It is easy and tempting to wax cynical about Mel Gibson, the once-famously outraged-for-being-called-an-anti-Semite Hollywood powerhouse who recently, under the revealing effects of alcohol, proved his erstwhile accusers to have if anything underestimated the depth of his animus for Jews. And, indeed, cynics abound.
I am not among them. Not that I am beyond cynicism, unfortunately. But Mr. Gibson's apology, in which he disowned his drunken diatribe and asked the Jewish community to help him in "the process of understanding where those vicious words came from," cannot be blithely ignored.
If Mr. Gibson is honestly grappling with the infection in his soul, he deserves not only sympathy but credit.
I am given to understand that the successful actor/director/producer is not a man in financial need. Even if he never works in Hollywood again, he won't be homeless. So it would be ungenerous if not unfair to assume his words less than heartfelt. If Mr. Gibson is honestly grappling with the infection in his soul, he deserves not only sympathy but credit. It is infinitely healthier to know there is a prejudice lurking in one's heart than to be oblivious to it.
Which brings us to another performer, this one on the international stage.
Unsurprisingly, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan wasted no time, after word came in that Israeli forces had shelled a UN post in Lebanon, casting the Jewish State as a dastardly villain. Before any facts beyond the shelling itself came in, he publicly proclaimed Israel guilty of "apparent deliberate targeting" of the post.
Soon enough, it emerged that the shelling was a tragic mistake, and that one of the UN observers killed in the attack had emailed his former commander in the Canadian army to say that Hezbollah had positioned themselves in close proximity to the UN post -- that, in the commander's words, they were "all over his position." The UN observer had gone on to write the commander that Israel's bombardments of the area had "not been deliberate targeting, but rather due to tactical necessity."
Even though if Mr. Annan had not known of that email (or had entertained the obvious thought of removing the UN troops from harm's way), he might have waited until the facts were in. What impelled him to make so irresponsible, so… deliberate -- to borrow a word -- an accusation? Perhaps veritas is evident not only in vino but in venality.
Like soft drinks and poison, anti-Semitism comes in various flavors and strengths. There is religiously-based hatred for Jews – expressed by espousers of many faiths – and secularist animus for Jews (or things associated with Jews). There is nationalistic Jew-hatred and there are political varieties.
There is, moreover, subtle loathing of the sort that largely lies fallow, expressing itself, if ever, in tirades like the one some Malibu policemen recently witnessed – or in artistic or scholarly expression.
And then there is the more operational variety, like the recent rampage by an Arab-American at Seattle's Jewish federation building, which left one woman dead and five people wounded.
Ironically, though, while anti-Semitic rants and violence understandably capture the most attention, "anti-Semitism lite" of the sort routinely seen at the UN and even in its secretariat, should concern us no less. Not only is the subtle sometimes dangerous itself, but it is mother's milk for the more blatant kind.
And so, if we Hebrews might be so bold as to hope, our hope might be for the day when those whose Jew-hatred is unrecognized might come to recognize what their hearts harbor, and perhaps follow Mr. Gibson's admirable example.
Imagine Mr. Annan apologizing for his one-sidedness when it comes to Israel.
Imagine Mr. Annan apologizing for his one-sidedness when it comes to Israel. Or words of contrition from the representatives of the various General Assembly blocs who routinely offer condemnation for Israeli defensive actions while maintaining stony silence on offensive acts against Jews.
Imagine the European Union -- or even just France -- asking for help in dealing with its own deep-seated irritation with Jews.
Or the Lebanese government admitting that its own neglect, or even accommodation, of Hezbollah terrorists lies at the root of the upheaval and destruction that has been visited on its land and citizens.
Or some of those citizens themselves owning up to permitting Jew-haters to use their homes, schools and hospitals to hide missiles and other implements of death. Or the man who, over many hours, posed for an assortment of media, holding the same dead Lebanese child as if he had just discovered the body, coming clean about his propagandistic exploitation of a tragedy and desecration of the dead. And those media themselves, for their complicity in the outrage (and more, like playing down the evidence that Hezbollah itself may have been behind the collapse of the building in which the child and others died).
Or, for that matter, some folks at The New York Times, for, when it comes to the Middle East, editorially confusing evenhandedness with the equating of evil and good.
We wouldn't be wise to hold our collective breath. But history has in fact known some remarkable realizations, even in the realm of anti-Semitism, both regular and lite. So we can certainly hope.
Tisha B'Av has passed again. The day of Jewish mourning over our people's exile from its land nearly 2000 years ago gave way, six days later, to the festive day of Tu B'Av, a day associated by the Talmud with reconciliation, both among Jews and between Jews and God. The Talmud also teaches that it was Jews' "hatred for no reason" of other Jews that caused the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem.
How fitting that part of our lot in our exile -- which continues today despite the existence of a Jewish state -- should be the collective Jewish suffering of baseless hatred from so much of the world.
We now head toward the Jewish month of Elul, a word that can be read as an acronym for the phrase "I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me," from the Song of Songs. How timely to consider that only Jews' appreciation of one another and of the Torah that was and remains our ultimate unifier can ever lead a drunken world to grapple with where all its vicious words, and actions, come from.