Last week in this space I addressed the Mel Gibson bigotry issue and tried to put it in its proper perspective, to wit: As awful as his anti-Semitic remarks were, they pale in comparison to the anti-Christian, and more specifically, anti-Catholic bigotry raging within some elements of the entertainment community.
But this doesn't exculpate Gibson. He said what he said. Twice he has apologized publicly and profusely, and some, like long-time nemesis Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, have accepted Gibson's act of contrition. Others, like Jewish super agent Ari Emanuel, are having none of it and are vocally urging Hollywood to cast him from its ranks in disgrace.
The early betting is that Gibson's anti-Semitic remarks will not hurt his career. An online survey for the "Access Hollywood" TV show finds that 63 percent of responders do not believe Gibson to be anti-Semitic and 81 percent would go to see a future Mel Gibson movie.
His friends are also rushing to his defense. Movie producer Dean Devlin, who worked with Gibson on the movie "The Patriot," tells the Los Angeles Times that "He is an alcoholic, and while that makes no excuse for what he said, I believe it was the disease speaking and not the man, I have seen Mel when he has fallen off, and he becomes a completely different person. It is pretty horrifying." Jodie Foster starred with Gibson in "Maverick" and calls him "one of the nicest, most honest men I have ever met ... Is he an anti-Semite? Absolutely not." Longtime friend Patrick Swayze also has come forward, telling the Associated Press that Gibson is "a wonderful human being ... Talent deserves to be honored. Hands deserve to be slapped if you do something stupid as well, but don't take it too far."
These are all nice sentiments but will do Gibson little good if and when he chooses to re-enter the limelight. He will be hit, mercilessly, with the charge of anti-Semitism. Ultimately he has to satisfy -- or at least silence -- his critics. How does he do that? I turn to three friends, all men of respect and well-versed in the ways of Hollywood.
The Jewish comic Jackie Mason is one of the most talented men in the business. (Christopher Buckley, no slouch in this department, crowns him the funniest, period.) But when I call on him, he is in no joking mood. He is furious. "Mel should not be defensive; he should go on the offense. You judge a man by his public behavior over 50 years, not by his statements to some cops when he's drunk one night!"
I call on Pat Boone, the gentle Christian giant who has spent his entire life defending the cause of Judaism. Pat, I am convinced, is incapable of fury, but he is incredulous. "What makes Mel Gibson a hotter news item than, say, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the most vocal and vehement Jew hater in the world? If Courtney Love had done the same thing, would she get this kind of attention?"
He condemns the "piranha, flesh-devouring mentality" of our society but stresses that "Mel's case is something much, much more. He defied the movie establishment by privately financing, writing, directing and producing the most successful Bible film in history." He urges his friend to seek treatment for his alcoholism, to surround himself with friends who love him, and to "bear up, friend Mel. The Jew you extolled so magnificently in 'The Passion' hasn't forsaken you. And any of us who have needed forgiveness for our own absurd and hurtful behavior should follow His example."
I call on Michael Medved, the Jewish film critic who has spent years defending the cause of Christianity. He is clearly wounded by Gibson's words and his "pathetic understanding of Jewish identity" but also feels the apology is sincere and Jews therefore are commanded to forgive him. He urges Gibson to reach out to Jewish leaders quietly, cautioning against the "Jesse Jackson shakedown" he feels will follow from some unscrupulous elements in the Jewish community who will propose major financial gifts to prevent retaliatory strikes.
I endorse all these things but propose one more. Mel Gibson has been tormented by a drinking problem, and the events that ugly night on Malibu's Pacific Highway prove the demon still controls his life. His first priority must be to conquer his alcoholism. This will take months. It could take years. It may never happen. But if he succeeds in defeating his addiction, a golden opportunity awaits. Let him come forward as publicly as possible, surrounded by friends like Mason, Boone, Medved, Swayze, Foster and Devlin, and so many others of goodwill in Hollywood to condemn all forms of religious bigotry. It is a cause begging for leadership, and it could become his greatest public accomplishment.