“Shame on the Met!” was the chant that reverberated through the crowd of close to 2000 concerned people at a demonstration in front of New York City’s Metropolitan Opera on Monday afternoon, September 22nd. In an emotionally charged display of justifiable rancor, those gathered at the massive protest expressed vociferous opposition to the presentation of “The Death of Klinghoffer” – an opera that has garnered widespread controversy due to its anti-Semitic message. The opera is based on the hijacking of the passenger liner Achille Lauro by the Palestine Liberation Front in 1985, and the hijackers' horrific murder of 69-year old wheelchair-bound Jewish-American passenger Leon Klinghoffer. In this production, however, the victims are the Palestinian terrorists who committed this murder and the villains are the Jews who are portrayed as ruthless occupiers and oppressors.
In a recent article that appeared on the Breitbart.com web site, author and opera aficionado Phyllis Chesler wrote, “The libretto presents a false and defamatory narrative of Jews and America; depicts an entirely untrue, unbalanced, and maliciously immoral history of the founding of the state of Israel.”
After months of mostly negative publicity and pressure by both Jewish and non-Jewish organizations, Peter Gelb, the general manager of the Met refused to cancel the performance, but did acquiesce to requests from the Anti-Defamation League that the opera not be broadcast internationally in high definition as was planned. The ADL had released a statement that said: “While the opera itself is not anti-Semitic, there is a concern the opera could be used in foreign countries to stir up anti-Israel sentiments or as a vehicle to promote anti-Semitism.”
Outraged by the Met’s indifference to calls for the cancellation of “The Death of Klinghoffer” a coalition of 60 groups that included Advocates for Israel (AFI), the Catholic League, Citizens Opposed to Propaganda Masquerading as Art (COPMA), JCC Watch, Americans For a Safe Israel, the Jewish Action Alliance and many others dedicated their efforts for the last month to organizing the demonstration. They were joined by such yeshivas and Jewish day schools such as the Westchester Hebrew High School, Rambam Mesivta High School, the Shalhevet High School for Girls and the North Shore Hebrew Academy.
The protesters held up signs aloft that said “Metropolitan Nazi Opera,” “Stop the Hate — Defund Met Opera” and, in a question aimed at Peter Gelb, “Gelb Are You Taking Terror $$$?” One speaker called for the opera’s sets to be “burned to the ground.”
The speakers included Michael Mukasey, the former Attorney General of the United States, Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Dr. Bill Donahue, President, Catholic League, Member of the Israeli Knesset (Parliament) Nissim Ze’ev, criminal defense attorney Ben Brafman, Rabbi Avi Weiss, Assemblyman Dov Hikind, Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis, Morton Klein, President of the Zionist Organization of America, Actor Tony LoBianco, IDF Sgt Benjamin Anthony and others.
As the demonstrators expressed their disgust over the “misrepresentation of truth as art”, they heckled opera-goers as they alighted from their limousines at Lincoln Center. “Shame! Shame! Shame!,” they jeered.
One speaker after another described the opera as anti-Semitic and said that it glorified terrorism, according to a report in the New York Times. The Times reported that before the protest got underway, Rabbi Avi Weiss of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, in the Bronx, led a small group gin prayers for Mr. Klinghoffer on Monday morning in a small park across from Lincoln Center. He said that he “absolutely” hoped that the Met would cancel the production.
Former New York Governor George Pataki told those gathered at Lincoln Center that, “This is the wrong show at the wrong time.” A letter denouncing the opera, written by Judea Pearl, the father of slain Wall Street Journalist Daniel Pearl, who was murdered by terrorists in 2002 was read aloud.
He said: “In joining you today to protest the New York Metropolitan Opera production of this opera, I echo the silenced voice of my son, Daniel Pearl, and the silenced voices of other victims of terror, including James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and including thousands of men, women and children who were murdered, maimed or left heartbroken by the new menace of our generation, a menace of savagery that the Met has decided to elevate to a normative, two-sided status, worthy of artistic expression.”
He added, “I submit to you that choreographing an operatic drama around criminal pathology is not an artistic prerogative, but a blatant betrayal of public trust. We do not stage operas for rapists and child molesters, and we do not compose symphonies for penetrating the minds of ISIS executioners.”
In its promotional materials, including a video on its official website, the Metropolitan Opera featured a Palestinian terrorist pointing a gun at the back of Klinghoffer, when he is about to murder him, according to an INN report.
First produced in Brussels and New York in 1991, the music for the “The Death of Klinghoffer” was written by John Adams and accompanied by a libretto by Alice Goodman. The concept of the opera originated with theatre director Peter Sellars, who was a major collaborator, as was the choreographer Mark Morris. It was commissioned by five American and European opera companies, as well as the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
After its 1991 performances, The Death of Klinghoffer wasn’t performed again for the next ten years. In 2001, it was performed in Finland, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra planned to perform extracts at a concert later that year. But after the September 11 terror attacks, the Boston Symphony dropped the piece. A member of the chorus had lost her husband in the World Trade Center, the Orchestra explained, and the group felt it was impossible to ask her to participate in a work that rationalized terrorism.
According to an Aish.com article, the opera opens with a disturbing, fabricated scene: a traumatized Arab girl is watching as Jews shoot, beat and chase Arab women and children from their homes, which sets the tone of moral equivalence that mars the opera. Jews are depicted as cheating the poor, despoiling virgins, breaking the law, and exploiting others for their own gain. Terrorists who murdered a helpless elderly Jew are portrayed as nuanced, even noble at times. At one point, PLO terrorists sing, “We are soldiers fighting a war, we are not criminals, we are not vandals, we are men of ideals.”
Prior to the demonstration, AFSI’s Executive Director Helen Freedman added, "For starters, the title is so misleading. It wasn't that Leon Klinghoffer just passively ‘died.’ He was a helpless, handicapped man in a wheelchair. He was executed by PLO terrorists for one and only one reason, because he was a Jew. What’s worse, the Klinghoffer opera was donated by ‘two anonymous’ donations. Who were the donors, and why are their identities being kept top secret by the Met Opera?”
Lisa Klinghoffer, the daughter of Leon Klinghoffer said: “I cannot imagine that an opera would romanticize the murder of my father. Peter Gelb is trying to rehabilitate the Met by appealing to the lowest common denominator. He is seeking to attract young people with anti-Semitism and moral equivalency.”
Tony LoBianco, an actor who appeared in the film “The French Connection” among many others spoke about America and Israel fighting terror together. “We indulge in political correctness to our detriment,” he said and called for vigilance. Addressing the general manager of the Met directly he said: “Mr. Gelb – Tear down this opera.”
Michael Mukasey, the former Attorney General of the United States called the opera “anti-Semitic trash.” He added that the moral bankruptcy of the Met should be followed by financial bankruptcy. “We are people of ideals. Sometimes people are so liberal that their brains fall out.”
Rabbi Joseph Potasnik of the New York Board of Rabbis told the crowd that, “Peter Gelb owes an apology to the Klinghoffer family and to the families of the 9/11 victims.” He added that, “When you bash other minority groups, you are considered a racist, but when Jews are bashed, somehow, it is okay. What’s next? ISIS as a love story?”