Will Gibson’s film inspire compassion, forgiveness?

Mel Gibson’s interview with Diane Sawyer wasn’t his best performance. Inappropriately flippant and occasionally arrogant, he was convincingly sincere on just four points:

• He repeated that he won’t be split from his father (who does espouse anti-Semitic views).

• He insisted that sequences he filmed are literally correct according to the Gospels — though many scholars consider this metaphorical interpretation.

• He recognized that his religion forbids inciting bigotry, hatred and violence.

• He refused to amend his work, because he thinks it shouldn’t elicit anti-Semitism.

What he chooses not to see is that: Passion plays have a centuries-old history of creating exactly the hatred and violence he rejects. It’s not just the Hitlers who act but ordinary people inflamed by what they think they’re witnessing. Without disclaimer, in frightening, angry times, this film runs that same risk.

You can certainly film a dramatically inspiring Passion without resorting to the old Jew-blaming — either direct or implied. No argument there. His own religion admonishes him to tell the story to inspire compassion and forgiveness as Jesus did. But will his film do that? That’s the real act by which he’ll be judged.

Bart A. Charlow | Foster City

Problematic Gospel

The problem with Mel Gibson’s film is not the film itself but the Gospel story on which it is based.

By the time the New Testament Gospels were written toward the end of the first century, Jews and Christians were separate competing groups arguing over whether or not Jesus was the Messiah.

In that atmosphere, the Gospel writers gave the Jesus story an anti-Jewish slant by describing him as persecuted at every turn by Jewish religious leaders and by putting the blame for his crucifixion on them, not on the Romans who ordered his execution.

In the 1960s, the Catholic Church’s Vatican II Council declared that Jews of the past, as well as the Jews of today, bear no responsibility for the death of Jesus.

Let’s hope this film does not set the clock back and unleash a new wave of anti-Semitism. There’s too much of it in the world already. One Holocaust is enough.

Charles Patterson | New York

Hecklers waste time

I attentively read your Feb. 6 article, “Heckling barbs turn peace forum into tumultuous battleground.” I am very sorry for Naomi Lauter of AIPAC and Shlomi Ravid of the Israel Center to hear such accusation about Israel.

One of the accusers is Palestinian-born and the second, Uda Walker, is of the anti-Zionist Middle East Children’s Alliance; they are Israel’s enemies. I agree with Ravid when he angrily questioned the usefulness of the night’s forum.

I advise our dear representatives like Lauter and Ravid not to waste time and nerves, and not hold such conversations with our enemies.

Much better if they come to the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco and make a speech for Jewish immigrants.

Khaim Sayfer | San Francisco

Incitement to hate

At the San Francisco AFL-CIO panel at ILWU Local 34 (Feb. 6 j.), speaker Bishara Costandi, to paraphrase, asserted his support for terrorist suicide bombers, calling them freedom fighters and martyrs. He wants Israelis out, and one state called Palestine, and is opposed to the U.S. government.

This extreme position (that those educating the AFL-CIO hold and, even worse, the receptive applauding crowd) is of very deep concern.

Costandi mocked speakers supportive of Israel about their civility because they would not be baited to engage in bashing and blaming.

Hate speech is not free speech. Pontificating about the righteousness of suicide bombers and praising them as martyrs is hate speech. This exemplifies incitement to hate.

Why was someone inciting hate invited to speak at the AFL-CIO? National AFL-CIO President John Sweeney publicly supports Israel. The San Francisco chapter contradicts the message of Sweeney.

Two mothers screaming out that they would be suicide bombers were appalling. Does anyone have the political power to take action against this incitement or are we headed for another genocide?

E.E. Ross | Santa Rosa

Incomplete story?

Please ask Len Traubman for the rest of the story (Feb. 6 opinion). There is no mention of Yasser Arafat and his henchmen who systematically incite the Palestinian children and their Palestinian parents. Having visited in Israel several times each year with both Israeli Jewish friends and Israeli Arab friends, it is clear to us that the report cited by Traubman is a part of the story but not the complete story.

