Here is my exclusive interview this morning with Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center — an international Jewish human rights organization dedicated to preserving the memory of the Holocaust by fostering tolerance and understanding through community involvement, educational outreach and social action. The rabbi was speaking by telephone from Israel, where he said his organization was distributing funds for aid and shelter to people all over Israel, including to Israeli arabs. (Click here for my UPDATED: Hollywood Reacts To Gibson.)
Q: So what are your feelings about this Mel Gibson story?
A: Look, the issue with Mel Gibson is very simple. Mel Gibson is driving under intoxication. There are no Jews in sight. He can blame his car, he can blame his liquor, he can blame the sheriff. But he can’t blame any Jews because there are none around. That’s precisely who he blames. Yet that’s the problem. That shows he has a problem with Jews. And there’s an old Yiddish saying, which loses a lot in translation, “What someone drunk has on his tongue comes from his conscience when he is not drunk.” My point is that, even if you look at his apology itself, in the nature of the apology he knew exactly what he’d said. And though doesn’t specially address anti-Semitism, you can see that long apology he has it in mind he knows he said that.
Q: Are you convinced Gibson is anti-Semitic?
A: What does Mel Gibson want from the Jews? It’s amazing to me he previously denies he shares any of his father’s beliefs. But his father says the Holocaust is a hoax, and its numbers are exaggerated. Now it turns out he also has an issue with Jews. It’s not just his father that is a problem.
Q: And you’re calling on him to drop plans to produce a Holocaust movie for ABC?
A: It seems inconceivable that he should given these cirumstances to make, in the future, a film about the Holocaust. That would be like getting somebody that has a past association with the KKK to do a film on African-Americans. The African-Americans would be up in arms. That’s the way Jews feel. If you don’t like the Jews, don’t do a film about the central issue of modern Jewish history, the Holocaust. It’s insensitive to their feelings, especially if you don’t like them. That’s why I think he should drop out. This is not a film he could do.
Q: Is there anything Gibson can do now, or in the future, to make amends?
A: He has two problems. First, to take care of his abuse of alcohol. And, second, he should take care of his deep feelings of bigotry apparent towards Jews. That you can’t wish away in a day or a week. That you can’t issue a publicist statement how he’s seen the light. It doesn’t work that way.
Q: What if he donates money?
A: What is donating money? He has a problem with Jews. Donations won’t solve that. It’s an attitudinal problem.
Q: Would you assist him in changing that?
A: I know what I am and I know what I’m not. I’m not a psychiatrist or a psychologist. He shouldn’t come to me. How to cure him is not what I do. If he wanted to learn about the Holocaust or to take sensitivity training, then he could go through the Museum of Tolerance [which is part of the Simon Wiesenthal Center].

Earlier in the day, Hier issued a statement made available to me. “It appears that Mel Gibson launched into a drunken diatribe against Jews during a DUI arrest this weekend. In his statement, Mr. Gibson ackowledged a longstanding drinking problem and apologized for his behavior without a specific reference to his anti-Semitic statements. We hope Mr. Gibson will get help for his problems. But, in the meantime, he should drop any plans to produce a movie on the Nazi Holocaust. Anyone spouting the canard that Jews are “responsible for all wars” — a lie touted by bigots from Nazis to Hezbollah — does not have the legitimacy to make a film about Jewish martyrdrom and suffering during the Nazi era.”

Hier was referring to an ABC nonfiction mini-series that Gibson’s TV company late last year announced he was developing for ABC based on the self-published memoir of a Dutch Jew whose gentile neighbors hid her from the Nazis but who lost several relatives in concentration camps. In addition, ABC’s parent company Disney, through Buena Vista, is distributing the Oscar winner’s upcoming movie Apocalypto, an action epic about the bloody decline of the Mayan civilization.

Hier is not only an international religious and political figure of note, but also a central and revered figure within Hollywood which helps support the Simon Wiesenthal Center both financially and substantively. In 2003, a year before Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ was released, Hier co-wrote a Los Angeles Times opinion piece worrying whether the movie would stir anti-Semitic sentiments. “It’s true that the final script hasn’t been made available, and there is currently no release date, or even distributor, for the film. Still, there are reasons for concern,” Hier wrote. He was even more outspoken against the film once it began screening, reiterating his belief that the film denigrated Jews and could spark anti-Semitism abroad and in the U.S..