Jewish Voice

July 23rd, 2014
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Opinion Op-Ed


ADL’s Backroom Deal with Peter Gelb and His Hateful Opera

ADL’s Backroom Deal with Peter Gelb and His Hateful Opera

Make no mistake: This opera is anti-Semitic

Palestinians murdered three innocent Jewish boys in Israel, and the New York Metropolitan Opera is still refusing to cancel a performance that sympathetically portrays the murder of a Jew by Arabs. What’s worse, the Anti Defamation League (ADL) – the most powerful Jewish organization tasked with defending Jewish interests – has made a backroom deal with the Met that allows the anti-Jewish performances to go forward without protest.

The opera – “The Death of Klinghoffer” – is based on a hijacking incident in 1985 on the Italian ship Achille Lauro. While on an anniversary cruise with his wife, Leon Klinghoffer, an elderly Jew from New York who was confined to a wheelchair, was – like Eyal, Gilad and Naftali – shot dead by Palestinians. His body was then thrown into the sea.

The 1991 opera, according to Met general manager Peter Gelb, aims “to understand the hijackers and their motivations, and to look for humanity in the terrorists, as well as in the victims.” In other words: to create sympathy for the killers by making them morally equivalent to Klinghoffer and, by extension, all Jews.

Alice Goodman, a convert out of Judaism and now a priest in the Anglican Church, wrote the libretto. John Adams, the composer, is a fan of Edward Said – the intellectual godfather of Palestinian nationalism. Hardly surprising, The New York Times praised this opera, in which the Jews do not come off so well. Here’s an aria:

“ You are always complaining

Of your suffering

But wherever poor men

Are gathered they can

Find Jews getting fat.

You know how to cheat

The simple, exploit

The virgin, pollute

Where you have exploited

Defame those you cheated,

And break your own law

With idolatry.


Is one big Jew…”

The opera has been performed across the globe, from Brooklyn to Brussels, from Los Angeles to Nürnberg to Melbourne. After the Sept. 11 terror attacks in 2001, its popularity suffered, as public sympathy for “understanding” terrorism hit a lull.

But a few months ago, Myron Kaplan, a senior researcher at the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) found that the Met scheduled a set of performances for its 2014-15 season and that they would be simulcast to 2,000 theaters around the globe. Kaplan beseeched the Met to at least cancel the global broadcast. CAMERA, the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), StandWithUs and The Simon Wiesenthal Center cooperated in stoking grassroots Internet campaigns that pressed the Met to cancel the simulcast and the opera. The MET chose instead to negotiate with the ADL whose head, Abe Foxman, soon announced he’d made a deal with Gelb: “After listening to our views, they have agreed to cancel the simulcasts and to take steps to ensure that the Klinghoffer family’s perspective is clearly heard by opera patrons.” In other words, the simulcast will be cancelled but the opera itself will still be performed (six times) – though the audience will also read a very negative, outraged view of the opera by Klinghoffer’s daughters as part of the performance.

Is there to be an anti-Semitic opera in New York, blessed by the ADL? Both Morton Klein, head of the ZOA and Isi Leibler, prominent international Jewish leader and journalist, have issued scathing criticisms of ADL’s deal.

The ADL says that “while the opera itself is not anti-Semitic, there is a concern that it could be used in foreign countries as a means to stir up anti-Israel sentiments or as a vehicle to promote anti-Semitism.” But Klein asks, “How can something be a vehicle to promote anti- Semitism and not itself be anti- Semitic?” And why worry only about foreign countries? “An opera that can be used to promote anti-Semitism in foreign countries,” Klein says, “can and will also promote anti-Semitism in New York … [where] physical attacks on Jews in Brooklyn tripled in 2013.”

Responding to the controversy, Foxman answered questions about his actions on ADL’s website. I find some of this highly instructive:

Question: “Do you believe the opera is anti-Semitic?”

Foxman: “No. While the opera is highly problematic and has a strong anti-Israel bias, it is not anti Semitic. A scene featured in the opera’s 1991 premiere, in which some of the Jewish characters exhibited stereotypical behavior, was removed by the composer…”

I think once ADL chose not to protest the opera, Foxman was forced to say the work was not anti-Semitic, contradicting all other Jewish groups on record. Note that Foxman exonerates the opera of Jew-hatred by invoking ADL’s outmoded view of anti-Semitism as depictions of “stereotypical” Jewish behavior, such as in Nazi cartoon imagery. This reflects ADL’s failure to seriously address anti-Israelism – the “new anti-Semitism” – that paints Israel with the classic anti-Jewish slanders – thievery (here, of land), cruelty, manipulation of the powerful, etc.

Question: “Is it true that one of the characters in the opera makes anti-Semitic remarks?”

Foxman: “Yes. … the terrorist (Rambo) … sings an aria in which he taunts Leon with anti-Semitic invective. We do not view this openly articulated animus toward Jews as promoting anti-Semitism; rather, it exposes Rambo’s and the hijackers’ entrenched and destructive anti-Semitism. Other operas, films and plays feature characters whose anti-Semitism is part of their character and part of the plot’s development. In such cases, the character is anti-Semitic, but the opera, film or play is not.”

Rambo is a sympathetic character in the opera, not a villain whose anti-Semitism is supposedly being exposed as an evil thing. Make no mistake: This opera, which provides an artistic platform from which Rambo’s actions are exonerated, is anti-Semitic.

Finally, Foxman let the cat out of the bag.

Question: “If the opera is so offensive, why didn’t you ask the Met to cancel the entire production?”

Foxman: “ We reached a compromise.”

We have a problem. Isi Leibler put it this way: “If Jewish leaders feel inhibited from raising their voices on such issues, they are betraying their mandate and moving backward to the “trembling Israelite” role that American Jews assumed in the 1930s.”

This is surely no time for trembling leaders – or those who kowtow to wealthy, leftist donors. Jews in New York need to shut the hate-opera down. American Jews need a different ADL.

(Originally published in the Boston Jewish Advocate)


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