For over three generations in Palestinian public media, Palestinian TV, Palestinian classrooms and Palestinian public vitriol, and in the Palestinian streets, young Palestinians have been “educated” to see the Jew as the enemy who will be pushed to the sea.

The Traubman article could delve into the psychology of training suicide bombers — young men and young women — to kill innocent children who are Jewish, innocent young men and women who are Jewish, and anyone else who happens to be on the bus. What is really happening in the Palestinian classroom? The issue is that the Palestinian leadership delegitimitizes the right of Israel to exist.

Neill and Linda Brownstein | Palo Alto

Clinging to stereotypes

The reactions to Len Traubman’s Feb. 6 commentary on Palestinian textbooks illustrate how uncomfortable it can be when our ingrained notions about our partners in conflict are challenged.

Clinging to stereotypes and arguments that are no longer supported by the available evidence allows us to ignore the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian situation, and how we may be contributing to the perpetuation of that conflict.

Giving up our “enemy” can be frightening, but it can also be liberating.

The Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information has produced excellent reports and analyses that can help transform the way we conceptualize the Israeli-Palestinian relationship, which is an essential step toward peace.

The report on Palestinian textbooks can be accessed at the IPCRI Web site, www.ipcri.org/index1.html.

Faye Straus | Lafayette

Murderous education

Much of the education of hatred is ignored by Len Traubman’s Feb. 6 opinion in j. The new Palestinian textbooks still teach that Israel is not legitimate, and the old textbooks are still widely used.

“Significant education” is contained in the “martyrs” playing cards; destruction of Israeli targets as the goal of video games; classrooms decorated with pictures of murderers of civilians; songs, plays and poems aimed at children, encouraging “‘martyrdom”; and summer camps training children for combat.

Arafat imposes a diatribe on Arab children to die a death of suicidal murder.

All of this is controlled by the Palestinian Authority. And of course the Palestinian Authority-controlled media continues to encourage terrorism and to deliver messages of a deep hatred of Jews.

Professor Dan Bar-Tal’s findings of negative terms about Arabs that do appear in Israeli texts are not the counterpart of Arab teaching that Jews must die; they are in the context of documented Arab brutality that merit criticism.

Traubman’s apparent goal of evenhandedness is disingenuous. Fairness requires objectivity, not rote evenhandedness. Objectivity requires that Palestinian education about Israelis be labeled murderous; that Israeli education about Palestinian Arabs be labeled merely critical.

Harve Eliot Citrin | Palo Alto

Hearing the ‘other’

Len Traubman’s Feb. 6 commentary sheds light on an issue that has clouded Israeli-Palestinian relations for a long time.

Those who wish to will find many reliable Israeli sources that show the claims against the Palestinian textbooks to be anecdotal at best, but more than likely politically motivated.

Nurit Peled-Elhanan of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem is currently conducting a major study into the Israeli textbooks, and so far her findings confirm everything in Traubman’s commentary.

Traubman’s point about listening to each other’s narrative will in the end make or break any Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation and peace agreement. Once we learn each other’s narrative we begin to see people where there were demons and bridges where there were divisions.

A. Miko Peled | San Diego

Hardly ‘anecdotes’

In his Feb. 6 opinion piece, “Reports on Palestinian kids’ hatred grossly exaggerated,” Len Traubman claims of Itamar Marcus: “His work is anecdotal — hardly social science — based on the statements of a few people, including small children.”

Traubman’s statement is either ignorant or disingenuous. A single page of Marcus’ Web site, Palestinian Media Watch, www.pmw.org.il, has video clips of six Palestinian Authority TV pieces urging children to seek death by killing Jews.

Despite what Traubman might think, these are not “anecdotes,” they are hard evidence. They had to be funded, written, produced and broadcast on Palestinian Authority television in order for PMW to have intercepted them.

A single broadcast of even one of these clips on official TV is conclusive evidence of a campaign of hatred and death worship. (PMW reports seeing some of them repeatedly.) They stand by themselves; there is no need for frequency counts, and no context that could justify them.

Richard C. Roistacher | Belmont

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