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Bill Berkowitz: Bill Donohue's Jewish Problem

Bill Donohue's Jewish Problem

By Bill Berkowitz

Promoting Mel Gibson's 'Passion of the Christ,' Catholic League head claims secular Jews run Hollywood and 'Hollywood likes anal sex'

Oscar nominations will be announced on January 25, and Bill Donohue, passionately seeking multitudes of Oscars for Mel Gibson's ''The Passion of the Christ,'' can hardly wait. While you'd not likely recognize him on the subway, Donohue, the president of the New York City-based Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, will get more ink this holiday season, and more face-time on talking head television, than all the Catholic priests involved in all the child molestation suits, put together.

Since the beginning of the year, in League-issued press releases and in his television appearances, the Catholic League's top spokesperson has been all over the map: accusing of slandering Christians during the election; claiming that there's an "anti-Christian explosion under way at the Village Voice"; calling the environmental advocacy group, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), "Catholic bashers [who] put their bigotry on public display"; and recently, maintaining that "Hollywood likes anal sex."

Bill Donohue has a gruff, grating and irritating television persona and he's prone to making outrageous comments, all of which makes him the perfect guest for cable television's talk fests. Aside from accusing anyone critical of the Catholic Church of being a Catholic-basher, and grousing about how the ACLU and their Christian-bashing partners won't let Christmas into the public square, Donohue has his eyes on Hollywood and the myriad awards coming down the pike. (For more on the anti-Christmas conspiracy, see Frank Rich's December 19, New York Times column entitled "2004: The Year of 'The Passion'.")

A staunch supporter, and defender, of Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ," Donohue is appalled, but not surprised, that the film was recently snubbed by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the people who determine the winners of the Golden Globe awards:

"Mel Gibson releases the most significant blockbuster movie of the year, but it's not good enough to make the cut for a Golden Globe. That's because his film promotes Christianity, and the Hollywood crowd will have none of it. The only movies they like to make about Christianity these days are ones that demean it.

"But one movie that did make the cut in the foreign-language category was 'The Motorcycle Diaries,' a film that shamelessly lies about the notorious Cuban communist, Che Guevara. According to the Christian Science Monitor, the movie 'paints Guevara as an amiable guy who doesn't appear to have an aggressive bone in his body.' A.O. Scott of the New York Times concurs, saying the film views Guevara 'as a quasi-holy figure' who turns away 'from the corruptions of the world toward a higher purpose.' This may explain why Jack Mathews of the New York Daily News says that director Walter Salles 'comes close at times to posing Guevara as a Christ figure.'

"In other words, because Mel gives us a faithful rendition of Christ's Passion, he is shunned by the Hollywood elite for doing so. But a movie that whitewashes a ruthless tyrant... making him into a Christ-like figure… gets the nod. The message that is being sent is unmistakable: there is no room for Jesus in Hollywood's inn, but there is plenty of room for communist thugs portrayed in a Christ-like manner.


Donohue recently told fellow defender-of-the-faith, Pat Buchanan -- subbing for host Joe Scarborough on MSNBC's "Scarborough Country" -- that the reason "The Passion" wouldn't get its just due is because Hollywood "is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular."

Here's part of their conversation:

BUCHANAN: ... Bill Donohue, what do you think about "The Passion of the Christ"? And as a practical matter, even if Hollywood hated the film, it seems to me as an artistic work of art, a smashing triumph, a film of great controversy and interest, it ought to at least be nominated for best picture. It pulled in more money than any other picture all year.

DONOHUE: I spoke to Mel a couple of weeks ago about this. And I don't think it really matters a whole lot to him. It certainly doesn't matter to me. We've already won.

Who really cares what Hollywood thinks? All these hacks come out there. Hollywood is controlled by secular Jews who hate Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular. It's not a secret, OK? And I'm not afraid to say it. That's why they hate this movie. It's about Jesus Christ, and it's about truth. It's about the messiah.

Hollywood likes anal sex. They like to see the public square without nativity scenes. I like families. I like children. They like abortions. I believe in traditional values and restraint. They believe in libertinism. We have nothing in common. But you know what? The culture war has been ongoing for a long time. Their side has lost.

You have got secular Jews. You have got embittered ex-Catholics, including a lot of ex-Catholic priests who hate the Catholic Church, wacko Protestants in the same group, and these people are in the margins.

In the first quarter of the year, during the run-up to and in the aftermath of the premiere of "The Passion of the Christ," the Catholic League issued 43 press releases, slightly more than half (22), dealing with Gibson's film. In addition, a special section of the League's "2003 Report on Anti-Catholicism" was devoted to the film.

A typical press release during the period (February 26) was entitled "Saint Mel." While excoriating the film's critics for their intolerance, Donohue thanks them for bringing "the pus... to the surface," in the cultural debate. A week earlier, the highly principled Donohue refused to comment on the outrageous anti-Semitic comments made by Mel Gibson's father Hutton during a radio interview: "Make no mistake about it, those obsessed with killing this movie will not manipulate Bill Donohue into berating Hutton Gibson."

The Catholic League, which claims to represent more than 350,000 members, is, according to its website, "the nation's largest Catholic civil rights organization." Founded in 1973 by the late Father Virgil C. Blum, S.J., the Catholic League defends the right of Catholics -- lay and clergy alike -- to participate in American public life without defamation or discrimination.

"Motivated by the letter and the spirit of the First Amendment, the Catholic League works to safeguard both the religious freedom rights and the free speech rights of Catholics whenever and wherever they are threatened... In essence, the Catholic League monitors the culture, acting as a watchdog agency and defender of the civil rights of all Catholics."

The League's Board of Advisors is filled with high-powered longtime conservative leaders and activists including Brent Bozell III, the head of the Media Research Center, Linda Chavez, President of the Center for Equal Opportunity, Dinesh D'Souza, the Robert and Karen Rishwain Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, Alan Keyes, the failed Illinois Republican Senatorial candidate, Thomas Monaghan, the founder of Dominos Pizza and a big donor to various right wing causes, Michael Novak, Kate O'Beirne, and George Weigel.

"When even phenomena as innocuous as Oscar nominations or the lighting of a Christmas tree can be inflated into divisive religious warfare, it's only a matter of time before someone uncovers an anti-Christian plot in 'White Christmas,'" the New York Times' Frank Rich pointed out in a recent column. After all, "it avoids any mention of religion and it was, as William Donohue might be the first to point out, written by a secular Jew."

Responding to Rich's column in a press release dated December 17, Donohue claimed that the columnist had a vendetta against him "for years" because of his "attacks on anti-Catholicism." Donohue added: "Whether it is my objections to a play that portrays Jesus having sex with the apostles, or my complaints about a dung-stained portrait of Our Blessed Mother, count on Rich to damn me for protesting the bigotry while he defends the offending work. As for Mel's epic film, Rich characteristically dubbed it 'a porn movie.'"

And in the oft-heard "some of my best friends" cry of the bigot, Donohue pointed out that "Jews who know me know that I have long fought anti-Semitism. They also know that I will not be intimidated by Frank Rich."

To hear Bill Donohue tell it, if it was the Grinch who stole Christmas, he must have been a secular Jew; the same secular Jews who are plotting to rob "Saint Mel" of his awards.


For more please see the Bill Berkowitz archive.

Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His WorkingForChange column Conservative Watch documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right.

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