Recent manifestations of the global spread of anti-Israel propaganda in the world of grand opera include an unjustifiably sympathetic portrayal of Palestinian murderers (John Adams’ recent opera, The Death of Klinghoffer); an opera (Hannah Conway‘s When I Am Old) inspired by the mythology of Rachel Corrie, a pro-Palestinian activist who lost her life in 2003 trying to block Israeli bulldozers clearing an area used by terrorists and which depicts Israeli soldiers as violent, Nazi-like characters; a venerable classic’s plot based on Bible passages re-worked to reverse the roles of the ancient Israelites and their antagonists as an allusion to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict (Camille Saint-Saen’s 19th century masterpiece Samson & Dalila); and a politicized version of an opera based on a Bible theme in which the re-working inserts anti-Israel messages (Gioachino Rossini’s 19th century Moses and Pharaoh).
A 1991 New York Times article reported on the antipathy toward Adams/Goodman of Lisa and Ilsa Klinghoffer, the daughters of Leon Klinghoffer:
“We are outraged at the exploitation of our parents and the cold blooded murder of our father as the centerpiece of a production that appears to us to be anti-Semitic,” the Klinghoffers said in a statement issued by their personal representative, Letty Simon. “While we understand artistic license, when it so clearly favors one point of view it is biased. Moreover, the juxtaposition of the plight of the Palestinian people with the cold blooded murder of an innocent disabled American Jew is both historically naive and appalling.”
When it opened at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1991, Newsday’s Tim Page described the opera as “pompous, turgid, derivative and hopelessly confused,” and even more strongly objected to Goodman’s libretto, which he felt characterized the terrorists as ” real men – Rousseau’s noble savages made flesh – as opposed to the opera’s nattering, ineffectual Jewish characters. . . .”
Typical of Adams’ operas, the music is mostly repetitious, monotonous and not particularly melodic. So what is their attraction? Adams’ operas, as with most modern (or “avant-garde”) examples, are enthusiastically received by those who mainly value story line (or plot) and messages (especially if they agree with them) more than the beauty of the music and singers’ performances. The repetitive and monotonous music tends to focus attention on the opera’s plot and words (“libretto”) whereas traditional operas mainly use plot and libretto as vehicles to present great music and great singing performances.
On the day she died, Corrie and other ISM recruits repeatedly obstructed Israeli military bulldozers working along the Gaza-Egyptian border. In this area the Israel Defense Forces frequently uncover tunnels used for weapons smuggling. Bulldozers raze buildings that hide the entrances or serve as cover for snipers, and detonate explosives planted by Palestinian terrorists.But on March 16, 2003 ISM interference in a closed military area caused the IDF repeatedly to halt its heavy machinery. According to an IDF investigation and American news reports, Corrie and others continued to hinder the work when it resumed.
The Glyndebourne festival has defended its production of a children’s opera based on the writings of pro-Palestinian American activist Rachel Corrie, killed in Gaza in 2003… Ms Corrie, a 23-year-old member of the International Solidarity Movement, was killed in March 2003 as she attempted to block IDF bulldozers clearing an area used by terrorists to dig tunnels under the border with Egypt.In When I Am Old, children acting as IDF soldiers shout through megaphones and jostle audience members. They then, according to the libretto, “shoot their guns into the air for fun,” after forcing Palestinian characters out of their homes. One soldier sings: “There is no such thing as a civilian in a war zone.” In a later scene an affluent couple are seen discussing their plans for the day before catching a bus which then blows up, the target of an apparent suicide bombing.Glyndebourne fan Ian Harris attended the opera and said: “I just could not believe what I was seeing. It was an outrageous, totally one-sided piece of anti-Israel propaganda, which Glyndebourne, with its many Jewish patrons and supporters, should never have allowed. It portrayed Israeli soldiers as callous child-murderers. The performance was disgusting, not least because of the effect of this propaganda on its young participants.” Mr Harris has complained to Gus Christie, executive chairman of Glyndebourne.
