One Poll Finds 'Passion' Makes Viewers Less
Likely to Blame Jews for Crucifixion
You heard it here first: Mel Gibson's "The Passion
of the Christ" is good for the Jews. So says demographer Gary
Tobin, whose San Francisco-based Institute for Jewish & Community
Research released a new poll this week concluding that the movie
changed Christian attitudes toward Jews and the crucifixion for the
better. "In general, people are less inclined to see Jews as
responsible for killing Christ" after seeing the movie, Tobin
That finding contrasts sharply with dire warnings from
some Jewish leaders and groups before the movie opened. Critics said
Gibson's skewed portrayal -- in which Jews pushed the Roman leadership
into crucifying Jesus -- could inflame anti-Semitism, if not domestically
than abroad, where anti-Semitism is more prevalent.
In a random national survey of 1,003 adults conducted
by Tobin's group March 5-9, nearly two weeks after the movie's premiere,
12 percent of the 146 people who had seen "The Passion" said
it made them "less likely" to blame Jews today for the
crucifixion, compared to 5 percent who said they were "more
likely" to blame all Jews for killing Jesus.
Conducted by the Pennsylvania-based International Communications
Research, a research firm that has conducted surveys for ABC News
and The Washington Post, the poll found that 16 percent of Americans
said they had seen the Gibson movie, which raked in more than $264
million in its first three weeks after opening Feb. 25. A Gallup
poll taken March 5-7 found that 11 percent of Americans had seen
the movie, and 34 percent more said they planned to see it in theaters.
In Tobin's survey, 9 percent of those who either had
seen the movie or were familiar with it due to the "buzz" surrounding
it said the movie made them less likely to hold Jews responsible
for Jesus's death; 2 percent said they were more likely to blame
Jews; 83 percent said their opinions about Jews remained unchanged.
In February, an ABC News poll found that 8 percent
of Americans blamed all Jews, historically and today, for killing
Jesus. Tobin said movie has become such a phenomenon "that you
don't have to have seen the film for it to influence your thinking." Sid
Groeneman, who worked on the Tobin poll, said the disparity in blame
between the ABC polls and Tobin's may be due to different wording.
The earlier poll asked if Jews "bear responsibility for" the
crucifixion, while the Tobin poll asked if they "should be held
responsible," signaling retribution may be necessary, he said.
Tobin's poll comes after an online survey by the Chicago-based
International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, a group devoted
to interfaith ties and support for Israel, conducted an online survey
showing a minority of Christians blame Jews for the crucifixion.
The survey, held Feb. 26-March 3, the days immediately after the
movie opened, found that only 1.7 percent of 2,500 participants said
Jews were responsible for killing Jesus, while 84 percent said "mankind" was
Most participants were evangelical Christians, many
of whom endorsed the Gibson movie, said the group's president, Rabbi
Yechiel Eckstein, who is Orthodox. "Despite the near-hysterical
warnings issued by some Jewish groups in the wake of 'The Passion,'
we must remember that the danger for Jews does not lie in Christians
believing that certain Jewish authorities, acting to preserve their
own power, desired the death of Jesus," Eckstein said.
Instead, the threat "lies in the abhorrent notion
that Jews today have blood on their hands because of the actions
of a corrupt few 2,000 years ago." The group's survey shows "it
is precisely this belief that the vast majority of Christians reject," he
said. In the movie, the scene in question indeed carries the infamous
blood libel that for centuries sparked Christian attacks against
The scene shows the Roman leader, Pontius Pilate, washing
his hands of Jesus's blood, while the Jewish high priest Caiaphas
turns to the Jewish mob demanding Jesus be killed and says in Aramaic, "His
blood is on us." Unlike the rest of the subtitled movie, that
line was not translated, though the word "yadaim," or "hands" in
Aramaic and Hebrew, is clear.
Besides earning Gibson a princely $70 million profit
so far on his $30 million investment, the movie has been the subject
of intense media scrutiny, appearing on the covers of numerous magazines,
the front pages of countless newspapers, and winning saturation coverage
by major broadcast and cable television networks. Some have called
Gibson's publicity strategy for the movie a model of marketing that
will be studied for years to come. Even the Tobin poll received substantial
media play, appearing on CNN hours after its release.
Among the leading critics of the film was Abraham Foxman,
national director of the Anti-Defamation League, who failed to convince
Gibson to add a postscript to the movie saying that many Jews were
crucified during the Roman occupation of ancient Israel, and that
the Jews were not to blame for Jesus' death. "I hope he's right," Foxman
said of Tobin's survey, but "I think it's a little too early
to come to any conclusions."
"I'm not sure I really understand what these findings
mean, based on that 146 people saw it," he added. The Tobin
poll carried a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points
for those who saw the film, to 3.7 points to those who saw or knew
about the film. The ADL will conduct its own follow-up polls about
the movie in the next few months, Foxman said.
Since the film's opening, Foxman said the ADL has received
more than a dozen reports of students in public schools being called
Christ-killers by classmates. Six name-calling incidents occurred
in one Midwestern community, he said. But Foxman added that such
incidents surface occasionally, and the ADL was only starting to
examine the reports to determine whether they were connected to the
For his part, Tobin said the ADL and others were right
to focus attention on the movie. After seeing the movie Monday, Tobin
said he found it "full of anti-Semitic images." "The
film blames Jews in ways that are associated with anti-Semitic beliefs," he
said. "But that doesn't mean people are coming away from the
movie with anti-Semitic views."
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