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Posted in: Anti-Semitism, Arts, Film & Culture

Published on Oct 19, 2014 by Phyllis Chesler

Written for New York Post

Opera v. truth: The fetid fouls of 'Death of Klinghoffer'


I love opera. For almost three years, I regularly contributed to NPR's "At the Opera." I attend the Metropolitan Opera House as often as I can. But the decision to stage "The Death of Klinghoffer" represents an abdication of moral responsibility, political sensitivity and gravitas.

Met Opera General Manager Peter Gelb has a constitutional and artistic right to produce whatever he wants. Yet showcasing this opera is equivalent to a college president's inviting a member of ISIS, Hamas, or the Taliban to speak on campus because "all sides must be heard" and "all points of view are equally valid."

As a feminist, I wouldn't boycott an opera because the female heroes are betrayed, go mad or are murdered. As in life, our great operas are tragedies in which the heroes die.

But, where there are heroes there are also villains.

The villain in Puccini's "Tosca" is unmistakable: He is Scarpia, the police chief of Rome who tortures political prisoners and attempts to rape the great singer, Floria Tosca. We don't get a backstory about Scarpia's dysfunctional childhood, nor do we sympathize or identify with him.

He is a heartless villain and the opera doesn't allow (let alone ask) us to pity or sympathize with him. We are meant to fear and despise him, perhaps even hate him.

Characters Leon Klinghoffer, right, and the terrorist Omar are seen in a dress rehearsal of the performance.Photo: Reuters

"Klinghoffer" begs us to sympathize with the villains — terrorists. This is something new.

"The Death of Klinghoffer" also demonizes Israel — which is what anti-Semitism is partly about today. It incorporates lethal Islamic (and now universal) pseudo-histories about Israel and Jews. It beatifies terrorism, both musically and in the libretto.

Composer John Adams has given the opening "Chorus of Exiled Palestinians" a beautiful, sacred musical "halo," à la Bach. "Chorus of Exiled Jews," by contrast, is dogged, mechanical, industrial, aggressive — relentless, military, hardly angelic.

This opera treats 6 million murdered Jews of the Holocaust as morally equivalent to perhaps 600,000 Palestinian Arabs who left during Israel's founding. They were not murdered, not ethnically cleansed, but rather pushed to flee their homes by Arab leaders who told them they'd return as soon as the Jews had been slaughtered.

"Klinghoffer" does not, of course, mention the at least 820,000 Arab, North African and Central Asian Jews forced into exile between 1948 and 1972. Nor that many Arabs didn't flee. Today, Israel has 1.7 million Arab Muslim and Christian citizens, about 20 percent of its population.

Jews are willing to live with Muslims and Christians — it is the Arab Muslim leaders who want to ethnically cleanse Jews and other infidels from allegedly Muslim lands.

Contrary to all claims, the libretto is not even-handed. The villains have more lines.

And better lines: The Palestinians sing: "My father's house was razed / in nineteen forty-eight / when the Israelis passed / Over our street."For example, the terrorists command 11 arias — 12, with the "Chorus of Exiled Palestinians." The Klinghoffers have two arias each, toward the end of the opera; add the exiled Jewish chorus and you have five arias for the innocent victims versus 12 for their victimizers.

The Jews sing: "When I paid off the taxi, I had no money left."

Indeed, the obsession with Jews and money is reminiscent of Nazi propaganda. The terrorist Rambo sings: "But wherever poor men / Are gathered they can / Find Jews getting fat . . . America / Is one big Jew."

The terrorists tell us they are "men of ideals," and that "this is an action for liberation." Hah. In reality, they didn't allow Marilyn Klinghoffer, who was exhausted and in pain from colon cancer, lie down.

They forced the passengers to stand under the broiling Mediterranean sun for days and to hold live grenades.

Leon Klinghoffer had suffered several strokes. He lacked full use of his hands, his legs were paralyzed, his speech slurred — and this is whom Molqui murders and throws overboard with his wheelchair.

Only a dead and murdered Jew — "Leon Klinghoffer's body" — is allowed to sing his death with some measure of grace (although most of the lyrics are incomprehensible).

The hijacking of the Achille Lauro was a 14-man Palestine Liberation Organization operation ordered by Arafat and Abu Abbas.

Eight terrorists simply walked out of Italy, claiming a spurious diplomatic status. The rest received sentences that ranged from four to 30 years, with early releases. All were considered heroes across the Arab world.

Choosing to stage "The Death of Klinghoffer" at the Met automatically confers upon it a prestige it does not deserve. The opera betrays the truth entirely and, in effect, joins the low-brow ranks of propagandists against Jewish survival.


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