‘The Death of Klinghoffer’ and civility


Yesterday saw the premiere of The Death of Klinghoffer at the“>Achille Lauro cruise ship by members of the Palestinian Liberation Front and the murder and throwing overboard of the wheelchair-bound Jewish American, Leon Klinghoffer in 1985. The text and the portrayal of the Palestinian terrorists are the center of most of the controversy.

Some of the demonstrators and protestors “>libretto, it is clear that the terrorist, in one case Mamoud, explains the Palestinian narrative of the formation of Israel—innocents were expelled from their homes and land and ended up in refugee camps, etc. Hardly a surprise or a revelation to anyone with even a glancing knowledge of the history of the Middle East—these allegations are a basic element of the Israel-Palestinian narrative debate. The arguments seem in the play's context to be a rationale for the murder of Leon Klinghoffer.

The Klinghoffer daughters, in a reasoned statement in the Met’s“>writes, “Klinghoffer begs us to sympathize with the villains—terrorists….it demonizes Israel—which is what anti-Semitism is partly about….the opera betrays the truth entirely and, in effect, joins the low-brow ranks of propagandists against Israel.”

One of the speakers at the demonstration on Monday “>here) in 2006 when the film came out. At the time, critics assailed Spielberg as an “appeaser” a “Hollywood ignoramus,” and  being “the author of an anti-Zionist epic.”

The discussion might be advanced if people were mindful of W. H. Auden's observation, “No good opera plot can be sensible, for people do not sing when they are feeling sensible.”

Again, I haven’t seen the opera—but I can guarantee that comparing it to Nazi propaganda is inapposite and part of the hysteria that surrounds these kinds of incidents. Moderation and reason seem to disappear.

ADL’s national director, Abe Foxman, tried to“>wrote today that his assessment of the opera from a decade ago is still accurate, “The libretto does its best to show ‘both sides’ of the Achille Lauro hijacking—though one will always fall short trying to make terrorists who shot an innocent man in a wheelchair sympathetic…” 

He further concluded that last night’s performance was not what the protestors imagined,

But to protesters truly worried that this is dangerous anti-Semitic propaganda ready to sow seeds of hate, I can tell you as someone who watched it, it is not. And even if it were, I can’t think of a less effective way to spread propaganda than with a difficult, boring and (mostly) tuneless opera.

There is, indeed, a moment early in the opera in which we hear a lament of the Palestinian people – shrouded women who sing about villages now within Israel’s borders. This is so shocking? This is news? Is there possibly one person on the planet who would sit down and watch an avant-garde opera who isn’t already aware about the formation of the State of Israel and its continuing regional conflict?

The opera will have 7 more performances and the vitriol may well continue for a few days—but this too shall pass. What won’t dissipate is the seeming readiness of folks to accuse, impugn the motives and attack those who aren’t in total agreement with their positions. The willingness to tolerate differences of opinion in a civil and non-hyperbolic way seems to be a casualty of our times. As Leon Wieseltier has also reminded us, and it is relevant now, “the analysis of anti-Semitism must take place somewhere between indifference and hysteria. The most loyal Jew is not the most hysterical Jew…the cult of victimization is no more attractive, and no less coarsening, when it is the cult of our victimization.”

+