NY Times, Boston Globe Defend Anti-Israel “Death of Klinghoffer” Opera

New York’s prestigious Metropolitan Opera, the world’s biggest (largest budget) nonprofit performing arts institution, under the leadership of Peter Gelb, was finally persuaded to cancel the simulcast scheduled for Nov. 15, 2014 of the John Adams/Alice Goodman anti-Israel, antisemitic opera “The Death of Klinghoffer” to theater screens around the world. The cancellation reduced the potential audience for this morally bankrupt work by hundreds of thousands. It immediately followed CAMERA’s successful campaign, which had led to hundreds of protests via letters and phone calls to The Met, to the news media, and to sponsors of the simulcast and the simulcast company. Strong objection to the cancellation was made by New York Times and Boston Globe editorials (see below) on spurious grounds failing to address the facts. The Met had announced the cancellation on June 17, saying it was “because of concerns that it could fan global anti-Semitism.” But this being the case, why is it acceptable to stage the opera in New York at all and fan antisemitism there?

It’s time at long last for the Met to pull the plug completely on this nasty piece of propaganda masquerading as a work of art – the eight New York performances scheduled for October-November should be cancelled.

Simple truths evade the Times and Globe

The Times and Globe are either unwilling or incapable of acknowledging stark truths about the opera in question and about the larger issue, which composer John Adams and librettist Alice Goodman purport to address. First, the claim that the opera is balanced is false. While it may be true that the work “indicts the gruesome cruelty of [individual Arab hijackers] the terrorists” (Times editorial), it repeatedly defames an entire ethnic/religious group – Jews/Israel. Nowhere does it criticize Arabs/Muslims as a group.

Second, while the opera depicts the suffering of Palestinian Arabs – Adams, Goodman, The Times and The Globe seem unaware of the fundamental problem underlying the Arab-Israeli conflict: The virtual impossibility of making peace with a Palestinian Arab leadership and society whose dominant culture insists that Jews are not a people, do not deserve a state, and have no historical ties to the land of Israel. Hatred fueled by a steady stream of antisemitic, anti-Israel incitement from Palestinian communications media, mosques and schools underlies and typifies the conflict.
A disturbing example of Palestinian media indoctrination involving the de-humanizing of Jews is the June 2014 cartoon of the three abducted and murdered Israeli teenagers depicted as three rats hooked on a Palestinian fishing rod (from the Facebook page of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party). The pervasive cradle-to-grave brainwashing is reflected in opinion polling through the years. For example, USA Today of Sept. 29, 2004 and The Jerusalem Post of July 15, 2011 reported on joint Israeli/Arab polls that showed a majority of Palestinian adults in the West Bank and Gaza Strip supporting suicide bombings against Jews in Israel. The poll also found majority agreement with a quote from the Hamas charter (and the Hadith, or tradition ascribed to the Islamic prophet Muhammad) about the need to “kill Jews hiding behind stones and trees.”
On the other hand, there is nothing in mainstream Jewish society relating to Arabs (or any ethnic/religious/racial group) that is remotely similar to that found chronically in official Palestinian sources aimed at the destruction of Israel and Jews.
Apart from what actually transpires in this opera, two indicators point to major problems: First, the choice of the title, “The Death of Klinghoffer” instead of “The Murder …,” (or even “The Killing …) signals the work’s singular moral evasion and misrepresentation. The storyline is based on the 1985 murder of a helpless 69-year-old American Jewish man, Leon Klinghoffer, who was confined to a wheelchair. Palestinian terrorists who had seized the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro shot Klinghoffer in the head and dumped his body into the Mediterranean Sea. Second, Alice Goodman, while writing the opera’s libretto, seems to have had an identity crisis. She rejected her American Jewish heritage by joining the Anglican Church, the leadership of which is known for its hostility toward Israel (Goodman is now a parish priest in England). Whatever the reasons, whether psychological, theological, or political, she produced lyrics that rehearsed traditional antisemitic stereotypes and married them to anti-Zionist slogans while exculpating, even dignifying Arab terrorism.
The opera’s defenders, including those at The Times and The Globe, restrict themselves to defending the opera’s propagandistic storyline as if the music doesn’t matter. In fact, the music is mediocre and unremarkable except for the propagandistic way it’s used by Adams to underscore words of the Palestinian hijackers. This was pointed out by the eminent American musicologist Richard Taruskin in a New York Times article strongly condemning the Adams opera, “Music’s Dangers And The Case For Control” (Dec. 9, 2001).
Media exemplars misrepresent Met’s anti-Jewish opera
The Times and Globe, outraged by the simulcast’s cancellation, produced shallow editorials that fail to cite any specific wording from the opera – and implicitly raised the bogus issue of stifling Adams’ and Goodman’s artistic freedom.
The Times editorial “The Klinghoffe
r Tragedy: The Met’s Bad Decision on a Controversial Opera” (June 20, 2014) said:

… It [cancellation of simulcast of Adams’s “The Death of Klinghoffer”] is, in fact, a step backward for both the Met and for Mr. Gelb, who has championed the work of Mr. Adams, including this opera, which has been widely praised.
Art can be provocative and controversial. Many critics of this opera have not actually seen it, though they are certainly free to express their concern or even outrage. Their political and personal views, however, should not cause the Met to reverse its artistic judgment.
Critics, including the daughters of Mr. Klinghoffer, have challenged the way the opera portrays Mr. Klinghoffer’s murder in 1985 on the cruise ship Achille Lauro. Palestinian terrorists killed Mr. Klinghoffer, who was confined to a wheelchair, and pushed him into the sea. The opera gives voice to all sides in this terrible murder, but does not offer resolutions. The audience hears from the Palestinians who killed an innocent man, but most powerfully from Klinghoffer, who indicts the gruesome cruelty of the terrorists and whose final aria is particularly moving…

