Why Mel Gibson Went Forward With the Judah Maccabee Project

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The actor-director has wanted to tell the story for about a decade.

Mel Gibson drew ire when it was announced that he would be teaming with Warner Bros. to develop a film about Judah Maccabee, a Jewish icon.

But the decision wasn't necessarily a sudden one. The movie has long been in the works, sources told TMZ, with Gibson wanting to produce the project for about a decade. They noted that the actor-director believed Maccabee's life story paralleled that of the church in today's society.

According to sources close to Gibson, the actor isn't doing the film to close the gap he has with the Jewish community because they say he doesn't believe it is even there in the first place. Questions arose about Gibson's past history with the Jewish community and the sources reassured that Gibson did not hate Jews, adding that his team (lawyers, publicist) and many of his friends were Jewish.

But Jewish leaders criticized Warner Bros. and Gibson after news broke about the Maccabee project. Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti Defamation League, issued a statement to The Hollywood Reporter: "Judah Maccabee deserves better. He is a hero of the Jewish people and a universal hero in the struggle for religious liberty. It would be a travesty to have his story told by one who has no respect and sensitivity for other people’s religious views."

Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of Los Angeles' Simon Wiesenthal Center Museum of Tolerance, also spoke out against the film, telling THR, "Mel Gibson has shown nothing but antagonism and disrespect to Jews. ... He’s had a long history of antagonism with Jews. Casting him as a director or perhaps as the star of Judah Maccabee is like casting Madoff to be the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission, or a white supremacist as trying to portray Martin Luther King Jr. It's simply an insult to Jews."

In 2006, Gibson went on an anti-Semitic rant during a DUI arrest, but has since penned two letters of apology and has met with Jewish community leaders to discuss his actions. He was also accused of anti-Semitism by several Jewish leaders when The Passion of the Christ was released in 2004.

Basic Instinct screenwriter Joe Eszterhas has boarded the Warner Bros. project to pen the screenplay. Gibson will produce, and will decide whether he will act or direct the film once the script is completed.
Maccabee led a revolt against the Seleucid king Antiochus IV, seizing Jerusalem and reconsecrating the Temple, an event remembered by the Jewish holiday of Hannukkah.

Eszterhas, who broke through in the 1980s with Flashdance and Jagged Edge, has been talking with Gibson for about a year and did his own research on the subject before embarking on a screenplay, according to a source familiar with the project.

There is no timetable for the project, but once a script is completed, Gibson will decide whether he will participate in front of or behind the camera. Gibson was last seen in Jodie Foster's The Beaver, which was released earlier this year.