Jewish Group Official Pans Mel's Movie

updated 08/12/2003 at 12:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/12/2003 3:52PM

"The Passion," Mel Gibson's controversial new movie about the crucifixion of Jesus, received an official thumbs down Monday by the Anti-Defamation League after the film was finally screened for a representative of the group.

Abraham Foxman, the ADL's national director, says in a statement: "We are deeply concerned that the film, if released in its present form, will fuel the hatred, bigotry and anti-Semitism that many responsible churches have worked hard to repudiate."

The ADL representative who saw the finished film, Rabbi Eugene Korn (who chairs the group's office on interfaith affairs), attended a private showing at Houston's Museum of Fine Arts on Friday, reports the Associated Press.

"This is not a disagreement between the Jews and Mr. Gibson," said Korn. "Many theologically informed Catholics and Protestants have expressed the same concerns regarding anti-Semitism and that this film may undermine Christian-Jewish dialogue and could turn back the clock on decades of positive progress in interfaith relations."

Gibson's spokesman, Alan Nierob, said that Gibson, who won an Oscar for his direction of "Braveheart," intended to combat hatred, not fuel it.

"Neither he nor his film are inspired by anti-Semitism, and he will continue to do whatever he can to combat hatred and bigotry," Nierob told AP. "Mel Gibson, for his whole life and career, has been vehemently opposed to anti-Semitism and hatred of others."

Gibson, 47, reportedly spent nearly $30 million out of his own pocket to bring the film -- which is in Latin and Aramaic, and, as yet, does not have a distributor -- to the screen.

The New York Times and other publications have described Gibson as a devout Catholic traditionalist who does not accept the reforms of Vatican II, which among other things rejected the belief that Jews were to blame for the death of Jesus.

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