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July 3, 2014 10:22 am

The Klinghoffer Opera and the State of American Jewry

avatar by Isi Leibler

Metropolitan Opera auditorium. Photo: Wikipedia.

The debate over the New York Metropolitan Opera’s performance of “The Death of “ŽKlinghoffer” raises serious questions about the functioning of American Jewish leadership.”Ž

Over the past 40 years one of the most positive features of American Jewish leadership has “Žbeen its uninhibited self-confidence, assertiveness and willingness to raise its voice with “Žcourage and dignity on behalf of Israel and Jewish causes. American Jewish leaders prided “Žthemselves on having rejected “shtadlanut,” reliance on silent diplomacy in lieu of public “Žaction.”Ž

Alas, there are now grounds for concern that this is changing, maybe as a consequence of the “Žadverse pressures emanating from the Obama administration.”Ž

How else can one ascribe the pitifully subdued response to the New York Metropolitan Opera’s “Ždecision to perform an opera that not merely incorporates vicious anti-Israeli diatribes but “Žis also blatantly anti-Semitic and seeks to romanticize and provide rationalization for the “Žcold-blooded murder of a disabled person solely because he was Jewish? And this is an “Žinstitution that is disproportionately funded by Jews, in the city with the greatest “Žconcentration of Jews in the Diaspora.”Ž

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Leon Klinghoffer was a 69-year-old wheelchair-bound American Jew who, with his “Žwife and 11 friends, was celebrating his 36th wedding anniversary on the Italian cruise ship Achille “ŽLauro in 1985 when it was hijacked by Palestinian terrorists. Klinghoffer was taken aside, brutally shot “Žto death and dumped overboard in his wheelchair. “Ž

The opera based on these events was composed by John Adams and the librettist was Alice “ŽGoodman, a convert from Judaism who is now a priest in the Anglican Church.”Ž

The opera was intentionally titled the “death” — not murder — of Klinghoffer, and purported to “Žpresent “both sides of the equation.” The Metropolitan Opera’s general manager, Peter Gelb, “Žsaid Adams sought “to understand the hijackers and their motivations, and to look for “Žhumanity in the terrorists, as well as in the victims,” and to enable the “audience to wrestle with “Žthe almost unanswerable questions that arise from this seemingly endless conflict and pattern “Žof abhorrent violent acts.” In other words: Present the murderers and their victims with moral “Žequivalence. Indeed Adams was open about his belief that “in this country, there is almost no “Žoption for the other side, no space for the Palestinian point of view.”

The opening scene honors terrorists. With a backdrop of graffiti on a wall proclaiming “Ž”Ž”Warsaw 1943, Bethlehem 2005,” Jews wearing kippot and headscarves enter the stage and “Žplant trees on what is conveyed to the audience as plundered Arab territory. The Palestinian “Žchorus sings, “My father’s house was razed in 1948 when the Israelis passed over our street.” “ŽThe Palestinians sing, “We are soldiers fighting a war. We are not criminals and we are not “Žvandals, but men of ideals.””Ž

Aside from the rabid anti-Semitism/anti-Israelism encapsulated by the brutal murder of an “ŽAmerican Jew, the principal terrorist says, “Wherever poor men are gathered, they can find “ŽJews getting fat. You know how to cheat the simple, exploit the virgin, pollute where you have “Žexploited, defame those you cheated, and break your own law with idolatry.” At one stage, “Žthe terrorist leader snarls at Klinghoffer, “America is one big Jew.” What is the relationship “Žbetween a crippled American Jew and Palestinian terrorists’ grievances against Israel?”Ž

After seeing the opera, Klinghoffer’s daughters, Ilsa and Lisa, were “outraged at the “Žexploitation of our parents and the cold-blooded murder of our father.” They claimed that the “Žopera “perverts the terrorist murder of our father and attempts to romanticize, rationalize, “Žlegitimize and explain it.””Ž

