Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Blogwatch: Gibson and Holocaust denial

In Paleojudaica, Jim Davila comments on the question of Mel Gibson and holocaust denial, pointing to the Volokh Conspiracy blog, which had commented on Peggy Noonan's Reader's Digest interview with Gibson. In my own opinion, too much has been made of Gibson's comments in this interview. David Bernstein says:
An interviewer asks, do you believe the Holocaust happened? Gibson doesn't just say, "yes, it did, of course." He doesn't even say, yes, of course, and we should remember it, along with other great tragedies of the 20th century.
Actually, Gibson does say "yes, of course"; the problem arises from the fact that he says it halfway through the paragraph in question:
Peggy Noonan: "You're going to have to go on record. The Holocaust happened, right?"

Gibson: "I have friends and parents of friends who have numbers on their arms. The guy who taught me Spanish was a Holocaust survivor. He worked in a concentration camp in France. Yes, of course. Atrocities happened. War is horrible. The Second World War killed tens of millions of people. Some of them were Jews in concentration camps. Many people lost their lives. In the Ukraine, several million starved to death between 1932 and 1933. During the last century, 20 million people died in the Soviet Union." (emphasis added).
What one has to remember is that this is not a carefully worded, written response to a question but an orally delivered answer. The unequivocal answer to the question comes half-way through the paragraph. This is actually pretty natural in orally delivered answers. When one reads transcripts of radio interviews, for example, it is remarkable to see how often the written version loses a key element that the ear picks up instinctively. I think Gibson is trying to answer the question unequivocally with his "Yes, of course" but is prefacing it by saying that that this is not just hearsay -- he knows it personally from friends and parents of friends. Bear in mind that Maria Morgenstern, who plays Mary the mother of Jesus in the film, is the daughter of a holocaust survivor; her grandfather died at Auschwitz (see blog entry on).

The reason I am sure that this is the right way to read the comments above is that more recently, his answer has been even clearer -- the ABC interview with Diane Sawyer, e.g. reported by WNBC:

'Passion' Strife Swells With Gibson's Dad's Holocaust Dispute
Mel Gibson has largely remained silent when asked about his father in interviews. He told ABC's Diane Sawyer Monday, "Gotta leave it alone, Diane," when the interviewer probed him about Hutton Gibson's reported anti-Semitism.

Mel Gibson did tell Sawyer, however, his viewpoints about the Holocaust.

"Do I believe that there were concentration camps where defenseless and innocent Jews died cruelly under the Nazi regime? Of course I do, absolutely," Mel Gibson told Sawyer. "It was an atrocity of monumental proportions."

"And you believe there were millions -- 6 million?" Sawyer asked, to which Mel Gibson responded, "Sure."
My own feeling is that this is something of a red herring in the discussion of The Passion of the Christ. It seems likely that we may need to take the charges of anti-Semitism in The Passion of the Christ seriously -- I don't know until I go to see the film next week -- but I don't think Gibson is a holocaust denier.

Update (22.45): On Paleojudaica, Jim Davila updates his piece with reference to the Diane Sawyer interview.

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