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Mel Gibson developing film about Jewish hero

Kevork Djansezian / AP file

Mel Gibson and Joe Ezsterhas will collaborate for an untitled drama about Jewish warrior Judah Maccabee, it was first reported late Thursday. Deadline Hollywood broke the news, saying that Gibson "had long wanted to make this film about heroic Jews, and it was discussed even when he was under fire after his drunken anti-Semitic rant during a 2006 Malibu arrest."

A decided departure from other Gibson films like "Lethal Weapon" or "The Passion of the Christ," Gibson will be a producer and direct the film (Eszterhas will write the script), which is being made by Warner Bros.

A certain level of outrage was anticipated when the news broke -- after all, Gibson has hardly been known as a bastion of tolerance and understanding in recent years. Now, Jewish leaders are speaking out about what they feel is hypocrisy in having Gibson involved. Rabbi Marvin Heir, founder and dean of Los Angeles's Simon Wiesenthal Center Museum of Tolerance, told The Hollywood Reporter, "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 (Bernie) 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."

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti Defamation League, also issued a statement to The Hollywood Reporter saying, “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."

Maccabee, along with his father and brothers, led the Jewish revolt against the Greek-Syrian armies of the Seleucid Empire during the second century BC. Hanukkah is a celebration of the success of the revolt.