No anti-Semitic fallout
Film made people re-examine their views, less willing to cast blame, survey finds
Don Lattin, Chronicle Religion Writer
Thursday, March 18, 2004
©2004 San Francisco Chronicle
Despite fears that it could promote anti-Semitism,
the new film by Mel Gibson "The Passion of the Christ'' may
have made Americans less likely to blame Jews for the death of Jesus,
according to a new survey.
Among those interviewed for a new national poll who
had seen or knew about the film, 83 percent said the movie and its
surrounding controversy had no effect on the extent they believe
contemporary Jews are responsible for the death of Jesus. Only 2
percent said the movie made them more likely to blame Jews, while
9 percent said the movie made them less likely to hold Jews responsible.
The poll by the Institute for Jewish and Community
Research in San Francisco surveyed 1,003 randomly selected adults
from March 5 to 9. The margin of error was 3.7 percentage points.
Gary Tobin, president of the institute, called the
findings "good news.''
"While the film may have a different impact elsewhere
in the world, so far 'The Passion of the Christ' is not producing
any significant anti-Jewish backlash,'' Tobin said.
Even before the film's Feb. 25 release, some Jewish
leaders predicted that Gibson's depiction of the last day in the
life of Jesus could provoke anti-Semitism.
Those fears rose after the movie opened and was condemned
by some critics for what they called a negative, stereotypic characterization
of the Jewish community during the time of the crucifixion.
But what actually happened, Tobin said, was a widespread
discussion in the news media, churches and synagogues about the role
of the Jews and the Romans in the trial and execution of Jesus.
"People have had to think and reflect on their
beliefs,'' Tobin said. "This film was absolutely healthy for
religion in America.''
Others are not so sure.
Jonathan Bernstein, director of the San Francisco office
of the Anti- Defamation League, said the poll earlier this month
was conducted too soon and did not sample enough viewers.
"The core issue with this film may not be who
was to blame for the death of Jesus, but its overall anti-Semitic
stereotypic images,'' Bernstein said. "Those images will stick
with people forever, just like we think of Charlton Heston when we
think of Moses.''
Bernstein said his office has gotten a couple dozen
hateful phone calls since the film came out. Jewish children, he
said, have been called "Christ- killers'' on school campuses.
Tobin defended the poll, which included 146 people
who had actually seen the movie. Of those, 5 percent said they were
now more likely to blame Jews for the death of Jesus, compared with
12 percent who were less inclined to do so.
Tobin said the pollsters had asked questions designed
to measure anti- Semitic opinions beyond the "death of Jesus" issue.
"They (anti-Semitic views) were all down compared
to two years (ago)," he said.
©2004 San Francisco Chronicle
IJCR Home Page
Back to IJCR Media