Booze and Bigotry
Let's not cut Mel Gibson even the tiniest bit of slack over the ugly tirade he inflicted on the sheriff's deputy who pulled him over in his Lexus as he roared drunkenly down the Pacific Coast Highway at nearly twice the speed limit.
If anyone missed the story over the weekend, although I don't know how that would be possible, Gibson was obnoxious, belligerent and self-important when the arresting officer pulled him over. In other words, just your average traffic stop in Malibu -- until Gibson proceeded to blame the ills and injustices of the world, presumably including his own immediate predicament, on the Jews.
"[Expletive] Jews," Gibson said, according to a copy of the arrest report posted on the entertainment news Web site TMZ.com and later confirmed by the Los Angeles Times. "The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world." To the officer, he demanded: "Are you a Jew?"
Gibson's defense is one of diminished capacity. He admitted in a statement released Saturday that he had been drinking that evening and shouldn't have been driving. He "profoundly" regrets his "horrific relapse" into the "disease of alcoholism," Gibson said. "I acted like a person completely out of control when I was arrested, and said things that I do not believe to be true and which are despicable."
Well, I'm sorry about his relapse, too, but I just don't buy the idea that a little tequila, or even a lot of tequila, can somehow turn an unbiased person into a raging anti-Semite -- or a racist, or a homophobe or a bigot of any kind, for that matter. Alcohol removes inhibitions, allowing all kinds of opinions to escape uncensored. But you can't blame alcohol for forming and nurturing those opinions in the first place.
Gibson's rant sounds to me like classic anti-Semitism that goes beyond the country club, "not our sort of people" brand of casual bigotry. He seems well on the way toward some sort of full-blown "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" conspiracy theory of Jewish world domination. If you were in Gibson's situation, no matter how inebriated or embarrassed, I doubt your first question would be whether the cop who pulled you over was a Jew. I hope not, at least.
You will recall that when Gibson's epic film "The Passion of the Christ" was criticized by some viewers for portraying Jews as scheming, hook-nosed stereotypes, Gibson replied that he was only seeking historical accuracy. You'll also recall that when asked about his father's claim that the Holocaust was mostly "fiction," Gibson acknowledged that some Jews did die in concentration camps but stopped short of directly repudiating dear old Dad.
He did flatly deny being anti-Semitic, however, telling Diane Sawyer in a 2004 interview that "to be anti-Semitic is to be un-Christian, and I'm not." Now the only question is whether his lack of self-awareness is truly pathological or whether he was just lying. I don't think anyone could describe his performance the other night as particularly Christian, or particularly civilized.
It was timely, though.
The Web site that broke the story alleges that higher-ups in the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department wanted to sanitize the report of Gibson's arrest because his anti-Semitic remarks would be "inflammatory" given the war in the Middle East. Officials of the department deny any thought was given to a coverup and say they will conduct an investigation.
The Gibson episode comes as the state of Israel continues an assault on southern Lebanon that I am convinced is brutal, disproportionate and counterproductive. The Bush administration was wrong to give Israel the green light to launch such a massive military campaign and is wrong to let Israel stall before agreeing to a proper cease-fire. More than 500 Lebanese civilians already have been killed.
Like everything that happens in the Middle East, Israel's war on Hezbollah has provoked strong feelings. After the tragic mistaken attack on Qana in which 57 civilians died, most of them children, I believe more strongly than ever that this war is a disaster for all concerned. It's madness, and it must stop.
But we shouldn't forget that Israel exists for a reason. The Mel Gibson episode is a useful reminder that pure anti-Semitism is not a thing of the past -- that there are still people who believe Jews are evil or all-powerful or whatever, and for whom Jewishness itself is an unforgivable sin. That's amazing in this day and age but, then again, there are still people who believe that the color of a person's skin tells them everything they need to know.