Joe Eszterhas and Mel Gibson at odds over The Maccabees

Scriptwriter accuses Gibson of anti-Semitism.

by Jennie Kermode

"The reason you won't make The Maccabees is the ugliest possible one. You hate Jews," said Basic Instinct screenwriter Joe Eszterhas in a nine page open letter to Mel Gibson yesterday. Gibson has denied the accusations, saying he rejected a poor quality script, but his reputation is once again in trouble.

Describing Eszterhas' first draft as one of the worst he has ever seen, Gibson said he had no problem with its subject matter, which follows second century hero Judah Maccabee in his quest to reclaim Jerusalem from the Seleucid empire. The story has been described as the Jewish equivalent of Braveheart and was enthusiastically welcomed by Jewish leaders when it was announced, but enthusiasm quickly turned to cynicism and despair when it became clear that Gibson intended to direct. He was accused of taking on the project in an attempt to clear his name in the aftermath of an arrest connected to anti-Semitic behaviour.

Eszterhas claims that Gibson repeatedly used anti-Semitic language, giving several examples. He says that the star claimed Jews "controlled" US companies and said the Holocaust was "mostly a lot of horseshit." He alo raised concerns about Gibson's relationship with former girlfriend Oksana Gregorieva, whom he claims the star repeatedly insulted and even threatened to kill.

Tempers often flare in Hollywood but accusations of this nature are extremely rare and Eszterhas enjoys a good professional reputation. This is likely to represent a considerable setback to Gibson's attempts to rehabilitate his image.

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