The ancient Philistines, dominated by diabolical, aggressive leaders, warred for many years with the Israelites from their 12th century BCE home territory in the Gaza Strip (sound familiar?). The Philistines, long gone from world history, were not Arabs, they were most closely related to the Greeks originating from Asia Minor and other Greek areas. They arrived by sea to the coastal area of Gaza adjacent to Israel. They had no physical connection whatsoever with the Arab world. Yet ironically, there does seem to be a connection – a spiritual one of hate and violence against the children of Israel – shared by the ancient Philistines of Gaza and the current residents of Gaza, Hamas-dominated Arabs.
Jonathan Tobin writing in Commentary magazine on the Nizar/Zuabi Antwerp version (excerpts):
A hallmark of the ongoing campaign to delegitimize the State of Israel is to claim that the Jews aren’t really the Jews. Thus, to treat Israel’s right of self-defense against terrorists and states that seek to destroy it as inherently immoral — a standard no one would seek to impose on any other country — you have to impose a new identity on the Jews.
The most popular way of doing this is to claim that the Jews have become Nazis. Such claims have become popular now in Europe as well as throughout the Muslim world. Such a juxtaposition is both offensive — not so very long ago the Nazis murdered approximately one out of every three Jews alive — and an absolute falsehood since Israel doesn’t seek to exterminate the Palestinians as the Nazis did the Jews, but merely to stop them from committing mayhem.
In a new production of Camille Saint-Saens’s biblical set piece “Samson et Dalila” at the Flanders Opera in Antwerp, Belgium, the Philistines oppressing the Hebrews were portrayed as Israelis and the Hebrews as the Palestinians.
An Israeli and a Palestinian two-man artistic team created this production. The presence of the Israeli, Omri Nitzan, is meant to make it all kosher since we are supposed to think that if one of those smearing the Jews is a Jew himself, it is somehow okay.
Moreover, [Michael] Kimmelman [commenting on the Antwerp production in a New York Times arts section May 2009 article] insists: “Rage is a perfectly sane response to the Israeli occupation. And all art is political in the end.” One can rebut that the “occupation” was a perfectly sane response to several invasions [and attempted invasions], the purpose of which was to eradicate the State of Israel and to slaughter its inhabitants. We could also point out that had the Palestinian [Arab]s been even marginally interested in sharing the country and living in peace with the Jews, they might have accepted any [one of a] number of peace offers over the course of the past two decades, if not the last half-century. Even more to the point, Gaza, the setting of the final scene of the opera, is currently occupied by [the anti-Zionist, antisemitic, anti-Western Islamic extremists of] Hamas, not Israel.
It’s a perverse mindset that would twist Bible history in a way that reverses the intended meaning in order to promote a political agenda. Egregiously, Nitzan/Zuabi have encouraged the recurrent racism of antisemitism by portraying as the heroes – today’s Palestinians, and as the villains – today’s Israelis. But in the real world of today’s Middle East there is continuous incitement of Palestinians to violence and hate against Israelis. This indoctrination emanates from Palestinian media, mosques, schools and Websites. No such indoctrination exists on the Israeli side against Palestinians.
Has this indoctrination succeeded? Consider the societal mindset of the Palestinians as reported by the Jerusalem Post documenting a recent opinion survey carried out in Gaza and the West Bank by the respected American pollster Stanley Greenberg who found that 73 percent agree with the Hamas Charter’s urging Muslims to kill Jews wherever they can find them, 53 percent favored teaching songs about hating Jews to school children, and 66 percent see the two-state solution as an interim stage en route to the ultimate goal of a single Palestinian state in all the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea.
This Palestinian Arab mindset reminds one of the depiction of Saint-Saens’ actual villains in his opera, the ancient Philistines, in the Bible. Ezekiel 25:15: “… in their ancient hatred, [the Philistines] acted vengefully, and with utter scorn sought revenge and destruction [upon the Israelites].” (Jewish Publication Society version of the Bible and Christian versions of Bible essentially identical here).
In interviews, Flimm had announced that the biblical story couldn’t be told today without mentioning the ongoing conflict between Jews and Arabs. So instead of watching dancers during the ballet music, we had to read quotations from the Bible on the closed curtain, demonstrating the vindictiveness of the Hebrew god. When the “ballet” was over and the curtain rose again, the stage was covered with dead children — probably an allusion to the Gaza war. To balance the message, the Israelites arrived for the finale with suitcases filled with ashes. No Red Sea had to be crossed; they simply disappeared through a back door.