The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Wonder who's the biggest anti-Semite? Try the new Mel Gibson Scale

March 16, 2011 | 12:38 pm

Mel_gibson Anti-Semitism has been much in the news lately, between the antics of Charlie Sheen, who got so mad at "Two and a Half Men" producer Chuck Lorre that he started calling him Chaim Levine, and chic French designer John Galliano, who was captured on video saying "I love Hitler" and hurling anti-Semitic remarks at a couple in a Paris cafe.

So Jewish Journal editor Rob Eshman has decided to fight back by assembling a standardized method for gauging hate speech toward Jews. In a burst of inspiration, he's decided to call the unit of measurement a "Gibson," a tip of the yarmulke to Mel Gibson, who has kind of set the standard for anti-Jewish remarks. Of course, Gibson has made a host of derogatory remarks over the years about gays, African Americans, Latinos and women, but he did the most damage in 2006 when, after being arrested for driving under the influence, he told a police officer that "the Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world." The actress Winona Ryder, who is Jewish, said Gibson once called her "an oven-dodger." (Gibson pleaded no contest last week to a charge of misdemeanor battery against his ex-girlfriend. He's been in the midst of a yearlong domestic-violence counseling program.)

As Eshman sees it, the Gibson scale would measure the severity of an anti-Semitic remark; 1 would be the lowest threat level, as with Woody Allen in "Annie Hall" imagining he heard someone say "Jew eat?" A 10 would be the hate-filled vitriol broadcast by various Hamas and al-Qaeda websites. The Journal editor has already acquired a URL, (not active yet), in preparation for a more formal way of measuring hate speech, though he says he's not sure yet who should do the ratings. He's leaning toward a Rotten Tomatoes-style aggregator approach, allowing for a site to average out the ratings made by various professionals.

He offers some suggested current ratings in his column, with Sheen getting 2 Gibsons for his Lorre remarks and Galliano getting 4 Gibsons for his drunken rant in a Parisian cafe. The highest current rating -- a 7 on the Gibson scale -- goes to Glenn Beck for his diatribes against billionaire George Soros (who's a big donor to liberal causes) and for Beck's recent remark comparing Reform Judaism to "radicalized Islam." (He later apologized and said he was misinformed.)

Eshman believes the Gibson scale offers a lesson for us all. As he put it: "Anti-Semitism is the last stop on the way to Crazy Town. A 1996 study by the psychiatrist and neuroscientist Mortimer Ostow determined that the more one held anti-Semitic beliefs, the more likely he was to harbor psychotic thinking. The opposite was true as well: The less you believe in anti-Semitic stereotypes, the less of a nutter you are."

I only wish that Eshman would expand the Gibson scale to include ratings for hate speech across the spectrum, not just vile remarks directed at Jews. It would a be worthy way to heap derision on ignorant loudmouths who seem to increasingly dominate our public discourse, like Virgil Peck, the Kansas Republican legislator who suggested Monday that illegal immigrants should be shot like wild hogs by men in helicopters. Why not open up the Gibson scale to all comers? After all, Mel has insulted so many minorities over the years that having his name on a hate-speech barometer would give it instant credibility. 

-- Patrick Goldstein

Photo: Mel Gibson appearing at an L.A. courthouse on  March 11. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times