Tuesday, 1 July 2014

The Death of Klinghoffer and the Justification of Terror

Much has been written about the New York Metropolitan Opera’s upcoming production of The Death of Klinghoffer.  Originally slated to broadcast in theatres around the world, the Met bowed to public pressure and agreed to “cancel” the production – or at least this is what was widely reported.  What they have done in fact is agree to cancel the broadcast – not the production.  The Death of Klinghoffer is still scheduled to run this November at the Met.  The opera is based on events surrounding the murder of Leon Klinghoffer, a wheelchair bound American Jew who was shot by terrorists and subsequently thrown overboard the Achille Lauro, an Italian cruise ship on which he was vacationing with his wife in 1985.  On its website, the Met describes this terrorist attack as a “tragic incident.”  The opera presents a sympathetic view of the terrorist hijackers who killed Klinghoffer in cold blood, while reinforcing numerous anti-Semitic stereotypes.   John Adams, the composer is quoted as saying, “there are reasons why a terrorist behaves the way he or she does”, and the opera certainly implies that the reason a terrorist behaves the way he or she does it not genocidal motives, but rather because of their suffering at the hands of the Jews.  What they are saying is, yes terrorism is bad but those Jews were asking for it.  This opera presents far more justification than it does understanding.   Adams and his colleague Alice Goodman have included lyrics such as:

Let the supplanter look
Upon his work.  Our faith
Take the stones he broke
And break his teeth.

The day that I
And my enemy
Sit peacefully
Each putting his case
And working towards peace,
That day our hope dies
And I shall die too.  (this lyric is sung by one of the terrorists)

Wherever poor men
Are gathered they can
Find Jews getting fat
You know how tocheat
The simple, exploit
The virgin pollute

While ancient slanders and stereotypes against Jews are reinforced, the terrorists are described as men of ideals.  This opera recalls an era not so long ago when anti-Semitic propaganda was filling theatres, and museums across Europe.  Le Juif et la France, an exposition held at several museums in Paris was not described as anti-Semitic at the time, but rather as an educational tool to help the French understand the risks the Jews allegedly posed to society.  This propaganda was used to dehumanize Jews and rationalize their extermination.  Anti-Semitic propaganda has been used through the ages to justify the terror and murder of Jews.  While some Jewish organizations have spoken out against the Met’s decision to run The Death of Klinghoffer, it is still scheduled to run and the response from outside the Jewish community has been extremely muted – except for those speaking in support of the opera. 

It is disturbing, that in 2014 an NBA team owner who makes racist, abhorrent comments in private can be ostracized and shamed by the media, but the public production of an opera which justifies acts of terror while demonizing Jews is met with silence by the public at large.  Every individual involved in this opera, from the writers, to the Met, to the actors, needs to be shamed.

One has to wonder if Goodman and Adams woke up this morning and thought, “Finally – new material!”…..coming to the Met in 2020: The Deaths of Shaer, Yifrah, and Frankel.