A Moral Outrage

Outside the  New York Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center in New York City. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

A response to the Metropolitan Opera’s planned staging of 

The Death of Klinghoffer

by Rabbi Mark S. Golub, President, Shalom TV

Outside the  New York Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center in New York City. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Outside the  New York Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center in New York City. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

It is both surprising and troubling that there should be any question of the gross inappropriateness of staging any performance of The Death of Klinghoffer, an opera that suggests Palestinians had reason to murder an innocent man aboard the hijacked cruise ship, the Achille Lauro in October 1985.

The Metropolitan Opera is planning to mount a production of John Adams’ 1991 opera, with a libretto written by Alice Goodman (a Jew who became an Anglican priest) this coming November. The Met had also planned to televise a performance of the opera in theaters around the world.

The National Director of the ADL, Abe Foxman, representing Leon Klinghoffer’s two daughters (Lisa and Ilsa Klinghoffer), recently convinced the Met’s General Manager, Peter Gelb, to cancel the telecast on the grounds that the anti-Israel climate in Europe is so extreme that the telecast would threaten to exacerbate antisemitic acts in foreign countries.

But Mr. Gelb’s decision did not go nearly far enough. The Met should have cancelled the entire production.  No responsible cultural institution should ever mount a production of this opera again.  The fact that the Metropolitan Opera still plans to perform an opera that justifies the wanton murder of another human being is simply outrageous.

Tom Morris, the director of the Metropolitan Opera’s new production of The Death of Klinghoffer, is quoted in Debra Nussbaum Cohen’s June 8th story in The Jewish Daily Forward as saying that he believes the opera’s most important contribution is providing an opportunity for the audience to wrestle with the almost unanswerable questions that arise from this seemingly endless conflict and pattern of abhorrent violent acts.

There should be absolutely no “unanswerable questions” surrounding the wanton murder of Leon Klinghoffer.

There may be legitimate questions about the nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and what options may exist for resolving a conflict that goes back virtually a century, preceding the establishment of the State Israel and years before Israel ever came into control of the West Bank in 1967.

For a director of the Metropolitan Opera to suggest that there are questions to “wrestle with” in a brutal murder of a defenseless human being calls into question the judgment and character of individuals at the helm of one of the world’s premiere cultural institutions.

Mr. Morris refers to a pattern of abhorrent acts as if Israelis and Palestinians are equally guilty of hideous acts of murder.

I challenge Mr. Morris — and anyone who believes that the terrorists who murdered Mr. Klinghoffer were justified in any way because of their sense of persecution — to cite one example of another group of individuals fighting for their people’s liberation committing similar atrocities on civilians.

Can Mr. Morris give us one respected example of another liberation army shooting a civilian hostage in the head and chest and having his body and wheelchair thrown into the sea?  Can Mr. Morris give us one credible example of a liberation army breaking into a family’s home in the middle of the night and slitting the throat of a three-month old baby in her bed (as Palestinians did during the massacre of the Fogel family in Itamar in March 2011)?

Liberation armies sometimes kill civilians in operations directed at military targets.  But Leon Klinghoffer’s murder was not “collateral damage” nor a tragic accident of war.  Palestinian terrorism is purposefully designed to murder civilians with unimaginable savagery.

The evil inherent in the staging of The Death of Klinghoffer is that it suggests the most cultured of Americans are prepared to sacrifice the essence of morality on the altar of “artistic freedom,” arguing that the opera enables its audience to “understanding both sides” by humanizing those Palestinians who are guilty of nothing less than heinous acts of murder of defenseless noncombatants.

One may believe the State of Israel is guilty of a harsh occupation of Palestinians and argue that Israeli planes dropping bombs also kill civilian children, women and men.

But everyone understands the hell of war. Tragically, the Israelis and Palestinians are in war that dates back before the State of Israel came into being on May 14, 1948.  Israel argues it is responding to Palestinian attacks that have spilled Israeli blood; while the Palestinians claim, too, they are only responding to Israeli acts of aggression.

Both Israelis and Palestinians have endured the searing pain that comes through the loss of loved ones.

But there is a qualitative moral difference between military operations that result in casualties of war and the intentional targeting of civilians in acts of murder.

As a passenger on the Achille Lauro, Leon Klinghoffer was not threatening any Palestinian when he was murdered in cold blood.  He was not even an Israeli.  His “crime” was that of being Jewish.  There is no possible reason that would justify this atrocity.

The opera’s very name reflects its human offense.  It sanitizes the event by calling it “The Death” of Leon Klinghoffer.  The opera should have been entitled The Murder of Klinghoffer.

For the Metropolitan Opera to fail to understand the hideous, immoral equivalency they are supporting puts the Met to shame.

Peter Gelb says he does not see anything antisemitic in The Death of Klinghoffer — an opera in which Palestinians who murder a man simply because he is a Jew are humanized.  That is a very telling comment which should disturb any decent American.

Nor is there any relevancy to Mr. Gelb’s comment that the opera’s composer, John Adams, is “the most important American composer of opera of the last 30 years.”  The Met can mount Adams’ other works.

The Met’s staging The Death of Klinghoffer is no less offensive that if they would mount a production suggesting white supremacists who lynched African-Americans in the South have a perspective that needs to be understood so that the Metropolitan audience can gain a greater appreciation for their humanity as well.  Would the Met ever consider staging an opera that sought to humanize the murderers of civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner in 1964?

In today’s America, if any cultural institution decided to produce a production in “black face” it would experience an appropriate avalanche of criticism that would make such a production impossible.

The Metropolitan Opera has the right to produce any opera they wish.  But in Twenty First Century America, there are lines that may no longer be crossed in the name of art.  One such line is justifying premeditated murder.

In the end, public opinion is the supreme judge.

Americans would not tolerate an opera humanizing wanton murder in any other context, and American Jews would be among the loudest critics of an opera that did so.

The American public needs to express its outrage at the Met’s decision to produce The Death of Klinghoffer.  Jewish organizations especially need to express their outrage since the murder being justified in the opera is that of an innocent American Jew by Palestinians who verbalize vile antisemitic and anti-Israel hatred.

If the Metropolitan Opera does not rethink its decision to mount a production of this opera in November, it should come as no surprise to anyone associated with the Met that people who have supported it in the past may begin questioning their continuing support.

Mark S. Golub speaks with Michael Salberg (ADL Director of International Affairs) 

about the new Metropolitan Opera production of the controversial play “Death of Klinghoffer”  

on Shalom TV’s IN THE NEWS.  

Click here to watch

About Mark S. Golub

Lauded by Newsweek as one of America’s most influential rabbis, Mark Golub is recognized within American Jewry as a leading interviewer and television producer. His award-winning national program, “L’Chayim,” has aired continuously since 1979 with a guest list that reads like a “Who’s Who” on the world Jewish scene.

Rabbi Golub originated Shalom TV, America’s first National Jewish Television Network.

To arrange an interview with Shalom TV President Mark S. Golub, contact Edith Samers at 203-536-6914.


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