So, why doesn’t Mel Gib­son have a Jewish prob­lem?

The Jewish Chronicle - - Comment - Jen­nifer Lip­man

IF EVER you browse the pages of a gos­sip mag­a­zine, you will learn that celebri­ties are no dif­fer­ent to you or me. “We want to be treated like ev­ery­body else,” they say plain­tively, from their Mal­ibu man­sions and per­sonal Jacuzzis, cham­pagne glass in hand. “We just want a nor­mal life.” Of course, as ev­ery­one knows, it’s non­sense. They don’t want to be treated like us at all, or they wouldn’t hire publi­cists, tweet self-con­grat­u­la­tory mis­sives and wear cou­ture dresses for the photo-shoots that ac­com­pany ex­posés about their emo­tional is­sues.

Still, I think it wouldn’t hurt to give the fa­mous and no­to­ri­ous what so many of them claim to want. Next time, a “big name” does some­thing that makes them ap­pear rather small — makes a racist jibe, say, or acts well be­yond the realms of com­mon de­cency — let’s treat them as we would treat any­one. And let’s start with some­one whom scan­dal should have shamed com­pletely long ago; Mel Gib­son.

Gib­son — or rather, his al­legedly un­savoury views on Jews — was back in the news this week, af­ter the writer of a now-binned (and con­tro­ver­sial from the out­set) film about Ju­dah Mac­cabee ac­cused him of an­tisemitism, of hold­ing a be­lief in the blood li­bel, of ques­tion­ing the Holo­caust and of a host of other re­volt­ing mis­de­meanours.

Six years af­ter he was ar­rested for drunk-driv­ing and launched into the now-fa­mous tirade in which he re­port­edly blamed “the Jews” for “all the wars in the world”, and 16 months af­ter Jewish ac­tress Wi­nona Ry­der re­called his “oven­dodger” jokes, an­other in­stal­ment of Mad Mel comes to a screen near you.

But, in the spirit of the re­cent Seder ques­tion, why will this scan­dal be any dif­fer­ent to the oth­ers? Af­ter the first time, there were whis­pers that Mel would strug­gle to work again, yet last year Hol­ly­wood (or Warner Bros) came knock­ing once again with, ab­surdly, a green light for his dream of a film about a Jewish hero. Not ex­actly Siberia, then. Who was it who said that the Jews were in charge of the movies?

Over­whelm­ingly, the re­sponse seems to be that, yes, it’s ap­palling, but, well, it’s just Mel be­ing Mel. We al­ready know he’s got some funny views and done some shock­ing things; here are a few more. It’s just part of his Hol­ly­wood hell-raiser pro­file — it doesn’t mean any­thing.

It’s not just him, and it’s cer­tainly doesn’t just ap­ply to views on Jews. Ro­man Polan­ski might be per­sona non grata in the US, but ev­ery­where else his rep­u­ta­tion for ge­nius, and his abil­ity to make suc­cess­ful films, re­mains un­tar­nished by that in­con­ve­nient busi­ness of sex­u­ally as­sault­ing a 13-year-old girl. Eric Clap­ton’s Enoch Pow­ell-flavoured di­a­tribe about Bri­tain be­com­ing a “black colony” mer­its a men­tion on his Wikipedia page, but did lit­tle last­ing dam­age.

More re­cently, singer Chris Brown re­mains pop­u­lar de­spite his con­vic­tion for vi­ciously as­sault­ing his then girl­friend, Ri­hanna.

De­signer John Gal­liano got his come­up­pance in the courts last year, but for too long me­dia com­men­ta­tors and fashionistas were on the stump de­fend­ing him as trou­bled and tor­mented; a spe­cial soul who should be held to dif­fer­ent stan­dards. It’s the ap­proach that is so of­ten in ev­i­dence when it comes to Ken Liv­ing­stone and, yes, Boris John­son — both of whom have got away with far more griev­ous gaffes in a day than most politi­cians sur­vive in a life­time.

Mel has, in­evitably, de­nied the lat­est claims as the ram­blings of a spurned writer. Even if true, a few an­ti­semitic jibes are just words; they leave no scars, only a foul taste. If Ri­hanna’s phys­i­cal bruises aren’t enough to bring down a star, why would some­thing that is merely in­sult­ing and of­fen­sive be? Jews in Hol­ly­wood have thick skins; surely they’ve heard and with­stood far worse?

But, back in the world of mere mor­tals, crimes are also pun­ished for in­ten­tion to harm, not just for out­come. An or­di­nary Joe who launches into a racist tirade stands to suf­fer the con­se­quences — in Bri­tain, just ask Muamba-taunter Liam Stacey if you’re not con­vinced — so why not an ex­tra­or­di­nary one?

I may be proved wrong, but I imag­ine Mel Gib­son will ride this lat­est storm, just as Gal­liano will prob­a­bly one day re­build his rep­u­ta­tion. It’s not that they shouldn’t work again — hu­mans make mis­takes and should have the chance to re­pent — it’s that too of­ten it seems it doesn’t mat­ter if the fa­mous don’t atone for their sins. Which begs the ques­tion; what does a celebrity have to do, and who do they have to in­sult, be­fore they get treated like ev­ery­body else?

Jen­nifer Lip­man is deputy com­ment ed­i­tor of the JC

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