The Globe editorial “Met Opera embarrasses itself and cheats its audience by canceling ‘Klinghoffer’ broadcast” (June 22), while noting the logically inconsistent statements of Gelb and Anti-Defamation League director Foxman, cynically dismisses fears that the opera could fuel antisemitism:

… The wrong-headedness of the Met’s decision [cancellation of the simulcast] sets a bad precedent for arts organizations and violates the vital notion that difficult ideas can be confronted and discussed through the arts… The 1991 opera has been criticized by some for being insufficiently sympathetic to the Klinghoffer family and too sympathetic to the terrorists. Adams has denied any such intent, and supporters of the work have praised it for its humane presentation of all points of view…
The Met’s decision to cancel both the live, high-definition theater transmission and the radio broadcast was made after the company’s general manager, Peter Gelb, was approached by Abe Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League… Both Gelb and Foxman have stated that they do not consider the work anti-Semitic (Foxman says he has not seen it). So the fear is only that this complex contemporary opera may somehow fuel the flames of anti-Semitism. Just how that would happen is unclear. Are the goons who dominate far-right parties in European countries really going to tune into opera broadcasts for their inspiration?..

Leon Klinghoffer’s daughters, Ilsa and Lisa, took strong exception (Boston Globe Readers Forum, June 29) to the Globe’s June 22 editorial defending the Adams opera: “Its [the opera’s] rationalization of terrorism and false moral equivalencies provide no thoughtfulness, and no insight.”

Times and Globe ignore the intolerable

CAMERA’s open letter, to Met General Manager Gelb, which got the ball rolling in the first place regarding the simulcast’s cancellation, cited specifics. For example, lyrics that could been lifted with little artistic embellishment from Hitler’s Nazi publications, sung by one of the terrorist hijackers: “Wherever poor men—Are gathered they can—Find Jews getting fat—You know how to cheat—The simple, exploit—The virgin, pollute—Where you have exploited—Defame those you cheated—And break your own law—With idolatry.” Nowhere in the opera are Arabs/Muslims condemned or ridiculed as a group as Jews are here.

The Globe’s assertion of the opera’s “humane presentations of all points of views” falls flat, for example, regarding the hijacker’s lyrics that convey an inflammatory lie accusing Israelis of killing his mother and brother among others, “She was killed—With the old men—And children in—Camps at Sabra—And Shatilla—Where Almighty God—In His mercy showed—My decapitated—Brother to me—And in His mercy—Allowed me to close—My brother’s eyes—And wipe his face.”

This tear jerker falsely implies that Israelis, rather than members of the Lebanese Christian Phalange militia, massacred hundreds of Palestinian Arabs on Sept. 16-18, 1982 in the Sabra and Shatilla refugee districts. It gives no hint that the Phalangists acted in retribution for massacres of Christian Lebanese by members of Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), to which the Klinghoffer murderers belonged, and the September 14 assassination of the country’s Christian president-elect, Bashir Gemayel.

Could the opera fuel antisemitism?

An opera’s storyline and words, both sung and spoken, affect audience psyches and emotions. But The Globe seems aware of only one European source of antisemitism that might be inspired by opera – “goons of far-right European parties.” However, another significant source is opinion makers (teachers, journalists, media personalities and so on) who are often interested in theater, including opera. More than a few tend to lean to the post-liberal left where hostility to the Jewish state and its supporters is becoming acceptable if not fashionable. The opinion makers – who may well be influenced by, or have prejudices confirmed by propagandistic art targeting Jews and the Jewish state – help set a general tone of what’s permissible and what isn’t, and that can filter through to society at large. Likewise, the newspaper omits a conspicuous source – the virulent antisemitism and anti-Zionism widespread among Europe’s growing Muslim population. Possibly, the Globe has learned that this population is unaware of theater, including opera.

There’s no indication from the wording in The Globe editorial, especially in the generalization, “this complex contemporary opera …” that the editorialist is actually aware of any of the several specific examples of the opera’s inflammatory, propagandistic lyrics such as those cited by CAMERA here and elsewhere. Likewise, The Globe’s apparent lack of awareness of the issue is also indicated by the ludicrous wording about tuning “into opera [radio]
broadcasts” since the concern has been related to the opera being viewed on large theater screens which include translation footnotes in the language of viewers.
Would The Met stage, and The Times and Globe defend operas that implied, if not insisted on, moral equivalence between slaves and slave-owners, between North Korea’s rulers and those in its gulag, or would they dismiss such works as apologia? Certainly the latter. But would they, a few years hence, also defend a work humanizing the Palestinian murderers of three Israeli teenagers this June? After all, it’s hardly a stretch from Adams using an obbligato bassoon to convey understanding and sympathy, as he did in “Klinghoffer” for the Palestinian Arab murderers of one Jew, to such a technique lifting a mothers’ chorus cheering on their sons to kidnap and murder the children of their Jewish neighbors. (The mother of Amer Abu Aysha, one of the accused kidnappers of the Israeli teens, told Israel’s Channel 10 news on June 20: “If he did the kidnapping, I’ll be proud of him.”)
A basic difference between art and propaganda is truth, faithfulness to the facts of the human condition. In its falsity, its smarmy equivalence between victim and murderer, between Jews and those who seek their destruction, “Klinghoffer” is propaganda. The Times, The Globe and Gelb’s attempts to sanitize the work as moral and intellectual grappling with complex issues are threadbare. That’s why canceling the simulcast was a step toward The Met’s redemption. Aborting the stage production would be another. It’s not just the company’s finances that reportedly are in difficulty, it’s the opera’s reputation as well.

Comments are closed.