NYT defends Anti-Semitic Opera
The New York Metropolitan Opera ignited a major controversy in recent days when it announced that it would simulcast the anti-Semitic opera “The Death of Klinghoffer” in theaters around the world, while also staging it at the Met in New York.
The opera recalls the 1985 hiacking of the cruise ship Achille Lauro by murderous Palestinian terrorists who killed a wheel-chair bound passenger, Leon Klinghoffer, by throwing him overboard.
But far from denouncing terrorism, the opera tends to legitimize and humanize terrorist killers, while shifting blame to Jews who are portrayed in the most odious way.
An Arab killer, for example, says in the opera, “We are soldiers fighting a war, we are not criminals, we are not vandals, we are men of ideals.” Jews, on the other hand, are cast as fat exploiters, defamers, and polluters.
Still, Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, keeps insisting that the work is not anti-Semitic. But when many theater owners signaled that they might not show “The Death of Klinghoffer,” Gelb decided to cancel the global simulcast. However, the Met still plans to go ahead and stage the opera at its own home in New York.
It was in this context that on June 18, the New York Times weighed in with a lengthy story by Michael Cooper that is heavy on quotes from defenders of the opera, while skirting its anti-Semitic content (“Met Opera Cancels ‘Klinghoffer’ simulcast, page C1)
Cooper’s lead paragraph makes clear that the Times intends to tilt in defense of the opera. While acknowledging that “some” Jewish groups were happy with the cancellation of the simulcast, Cooper writes, the cancellation drew “laments from the work’s fans and a warning from its composer that the decision promotes intolerance.”
Further asserting that the opera merits showing at the Met, Cooper tells readers that it is “considered a masterpiece” -- the Times’ way of giving it its kosher seal of approval.
In an effort to attenuate the horror of the killing of Klinghoffer, Cooper also refers only to the “killing of a disabled Jewish American passenger,” skipping his horrific ending in a wheelchair.
Still plowing ahead in the second paragraph, Cooper defends the opera as a “work, which sought to give voice to Palestinians and Israelis, and hijackers as well as victims.” In other words, Cooper’s humanity scale accords equal standing to Klinghoffer and his Palestinian terrorist killers.
The article also gives ample space to a defense of the opera by the composer, John Adams, and by Joseph Polisi, the president of the Juilliard School. It is not until the 15th paragraph that Leon Klinghoffer’s daughters, Lisa and Ilsa, belatedly are allowed a brief quote that “The Death of Klinghoffer” “perverts the terrorist murder of our father and attempts to romanticize, rationalize, legitimize and explain it.”
Still, Gelb seems content with his half-pregnant compromise of canceling the simulcast while showing the opera on the Met’s New York stage. Cooper quotes him as remarking that there were no big protests in Britain when the English National Opera staged the work in 2012 – “I went to the opening night. There was one lone protester there.”
So what’s all the fuss?
Leo Rennert is a former White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief of McClatchy Newspapers