THE first UK screening of Mel Gibson’s controversial new film The Passion Of The Christ provoked a furious response from Britain’s Jewish community yesterday.
Representatives of the Jewish faith were invited to see the film a month before its nationwide release.
Many left the cinema branding it both "disgusting" and "deplorable", and likely to incite racial hatred.
Depicting the last 12 hours in the life of Christ, Gibson’s blood-drenched epic has been accused of anti-Semitism.
It shows the Jewish high priests demanding Christ’s crucifixion, then looking on as he is tortured and put to an agonising death.
Neville Nagler, director general of the Jewish Board of Deputies, said: "At a time when we are trying to develop co-operation and dialogue within our diverse and multicultural society, this film overturns the recent teachings of the Church and is completely unhelpful in fostering closer Jewish-Christian relations."
Lord Janner, a former president of the Board of Deputies and now vice-president of the World Jewish Congress, said : "I hated it. The Jews come out of it as a pretty nasty lot and I believe it could cause very great harm in relations with the Jewish community."
Gibson is a conservative Catholic, a member of a group which does not accept the Vatican II reforms of 1962 which absolved Jews of responsibility for the crucifixion.
Sir Sigmund Sternberg, a founder of the Three Faiths Forum which fosters dialogue between Christians, Jews and Muslims, said: "I would have liked Mel Gibson to include a postscript explaining Vatican II, but he made no mention of it. Christian-Jewish relations are very good and I worry that this film may be damaging."