It's easy and tempting to wax cynical about Mel Gibson, the once-famously outraged-for-being-called-an-anti-Semite Hollywood powerhouse who recently, under the revealing effects of alcohol, proved his erstwhile accusers to have, if anything, underestimated the depth of his animus for Jews. And, indeed, cynics abound.
I am not among them. Not that I am beyond cynicism, unfortunately. But Mr. Gibson's apology, in which he disowned his drunken diatribe and asked the Jewish community to help him in "the process of understanding where those vicious words came from," cannot be blithely ignored. If he is honestly grappling with the infection in his soul, he deserves not only sympathy but credit. It is infinitely healthier to know there is a prejudice lurking in one's heart than to be oblivious to it.
Which brings us to another performer, this one on the international stage.
Unsurprisingly, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan wasted no time, after word came in that Israeli forces had shelled a U.N. post in Lebanon, casting the Jewish state as a dastardly villain. Before any facts beyond the shelling itself came in, he publicly proclaimed Israel guilty of "apparent deliberate targeting" of the post.
Soon enough, it emerged that the shelling was a tragic mistake, and that one of the United Nations observers killed in the attack had e-mailed his former commander in the Canadian army to say that Hezbollah had positioned themselves in close proximity to the U.N. post — that, in the commander's words, they were "all over his position." The U.N. observer had gone on to write the commander that Israel's bombardments of the area had "not been deliberate targeting, but rather due to tactical necessity."
Even though if Annan had not known of that e-mail (or had entertained the obvious thought of removing the U.N. troops from harm's way), he might have waited until the facts were in. What impelled him to make so irresponsible, so … deliberate — to borrow a word — an accusation?
Perhaps veritas is evident not only in vino but in venality.
Like soft drinks and poison, anti-Semitism comes in various flavors and strengths. There is religiously-based hatred for Jews — expressed by espousers of many faiths — and secularist animus for Jews (or things associated with Jews). There is nationalistic Jew-hatred and there are political varieties.
There is, moreover, subtle loathing of the sort that largely lies fallow, expressing itself, if ever, in tirades like the one some Malibu policemen recently witnessed — or in artistic or scholarly expression.
And then there is the more operational variety, like the recent rampage by an Arab-American at Seattle's Jewish federation building, which left one woman dead and five people wounded.
Ironically, though, while anti-Semitic rants and violence understandably capture the most attention, "anti-Semitism lite" of the sort routinely seen at the U.N. and even in its secretariat, should concern us no less. Not only is it subtle and sometimes dangerous, but it is mother's milk for the more blatant kind.
Our hope might be for the day when those whose Jew-hatred is unrecognized might come to recognize what their hearts harbor, and perhaps follow Gibson's example.
Imagine Annan apologizing for his one-sidedness when it comes to Israel. Or words of contrition from the representatives of the various General Assembly blocs who routinely offer condemnation for Israeli defensive actions while maintaining stony silence on offensive acts against Jews.
Imagine the European Union — or even just France — asking for help in dealing with its own deep-seated irritation with Jews.
Or the Lebanese government admitting that its own neglect, or even accommodation, of Hezbollah terrorists lies at the root of the destruction that has been visited on its land and citizens.
Or some of those citizens themselves owning up to permitting Jew-haters to use their homes, schools and hospitals to hide missiles and other implements of death. Or the man in Kana who, over many hours, posed for an assortment of media, holding the same dead Lebanese child as if he had just discovered the body, coming clean about his propagandistic exploitation of a tragedy and desecration of the dead. And those media themselves, for their complicity in the outrage.
We wouldn't be wise to hold our collective breath. But history has, in fact, known some remarkable realizations, even in the realm of anti-Semitism, both regular and lite. So we can certainly hope.
Rabbi Avi Shafran is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America.