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Actor accused of anti-Semitism

NEW YORK -- The head of the Anti-Defamation League accused Mel Gibson yesterday of holding anti-Semitic beliefs based on the actor's response to criticism of his upcoming movie depicting Jesus' death.

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Jewish civil rights organization, insisted he was not calling Gibson an anti-Semite. But Foxman said the actor "entertains views that can only be described as anti-Semitic."

Gibson's spokesman, Alan Nierob, did not immediately return calls for comment. Gibson, who is Catholic, has repeatedly denied that his movie "The Passion" maligns Jews.

Many conservative Christians who have attended private screenings of the film have called it the most powerful depiction they have seen of Jesus' final hours. But Foxman has argued for months that the portrayal of Jews in the events leading to the crucifixion will promote anti-Semitism.

Until now, he has directed his criticism mainly toward the movie, while accusing Gibson of being "insensitive." However, Foxman said that his view of the actor changed after reading an article about the debate in the Sept. 15 issue of The New Yorker magazine. Foxman's comments were first reported yesterday in The Jewish Week.

In The New Yorker, Gibson discussed how some Catholic theologians have been criticized for their depiction of Jews.

"Modern secular Judaism wants to blame the Holocaust on the Catholic Church. And it's a lie. And it's revisionism. And they've been working on that one for a while," Gibson said.

Foxman called the comment "classical conspiracy that the Jews out there are plotting in conspiratorial ways on all sorts of things."

Gibson also expressed regret about editing out of the movie a passage from the Gospel of Matthew that reads, "His blood be on us, and on our children." That passage is among the sources for the belief that Jews are collectively guilty for Jesus' death.

Gibson, referring to his critics, told the magazine: "If I included that in there, they'd be coming after me at my house, they'd come kill me."

Foxman said the comment was more evidence that Gibson believed in Jewish conspiracies. "That's classic anti-Semitism," Foxman said. A senior Vatican official said this week that criticism of the film appeared unfounded since it was based directly on biblical accounts of the crucifixion. The Catholic League, an anti-defamation group, defended Gibson yesterday and said Foxman was "seeking to poison relations between Catholics and Jews."

Asked to explain the difference between an anti-Semite and someone who holds anti-Semitic beliefs, Foxman said an anti-Semite was "someone who gets up in the morning and says, `I'm going to get a Jew.' "

"I'm not ready to say he's an anti-Semite," Foxman said.

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