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

Published on Sep 23, 2014 by Phyllis Chesler

Written for Israel National News

This Show Must Not Go On: Protest Rally at the Met


I am an avid opera-goer and opera-lover and it pains me beyond measure to have to approach the Metropolitan Opera, not with tickets in hand, but to participate in a protest against the choice of a particular opera, namely, "The Death of Klinghoffer."

Why-oh-why did Peter Gelb choose to produce this opera when the libretto is sub-standard, quite below par? This is quite apart from our collective concern about the content of this libretto and the lethal narrative of the opera itself. Yes, the work presents the Israelis as colonizers and exploiters, the Jews as greedy exploiters, and the Palestinian terrorists as heroes. And yes, I understand that Gelb believes that John Adams, the composer, is the leading American composer of the 21st century. The music is very good.

I am not sure where to focus my outrage and my sorrow.

On the opera itself, especially the libretto; on Gelb's decision to have it performed; by the ADL's Abe Foxman's deal with Gelb, namely, that Foxman would claim that the opera is not anti-Semitic and in return, Gelb would agree not to release the film version of the opera, world-wide; by the craven silence of the large American Jewish organizations--those who earn huge salaries, pensions, millionaire-level perks, and who are wedded to the Way Things Are, not the Way They Should Be.

I do not favor censorship and my right to dissent is precisely what allows Alice Goodman, John Adams, and Peter Gelb to present classic anti-Semitism as High Art, even when the art of the librettist is utterly lacking. I have said as much in my previous article on this subject.

I am not saying that Gelb does not have artistic license to present what he wants. He does, he really does. And, because the Met receives government funding he has, in addition, a First Amendment right to do so as well.

Pace, pace.

I am questioning his aesthetic and moral judgment. But the First Amendment is not the issue here. Free speech is not at issue. What is: The moral decline of civilization, the choice to produce an opera which supports, even glorifies, a series of politically correct Big Lies is the issue as is the danger of both intended and unintended consequences.

I now know that Alice Goodman has composed anti-Semitic librettos before—and in conjunction with Adams. Dr. Larry Mass's review called this to my attention. In the opera, Nixon in China, librettist Alice Goodman portrayed the mass murderer Chairman Mao, Madame Mao, and President and Mrs. Nixon in highly positive ways. The one character whom she presented as a stereotypical, unlikable, manipulative, greedy, and cunning figure was none other than (the German Jew), Henry Kissinger, Nixon's Secretary of State. Dr. Maas likens this anti-Jewish stereotype to Wagner's fictional Jew, Beckmesser, in Die Meistersinger.

And now—to the demonstration.

Within an hour of when we started, the New York Times estimated that we were "a few hundred" protesters; AM New York said "dozens" were there. The Wall Street Journal estimated "more than a thousand" people. The organizers of the demonstration, together with the New York Police Department, estimated that participants numbered "between 2500 and 3000."

We stood across the street and opposite the Metropolitan Opera House and in front of the Opera House, on the same side of the street. People held many signs. They read: "Klinghoffer Opera: Propaganda Masquerading as Art." "Is Anonymous Terrorist Money ($) Funding Klinghoffer?" "Gelb Are Your Taking Terror $$$$? "Klinghoffer Executed By PLO Terrorists." "The Met Opera Glorifies Terrorism." "Klinghoffer/Kahane/1993 WTC/9/11/Fort Hood/Boston/What's Next?" "Opera Justified Attacks on America, Israel, Jews." "The Show must NOT go on."

When Peter Gelb was spotted entering the plaza, a cry of "Shame" went up. "Shame" was repeated many times.

The utter absence of any representatives from the organized Jewish world was and will forever remain haunting and reprehensible. (I understand their reasons, they are not "bad" people, they sit on philanthropic, corporate, and cultural boards and do not want to lose their positions, either personally or politically). And yet….and yet.

I understand that street theatre and cries of "Shame!" are not their cup of tea (nor do I sip from that cup) but really: What will it take to have them take a stand, one that does not drape them in glory but in risk?

I met many colleagues and friends at this demonstration as well as some followers of my work whose kind and effusive words both pleased and humbled me.

Speakers included: Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey (R), Former NY State Governor George Pataki, (R), Congressman Eliot Engel, (D) Assemblyman Dov Hikind, (D), MK Nissim Ze'ev, Dr. Donohue of the Catholic League, and Consolee Nishimwe.

Rabbis David Algaze, Avi Weiss, Joe Potasnik, Steven Burg, and Zev Friedman, Debra Burlingame, Devorah Halberstam, Mort Klein, Dr. Charles Small, Richard Allen, Beth Gilinsky, and probably others spoke—and spoke with passion and defiance. Jeffrey Wiesenfeld served nobly as one of the organizers as the MC. Judea Pearl, Daniel Pearl's father, sent a very powerful letter that was read aloud.

Rallies are both exhilarating and unsettling. The crowd disperses. The "high" does not last. One is never clear about the effect one has.

The Jews of New York City stood up. They would not be silent. These and other protesters plan to be out demonstrating every evening that the opera will be shown. Helen Freedman handed out yellow cloth stars which read: "Never Again." However, the organized Jewish world did not stand up, did not take to the streets, did not confront the august and distinguished Opera House. They sent letters to Peter Gelb; the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) will be showing a documentary film about the murder of Klinghoffer on the Achille Lauro. Institute for the Study of Global Anti-Semitism and Policy (ISGAP) will be holding a Panel Discussion about the opera and the issues it raises on October 14th at the Walter Reade Theater.

Kudos and Bravo! to the organizers who worked so hard to make this happen.


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