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Gibson interview has some skeptical

The actor repudiates his drunken tirade, but several Jewish leaders wanted to see more of an apology.

October 14, 2006|Robin Abcarian | Times Staff Writer

"I don't believe Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world," Mel Gibson told Diane Sawyer in the second segment of a two-part interview, broadcast Friday on ABC's "Good Morning America." "I mean, that's an outrageous drunken statement."

Whether the Jewish community will be mollified remains to be seen. Some Jewish leaders said--with caveats -- that they were heartened by the 50-year-old Gibson's apparent sincerity when he told Sawyer that he was "quite ashamed" of the remarks he made after his arrest last July and added, "I don't want to disappoint anyone again. What I need to do is heal myself and to be assuring and allay the fears of others and heal them if they had any wounds from something I may have said.... The last thing I want to be is that kind of monster."

Gibson grabbed headlines around the world after he was stopped by sheriff's deputies in Malibu on suspicion of drunken driving and unleashed a verbal tirade that was viewed by many as confirmation of long-suspected anti-Semitism. He later issued statements of apology but hadn't subjected himself to questioning in public until his interview with ABC.

Seeking to explain where his drunken comments came from, the actor and Oscar-winning director told Sawyer that, in part, he may have been reacting to criticism that his 2004 movie, "The Passion of the Christ," was anti-Semitic.

"Now, even before anyone saw a frame of film, for an entire year, I was subjected to a pretty brutal sort of public beating," he said. "And during the course of that, I think I probably had my rights violated in many different ways as an American, as an artist, as a Christian, just as a human being.... But the other thing I never heard was one single word of apology."

After the broadcast Friday, Rabbi Mark S. Diamond, executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, said the issue is one of responsibility. "The blame was cast on the drinking and not really what he thinks and feels," said Diamond. "I think he has a long way to go in accepting responsibility and confronting the disease of alcoholism."

But Ken Jacobson, deputy national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said he was heartened by Gibson's contrition. "That was in some ways the most introspective and constructive part," Jacobson said. "Hopefully, this will lead to true introspection. In my view, this is not about his movie career, it's about him as a person."

Others said the real issue unleashed by both Gibson's post-arrest behavior and his movie have not been addressed and may never be.

"This is really complicated because he has obviously not made amends," said Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, who runs New York-based CLAL -- The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. "I have a very simply rule: If your apology uses 10 times as many words to explain why you did what you did, you aren't really sorry. When I have hurt my wife and I spend all my energy explaining why I did it, as opposed to attending to her hurt, that's not an apology."

On the other hand, added Hirschfield -- who thinks Gibson is "an incredibly talented artist" -- no one has made it especially easy for Gibson to reach out to those whom he has wounded.

"People who want the apology are so committed to hectoring this guy that he doesn't have a safe moment to apologize, so he goes into offense mode and offers an apology that isn't really an apology," he said. "Neither side wants to heal. He is more angry than he wants to imagine, and a whole cluster of Jewish leaders are more wounded than they want to admit."

The wounds, agreed Hirschfield's colleague, Rabbi Irwin Kula, author of "Yearnings: Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life," were inflicted long before Gibson downed too much tequila at the Moonshadows restaurant in Malibu and got behind the wheel to drive home.

"For the Jewish community, this is not about some diatribe against Jews; this is about 'The Passion,' " Kula said. "The important question is, how is it that a movie that touched so many people so deeply frightened Jewish leaders so significantly?"

Kula and Hirschfield said that they think Gibson is in terrible conflict between two important values: honoring his father, Hutt Gibson, a Holocaust denier, and honoring historical truths.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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