The political conflict between Jews and Arabs is now being played out both on the opera stage and behind the curtain.
Just last week, New York’s Metropolitan Opera, by all accounts the gold standard of the international opera world, canceled a scheduled world-wide simulcast of the opera “The Death of Klinghoffer” after bowing to pressure from the Anti-Defamation League.
The controversial opera tells the story of the 1985 Palestinian terrorist hijacking of the Italian Luxury liner Achille Lauro. During the siege, the assailants shot the elderly Jewish, wheelchair-bound passenger Leon Klinghoffer and dumped his body overboard.
The World Jewish Congress said the Met did not go far enough in canceling just the movie theater simulcast, and should cancel all eight live performances on its New York stage scheduled for the fall, claiming the opera romanticizes terrorism and only fuels what it sees is growing anti-Semitism around the world.
WJC Executive Director Betty Ehrenberg told Fox News, “It is very disturbing. I find in their hatred, language that promotes hatred and bigotry, some of the stereotypes of Jewish people we’ve seen in the past that are very hurtful, very harmful, I see an undermining of peace.”
In canceling the simulcast, which would have reached 60 countries, Met General Manager Peter Gelb said in a statement, “I’m convinced that the opera is not anti-Semitic. But I’ve also become convinced that there is genuine concern in the international Jewish community that the live transmission of “The Death of Klinghoffer” is inappropriate at this time of rising anti-Semitism, particularly in Europe.”
The operatic version of the tragic story has been criticized for its seemingly sympathetic portrayal of the terrorists.
Although the Anti-Defamation League negotiated with the Met on behalf of the Klinghoffer family to cancel the simulcast, it does not support shelving the entire production. The National Director of the ADL, Abraham Foxman, said in a statement, “While we understand the concerns of many in the Jewish community about this biased opera, we do not believe the New York performances should be canceled.”
But in an op-ed article, Ilsa and Lisa Klinghoffer, the victim’s daughters, criticized the opera, saying, “Its rationalization of terrorism and false moral equivalencies between Palestinian and Jewish sufferingprovide no thoughtfulness or insight.”
In addition, the Met now may be contending with several donors, many Jewish, who have expressed outrage at the Met’s executive director over the Klinghoffer opera.
Judith Berson said in a letter sent to Gelb and area newspapers, “What is relevant is that no opera should be shown at, as prestigious an opera house as the Met, that is anti-Semitic or anti-Israel. You are taking a stand on an issue that is most likely to evoke disgust in many of your patrons, and a subsequent distrust in your future productions.”
Berson also told Fox News in a phone call that although opera is known for portraying historical dramas set to music, the subject matter is usually from decades or centuries before.
“They don’t impact the audience,” she said. “There’s so much negative, terrible stuff (in the world). Do we need to encourage more?”
Composer John Adams, no stranger to controversial subjects since he also composed the opera “Nixon in China,” defended the Klinghoffer work, saying, “My opera accords great dignity to the memory of Leon and Marilyn Klinghoffer, and it roundly condemns his brutal murder. It acknowledges the dreams and the grievances of not only the Israeli but also the Palestinian people, and in no form condones or promotes violence, terrorism or anti-Semitism.”
The ADL said it has heard from Met donors complaining about the opera but it did not say how many.
Meanwhile, the Met said it will include in its program notes a statement from the Klinghoffer family.
Lauren Green currently serves as Fox News Channel’s (FNC) chief religion correspondent based in the New York bureau. She joined FNC in 1996.