How can any decent human being justify the performance of an opera that romanticizes the “Žcase for the perpetrators of such a hideous hate crime? It is beyond belief that such a “Žproduction can be performed in 2014 in “civilized” New York without major protest. The anti-“ŽSemitic outbursts it contains could well qualify for insertion in Der Sturmer, the Nazi Jew-“Žbaiting publication.”Ž

Could one visualize the New York Metropolitan Opera presenting a performance that, in the “Žname of artistic freedom, humanizes or rationalizes the bigotry of white supremacists or “Žhomophobes? Or an opera in which African-Americans are lynched alongside a validation and “Žhumanization of the Ku Klux Klan perpetrators? Or even perhaps an opera recounting “ŽKristallnacht while rationalizing the anti-Semitic frenzy of the Nazis?”Ž

It is inconceivable that any other ethnic or religious group would be subjected to such treatment. “ŽBut alas, when it comes to Israel or the Jews, even in the U.S. today anything is permissible.”Ž

The opera premiered in Brussels in 1991 and in various locations in the U.S. It was canceled “Žafter 9/11 in Boston, but in 2014 the Metropolitan Opera scheduled a major global launch. In “Žaddition to the performances in New York and more than 70 U.S. theaters, the plan was to “Žglobally simulcast the production to 2,000 theaters in 66 countries, a potential audience of “Žmillions. “Ž

Amazingly, the leading American Jewish organizations failed to protest. Were it not for the “Žvigorous remonstrations of the Zionist Organization of America, the Committee for Accuracy in “ŽMiddle East Reporting in America, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and other smaller “Žbodies and individuals, nobody seemed to care.”Ž

Indeed, prominent Jewish “liberals” even praised the opera. Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor, “Žvice president for philanthropy of the global Reform Jewry movement, stated that “trying to “Žportray both sides and show that they are not monsters but human beings who did awful “Žthings to advance their cause, shows it was a horrific event. If by producing this, these “Žquestions are raised again, is that a bad thing? Discussions need to be had.” Wow! God help us “Žif we are burdened with Jews purporting to be spiritual leaders who can utter such obscenities “Žabout Jew-killers.”Ž

The Anti-Defamation League became “engaged” but stressed that it did not resort to protests. “ŽUltimately, it triumphantly claimed to have achieved a “compromise”: The program would “Žincorporate a statement expressing the indignation of the Klinghoffer daughters for the “Žmanner in which the opera exploited the memory of their father, and it was agreed that the “Žsimultaneous productions would not proceed, on the grounds that the opera contained “Ž”Ž”sensitive” content that could exacerbate anti-Semitism, especially in Europe.”Ž

The ADL proudly reiterated that it had not interfered with artistic freedom or called for the “Žperformances to be canceled, but was pleased that the Metropolitan Opera had reviewed the “Žposition and decided “of its own accord” not to extend the performance to a potentially “Žhuge global audience. “Ž

This is unfathomable. Why did the ADL not call for the cancellation of performances in New “ŽYork? If an anti-Semitic opera glorifying murderers is inappropriate for wider audiences, why “Žshould it be performed in New York? “Ž

For the Jewish establishment, and expressly an organization like the ADL, to feel inhibited “Žabout condemning such a performance because it interferes with artistic freedom is “Ždescending to the lowest level of pseudo-liberal political correctness. How can one reconcile “Žentertainment with justifying outright murder and hate crimes?”Ž

This opera is an abomination and an offence not only to Jews but to all Americans and all “Ždecent people who oppose terrorism and racism. It has no bearing on the rights or wrongs of “Žthe Arab-Israeli conflict or alleged grievances of Palestinians, which can be debated at other “Žlevels. “Ž

If Jewish leaders feel inhibited from raising their voices on such issues, they are betraying their “Žmandate and moving backward to the “trembling Israelite” role that American Jews assumed “Žin the 1930s.”Ž

Isi Leibler’s website can be viewed at www.wordfromjerusalem.com.”Ž He may be contacted at [email protected]”Ž This article was originally published by Israel Hayom.

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