It grieves me to object to Mel Gibson's movie because I know that millions of Christians in this country and around the world will be moved and possibly even transformed by it -- and that is a welcome thing. As a Jew, I can unhesitatingly declare that the world would be a better place if it contained more believing Christians.
And yet Gibson has seeded his film with images of Jewish guilt and perfidy that will fall on fertile anti-Semitic soil around the world. Most audiences in the United States will doubtless see the film as it was intended -- as a depiction of universal guilt in the crucifixion and universal salvation because of it. But in light of the resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe and elsewhere around the globe, it's a safe bet that it will not be so perceived abroad.
After 40 years of quiescence, Jew-hatred has blossomed anew in Europe. As Gabriel Schoenfeld details in his careful and learned exploration of the subject, "The Return of Anti-Semitism," the influx into Europe of Muslims from the Middle East has transformed the landscape. Muslim immigrants are responsible for a wave of terror attacks against Jews and synagogues in Europe.
"From east to west, the list of incidents in April 2002 alone is too long to summarize. In the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, some 50 youths chanting, "Kill the kikes," descended on the city's central synagogue on a Saturday evening, broke 20 windows and beat the director of the religious school with stones. In Greece, Jewish cemeteries were vandalized in what the press termed ?anti-Jewish acts of revenge,' and the Holocaust memorial in Salonika, a city whose 50,000 Jews had been rounded up and deported to Nazi death camps in 1943, was defaced with Palestinian slogans. ... In the heart of democratic Europe, one particular scene of violent anti-Israel demonstrations was Amsterdam. ... Jewish memorials in Berlin were defaced with swastikas. A synagogue was spray-painted with the words, ?Six million is not enough.' ... In Tuzla, 1,500 demonstrators carried placards reading, ?Sharon and Hitler: Two Eyes in the Same Head,' and, ?Israel -- The Real Face of Terrorism' ... in Dublin, the banners, several featuring swastikas superimposed over Stars of David, read, ?Stop the Palestinian Holocaust.'"
There has been a change in Europe's intellectual landscape, as well. A transposition has taken place. Once the province of the right -- in Europe and the United States -- anti-Semitism has moved to the left. Expressions of anti-Semitism that would earn instant condemnation if committed by skinheads or neo-Nazis can issue from the lips of Europe's leftists with barely a ripple of protest from anyone.
At a London dinner party, France's ambassador to Great Britain, Daniel Bernard, opined that "the current troubles in the world were all because of ?that shitty little country Israel.'" A Swedish newspaper offered that Judaism "is a particularly warlike and murderous teaching or ?religion.'" The editor of an Anglican church's official newspaper laments that, "Whenever I print anything sympathetic to Israel, I get deluged with complaints that I am Zionist and racist." In Italy, the liberal newspaper La Stampa ran an editorial cartoon that depicted the infant Jesus looking up from his manger at the turret of an Israeli tank and pleading, "Don't tell me they want to kill me again."
Petronella Wyatt, writing in the London Spectator in 2001, noted how frequently she hears that "the Jews are to blame for everything." Wyatt reported that a prominent Englishman, a life peer active in human rights campaigns, told her, "Well, the Jews have been asking for it, and now, thank God, we can say what we think at last."
Schoenfeld addresses the argument, heard in the United States constantly, that it is impossible to criticize Israel without being labeled an anti-Semite: "It depends on the criticism. Many such criticisms are legitimate. Many others, however, knowingly based on unabashed exaggerations and outright lies, are of the same stripe of ?criticism' that Jews drain the blood of children or a hundred similar libels."
The anti-Semitism in the Muslim world, it need hardly be added, is downright Hitlerian in intensity.
There is a seemingly unquenchable thirst to vilify Jews, to deny them their humanity, to strip them of their history and to transform them -- at least in propaganda -- into oppressors rather than oppressed. It is a sentiment that has a 3,000-year head of steam and apparently cannot be derailed by something as trivial as the Holocaust. Mel Gibson might have thought more about that before making his film in the way he did.