Shalom Life | June 06, 2014

Anti-Israel Opera to be Viewed Live by Hundreds of Thousands

An open letter to the New York Metropolitan Opera general manager regarding “The Death of Klinghoffer”

By: Myron Kaplan

Published: June 2nd, 2014 in News » World

An open letter to the New York Metropolitan Opera general manager concerning The Death of Klinghoffer, an anti-Jewish and anti-Israel opera: reasons to reject it and viable replacements for it in HD transmission.

Peter Gelb

General Manager

The Metropolitan Opera

Lincoln Center

New York, NY 10023


Dear Mr. Gelb,

As a longtime fan of grand opera, I have attended numerous superb live Met performances both at Lincoln Center and via live Saturday matinee performance HD transmissions to theaters (not to mention listening to numerous Met Saturday matinee live radio broadcasts)—and have greatly admired your accomplishments at the Met. So it was with great dismay and disappointment that I learned that the Met had scheduled for the 2014-2015 season its first-ever performances of John Adams’s The Death of Klinghoffer. Mediocre music is the least of the work’s problems. Even more serious is a tendentious story line and an inflammatory libretto that falsely maligns Israel and the Jewish people.

This story line can be characterized fairly as “Understandably aggrieved Palestinian Arabs wreak vengeance on disabled Jew standing in for all his perfidious co-religionists.” This is an obscene inversion of the reality that was the Achille Lauro cruise ship hijacking and subsequent terrorist murder of passenger Leon Klinghoffer. In this regard, it must be noted that the librettist, Alice Goodman, during the writing of the opera rejected her American Jewish heritage by joining the Anglican Church, the leadership of which is known for its hostility toward Israel. Goodman is now a parish priest in England.

The most troubling aspect of the Met’s scheduling of The Death of Klinghoffer is the live HD transmission of this opera, set for November 15, 2014—one of 10 such transmitted opera performances planned for the coming season—to more than 2,000 theaters in 66 countries (including more than 700 U.S. theaters). This would make the live performance immediately available to hundreds of thousands of people (and potentially millions according to the Met), giving wide international distribution to what is, at its heart, an anti-Jewish slander.

I’m aware that it may not be feasible at this juncture to cancel all or any of the eight performances of this opera scheduled during the period of October-November 2014, but in order to minimize the harm, the Met should substitute another opera for the HD transmission.

As alluded to above, the opera is based on the 1985 murder of a helpless 69-year-old American Jewish man, Leon Klinghoffer, confined to a wheelchair—shot in the head while vacationing with his wife on a cruise ship in the Mediterranean Sea. He was murdered by Palestinian Arab hijackers belonging to the Palestine Liberation Front, a component of Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization, and his body dumped into the water. The choice of the title, The Death of Klinghoffer and not “The Murder of Klinghoffer,” signals the work’s moral evasion and misrepresentation. In a sense, it is consistent with the PLO’s initial comments on the murder, that either Klinghoffer had died of natural causes or his wife pushed him overboard to be able to claim life insurance. The title’s sanitizing of murder is, however, also consistent with the opera’s anti-Jewish tone. Instead of properly characterizing the Palestinian hijackers of the cruise ship as permanent prisoners of their own rage originating from cultural indoctrination, Adams/Goodman impart idealism to them.

The opera opens with these words sung by the Chorus of Exiled Palestinians: “My father’s house was razed—In nineteen forty-eight—When the Israelis passed—Over our street.” Here, Israelis are likened to the avenging Angel of Death in the biblical story of the original Passover, exacting punishment on the ancient Egyptians after Pharaoh, breaking a promise, refused to let the Jewish people leave Egypt. This amounts to an artistically licensed slander, falsely suggesting that the Israelis, besieged by the armies of five Arab countries and Palestinian Arab “irregulars” bent on driving them into the sea, exacted widespread revenge upon Arabs residing in the ancient Jewish homeland.

Hijacker Rambo invokes anti-Semitic canards: “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.” Rambo’s lyrics, with virtually no artistic embellishment, could have been lifted from Nazi publications like Der Sturmer, as even a casual glance at the archives would confirm.

Repeatedly, the Palestinians are portrayed as humane idealists. Hijacker Molqi sings: “We are—Soldiers fighting a war—We are not criminals—And we are not vandals—But men of ideals.”

Hijacker Mamoud appears gentle and grieving as he tells of his mother and brother: “She was killed—With the old men—And children in—Camps at Sabra—And Shatilla— Where Almighty God—In His mercy showed—My decapitated—Brother to me—And in His mercy—Allowed me to close—My brother’s eyes—And wipe his face.”

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