from Harper’s Magazine, November 1988
From an exchange of letters last summer between Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, and Pat Robertson, chairman of the Christian Broadcasting Network.
August 1, 1988
I am sure that you have followed the controversy surrounding the film The Last Temptation of Christ. No doubt you are also aware that some in the Christian community have seized upon this film, without even having seen it, to make scapegoats of Jews.
If the film is offensive, I am confident that all Americans, regardless of their religious affiliation, will condemn it. However, I am sure you will also agree that Jews should not be made scapegoats for a work created by individuals of many diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds. Those who have been blaming Jews have served merely to foster divisiveness and hatred at the expense of the mutual tolerance and understanding that has always been the hallmark of this nation’s religious pluralism.
As someone whose voice is widely respected in the Christian community, you are in a unique position to condemn and counsel those who are using this film to foment anti-Semitism. We urge you to do so, and we would be pleased to bring any statement you make to the attention of our constituents.
August 1, 1988
Thank you for your letter, which I just received. Please be assured that I will indeed raise my voice against any suggestion of emerging anti-Semitism that may come about from the release of The Last Temptation of Christ.
However, you must know that when word of the release of this picture came to me I knew immediately that, because MCA [the company that produced the movie] has been identified with Jewish management since its inception, the release of this movie would be viewed by many evangelicals as a Jewish affront to Jesus Christ and the Christian faith. This may not be rational, but as I found during the presidential campaign, perceptions are not always rational. Perceptions, however, quickly become reality.
This movie, as you realize, is an offense to 100 million Christians. It ridicules and blasphemes the faith that we have all committed our lives to. In my estimation, The Last Tempta- tion of Christ will be a great detriment to the framework of brotherhood that you and I and others have worked so very hard to bring about between Jews and Christians in America.
I would urge you to do everything you can to exercise your influence with Lew Wasserman and others at MCA to eliminate this affront to Christianity before the trouble begins.
August 3, 1988
I appreciate your prompt reply but must admit to serious disappointment with its contents. You say you will raise your voice against “any suggestion of emerging anti-Semitism that may come about,” but open invitations to anti-Semitism have already come about, and yet you have been and continue to be silent. This is the time for you to speak out and confront those perceptions before they become reality.
Our immediate concern is the scapegoating the film has provoked. Since this film is obviously not a “Jewish affront” to Christianity, I cannot understand why you are willing to let this dangerous and divisive lie spread unchecked. I would ask again that you speak out publicly against anti-Semitism and condemn those who are using this film to foment it.
August 8, 1988
I am your friend. Please read this letter carefully. It is obvious from your answer that you did not read my last letter.
Saturday night I was taken to dinner by a millionaire housing developer, who had been a member of the city council of one of our largest cities, who is a prominent Republican, and a national vice president of a major religious organization. He asked me, “What do you think of this movie about Jesus?” I said to him, “What do you think?” He answered immediately, “It is a couple of Jews trying to make a buck.”
There will probably be 50 million people, Catholic and Protestant, who will mirror his sentiments. I can’t do much by myself to stop that, but you can deflect it with the proper strategy.
If the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, an active Jewish organization, comes out against this blasphemous movie and in the process condemns MCA for a tasteless, un-American attack on the cherished religious beliefs of a large group of our citizens, you will have said to all Americans that you are not a part of this movie and that it does not have the endorsement of the Jewish leadership in America.
When you make such a statement I will then be delighted to feature your statement on my television network and to give it as much press as I possibly can in the other media. Then instead of your coming off as shrilly blaming Christians for a problem caused by MCA, you will come off as you are—a champion of all people against all forms of bigotry and intolerance.
Please give this deep consideration because whether we like it or not the thing is going to get Out of hand.
With warm personal regards, I am
August 10, 1988
I had asked you, as someone whose voice is widely respected in the Christian community, to speak out against, and counsel, those who are using the film The Last Temptation of Christ to foment anti-Semitism. Certain that you would understand, I pointed out that Jews should not be made scapegoats for a work created by individuals of many diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds. How disappointing your response.
I am flabbergasted at your accusation that the Anti-Defamation League or anyone else is “shrilly blasting [sic] Christians for a problem caused by MCA.” The problem is anti-Semitism, as exemplified by the housing developer’s comments to you.
Did you answer him? Did you tell him that Jews did not write the novel or direct the film? Did you tell him that the issue is not “Jews trying to make a buck”?
Pat, if you didn’t straighten him out, you should have. And you are someone who can straighten out others who might, in your words, “mirror his opinion.”
For you to even suggest that “the Jewish leadership in America” should tell the American people that we are not part of this movie and do not endorse it is outrageous. “The Jewish leadership” is not the film industry—why should anyone believe otherwise? Why should Jews be put on the defensive because age-old false stereotypes unfortunately still exist in some quarters? We will not be blamed for the Crucifixion a second time.
There is one point in your letter with which we agree. The ADL does, indeed, oppose and condemn bigotry and intolerance wherever it occurs. Sad to say, in connection with this film it has come from some who are erstwhile friends.
I ask you once again, Pat, to speak out against the anti-Semitism surrounding this film.
DISCLOSURE: I spent an hour on the phone with a friend today whose kid was getting bullied for being a Jew. The response from our local public school system has been only a shade more supportive than Pat Robertson’s response to Abe Foxman, and a helluva lot less honest.