Mattathias, refused to worship in the new religious order. Appealing to the courageous example of Daniel and his friends who some 300 years earlier stood against the onslaught of Babylonian anti-Semitism, Mattathias and his sons inspired a campaign to destroy the altars of the new religion.
Mattathias died, but his son, Judas, took over and with his brothers led a revolt against Antiochus’ forces. The Maccabeus brothers succeeded in killing General Apollonius, his accomplice General Seron, and finally General Lysias—whom Antiochus had relied on most to completely wipe out the Jews and to erase them from memory.
Having succeeded in purging Israel of its Syrian foe, the brothers rededicated the Temple to Yahweh, choosing December 25 (165 BC) as the symbolic date. Just one year later, their scourge, Antiochus, was dead in Persia (southern Iran).
But Jewish peace did not last long. Within 100 years of Antiochus, the new world-conquering armies of the Roman Empire succeeded the Greeks and tried their hand at removing the Jewish people and their religion from the face of the earth. After the Romans, the crusading armies of Europe tried.
When Hitler had a go. And since him, the Arab-Muslim world has united like never before to try to bring the Jewish state to an end.
Against the odds, these descendants of Abraham have fought back, have retained their identity, and have established themselves (of sorts) in Palestine. Wave after historical wave of anti-Semitic armies have arrayed themselves to try to wipe them out (Hezbollah being the latest). Though characterised as a neighbourhood bully by its enemies (and Mel), Israel and the Jewish people are again being tested. The weapons and the personnel may have changed, but their battle remains the same. We can’t be sure of the outcome, but it would be foolish to bet on Mel and against history.
In his classic 1983 song, “Neighbourhood bully,” Bob Dylan summarises the Gibsonian view of Jewry to perfection: “Well, the neighbourhood bully, he’s just one man; His enemies say he’s on their land. They got him outnumbered about a million to one; he got no place to escape to, no place to run.
“The neighbourhood bully just lives to survive, he’s criticised and condemned for being alive. He’s not supposed to fight back; he’s supposed to have thick skin, he’s supposed to lay down and die when his door is kicked in.
“The neighbourhood bully been driven out of every land, he’s wandered the earth an exiled man. Seen his family scattered, his people hounded and torn, he’s always on trial for just being born.... Every empire that’s enslaved him is gone, Egypt and Rome, even the great Babylon. He’s made a garden of paradise in the desert sand, in bed with nobody, under no-one’s command....
“What has he done to wear so many scars? Does he change the course of rivers? Does he pollute the moon and stars? Neighbourhood bully, standing on the hill, running out the clock, time standing still, Neighbourhood bully.”
As well as reading some history, Mel should listen this song during his rehab on Mago—his recently purchased Fijian island retreat.