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November 3, 2014 12:38 am

Jewish ‘Klinghoffer’ Actor ‘Raised Pro-Israel’, Now ‘Confused’ About Conflict


avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

The Death of Klinghoffer. Photo:

A Jewish dancer who stars in the controversial opera The Death of Klinghoffer, now playing at the Met, said that since starring in the show, he has become “confused” about which side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict he identifies with.

“As someone who’s been raised pro-Israel, who’s a Jew, who grew up in a country that is pro-Israel, I never knew anything about Palestine or Palestinians,” said Jesse Kovarsky, who plays a Palestinian terrorist named Omar, in a recent interview with Heeb magazine. “And to be invited into this opera and encouraged to study that history, I’ve been exposed to a world that I totally… I’m confused by my own upbringing in terms of how I see the conflict, how I see it now.”

The opera tells the story of the infamous murder of Lower East Side Jewish resident Leon Klinghoffer, 69. The wheelchair-bound father of two was shot by Palestinian hijackers on the Achille Lauro cruise ship 29 years ago. The terrorists threw his body, along with his wheelchair, overboard into the Mediterranean Sea and his corpse washed up on the Syrian shoreline a few days later.

The performance has been met with significant protest from the Jewish community and others who object to what they see as the glorification of Palestinian terror.

Kovarsky told the magazine that while he does not fully agree with the character he plays on stage, or the approach of the terrorists, he does “to a degree, having studied the role and having studied the culture of Palestine, as a Jew I really do find an empathy with that situation.”

He said that Judaism has taught him to be committed and try something new every day. It takes courage to play a role like Omar and find sympathy for the character, Kovarsky asserted. “Whether people are going to agree with it or not, I’m committed,” he said.

Addressing critics of the show, Kovarsky said that people are afraid to see “visible terrorism” or “terrorism kind of humanized.” He defended The Death of Klinghoffer by claiming that the opera does not have an opinion on the matter of Israel and Palestinians, terrorism and what is deemed “right and wrong.” The show “is about dispossession in general,” he said. “The Israelis represent dispossession in the sense that they represent hope… So then we also look at the dispossession of Palestinians who basically were denied their land.”

“But essentially, they’re the same people. That’s what this whole show is all about,” he said. “That the Israelis and the Palestinians are the same people that have just been dealt different hands.”

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