‘Passion’ not fueling anti-Semitism

Mel Gibson’s new film “The Passion of the Christ” may be reducing anti-Semitism, according to a new poll.

Not only is “The Passion” not producing the much-feared anti-Semitic backlash, it has actually created an empathy for Jews, according to a poll released by the San Francisco-based Institute for Jewish and Community Research (IJCR).

Among the 1,003 adults recently polled nationwide about the film, 83 percent said it did not make them blame contemporary Jews for Christ’s death; only 2 percent said the film made them more likely to hold today’s Jews responsible; and 9 percent said the film made them less likely to do so.

“I was surprised,” IJCR President Gary Tobin said yesterday. “I did not expect so many people would say that, even if they believed Jews were responsible for the death of Christ 2,000 years ago, they don’t hold Jews today responsible.”

The movie, he said, “is clearly filled with anti-Semitic views and images.” For this reason, he said he “didn’t expect people to have a more favorable impression of Jews.”

But Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ), disagrees. “The majority of American Christians long ago rejected as unbiblical the idea of collective Jewish guilt for the death of Jesus,” he said. “They have a far deeper and more nuanced understanding of Scripture than many Jewish leaders give them credit for.”

“The Passion” continues to mount blockbuster ratings, earning $267 million after a 20-day run. Sixteen percent of American adults have already seen the film and an additional 48 percent plan to see it, according to the survey. That would be a total of 64 percent of all U.S. adults — about 135 million people — not including millions of teenagers who have also viewed it.

Sixty-four percent of those polled by the IJCR said the movie was thorough and accurate about the life of Jesus. Thirteen percent disagreed.

Sixteen percent wished the film would have focused more on Christ’s life and teachings apart from His last 12 hours, but 62 percent were satisfied with the film as it is. Sixty-two percent said the film is true to the Gospels, whereas 19 percent said Mr. Gibson inserted his own less-than-accurate interpretation of events.

A similar survey released by the Chicago-based International Fellowship of Christians and Jews that polled 2,500 persons online showed that only 1.7 percent of the respondents blamed Jews for Jesus’ death. Eighty-four percent blamed “mankind,” and 8 percent blamed “other” people.

About 85 percent of the respondents were evangelical Christians.

Despite the “near-hysterical” warnings by some Jewish groups before the movie opened Feb. 25, “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,” Mr. Eckstein said.

“In fact, this is consistent with the Gospels, and does not necessarily represent a threat to Jews,” he said. “The potential danger 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. As our survey shows, it is precisely this belief that the vast majority of Christians reject.”