About five months ago, it was revealed that the NYC Metropolitan Opera had scheduled the performance of the opera titled, the “Death of Klinghoffer”. I, along with many others, wrote the Met’s General Manager, Peter Gelb, and urged him, due to the opera’s humanizing of terror and the current upsurge in terrorists and anti-Semitic/anti-Israel events taking place around the world, to replace the two weeks of Klinghoffer performances with a different operatic production. In my naivety I imagined that the Met would want to be socially responsible.
My letter received no response. Upon writing to Gelb a second time, I received a very short “form letter”. The response was disappointing not because it was a form letter, but because the letter ignored addressing, as well as showing any thought or consideration for, the serious issues which I and others had raised.
Days later, it was announced that the Met decided to cancel its 2,500 simulcast HD theater showings of the Klinghoffer Opera which would be seen around the world.
In this cancellation announcement, Gelb stated that the Klinghoffer Opera was neither anti-Semitic nor anti-Israel. However, since there was a worldwide rise in anti-Semitism, the opera might incite additional anti-Semitic violence. Therefore, it was decided that the Klinghoffer opera live performances at the NYC Met would not be cancelled, as if anti-Semitism anti-Israel sentiment were not American problems.
Gelb proclaimed the Klinghoffer opera to be a modern day musical masterpiece written by one of the finest composers of our time. The twenty-three year old opera had not been performed in many venues due to constant community protests against the opera’s offensive fictionalized content that gives credence to terrorists. However, thirteen years after 9-11, for the 2014 Met Season, Gelb felt compelled, as if it was a religious calling, for him to bring this contested opera to the famed NYC’s Met stage.
Within days of Gelb’s announced decision to ignore the community protest and move forward with the opera’s performance, the Klinghoffer libretto was sent out over the Internet. Except for Abe Foxman at the ADL, key Jewish leaders who read the opera’s words found the text to be highly egregious, anti-Semitic and anti-Israel, promoting a deceptive ahistorical narrative which is being popularized by today’s anti-Israel protests and boycott movements, on the internet, in the news media, and at universities across America and throughout Europe.
Who in their right mind would ever have thought that the abhorrent PLO murder of Leon Klinghoffer would become the story for an opera? How did that happen? Who would have imagined that the ugly and tragic Klinghoffer story would be fictionalized to the extent that the terrorists would be humanized and the helpless victim would be shown to be flawed? Who came up with that idea?
If anything, the Klinghoffer Opera would have been titled, “The Murder of Klinghoffer” since the event was a cold blooded murder and not a passive death. The opera would have been a complete condemnation of PLO terrorism and all terrorism. The opera would have been a clear message of abhorrence at any and all terrorist murder of innocent human beings.
But, who decided to make this opera into the fictionalized opposite of what actually took place and why would that be done? Who tirelessly fought and pushed this idea through all the necessary hurdles in the music and entertainment performance industry? Who pitched this opera to investors and opera funders and effectively argued that this opera would make money for the investors and for the opera houses? Who selected the writer and what qualifications were sought for the person who would create this story?
The answers to the above questions would provide a profound insight into this opera production.
What is known is that the words to the opera were written by Alice Goodman, a woman from a Reform Jewish home who from childhood disagreed with her Zionist parents. Goodman’s thinking about Israel denied any historical basis as an acceptable justification for its existence. Goodman claimed in an interview published in the Guardian that “romantic nationalism” was the worst and most dangerous evil in the world. Goodman’s powerful feelings on this topic were specifically targeted at Israel and Zionism’s 3,400 year romance with the Land of Israel. In the interview, she made no comment on Arab romantic nationalism which apparently didn’t bother her if she even noted its overwhelming presence during it’s less than fifty year existence.
While writing the Klinghoffer opera, Goodman officially disconnected from Judaism, converted to Christianity and joined the Church of England where she became an Anglican Church Rector.
In the same interview, she indicated that she offended her Jewish parents with this opera and it was a problem to her that her parents were still alive when she published the libretto.
Furthermore, Goodman disclosed that a film was made of the Klinghoffer opera and submitted to a Palestinian Film Festival. Anticipating high praise for the film and the opera, to Goodman’s surprise, the festival rejected the film. The Palestinian Film Festival judges rejected the film not because it immorally justified the PLO murder of an innocent person, but because the film stated some pro-Israel positions.
In the same interview, Goodman admitted that her mistake in writing the opera’s libretto was that she made the terrorists too human and she showed the victims to have significant flaws in their personalities. Her position was that the terrorists were not all bad and the victims were not all good.
She also erred in her story’s attempted moral logic. Ideally, the PLO needed to have murdered a young Israeli “occupier”. But they didn’t. Instead, they murdered a defenseless, wheelchair restricted, 69 year old American Jew who had nothing to do with the anger and outrage and demands of the PLO terrorists. Even with the total lack of logical or moral connection, Goodman still made peace with the terrorist murder and completed her libretto.
Goodman took elements of a real story and made it into a fantasy story designed to state her political message. Her artistic effort was to normalize, explain and nuance terrorist intent and thereby provide a justification for murder by negating the qualities of decent, innocent people.
Hours after the opera’s opening night performance in NYC, a Hamas/Fatah member terrorist in Jerusalem turned his car into a live guided missile and attempted to run over and kill as many Israelis and Jews as he could. Does this terrorist killer, as Alice Goodman’s Klinghoffer opera teaches, have a human face and the three month old infant and twenty year old Ecuadorian tourist who he successfully killed have justifying personality flaws?
To Peter Gelb and the Met, in our country imbued with freedom of speech, you certainly have the right to perform and produce any opera that you so please and exercise artistic freedom. No one wants to take that right away from you.
If our current society was strong and solidly sane, and was not worrying about the continued success of ISIS recruitment efforts, your Klinghoffer masterpiece of the 20th century opera would pass with little more than a yawn and not a trace of citizen protest. But our world is not so sane with several hundred million people in support of radical terrorism and the murderous call for death to all infidels.
Those who opposed the Klinghoffer opera were not treading on your freedom of speech that you and other media frequently claimed. The protest against the presentation of the Klinghoffer Opera was a protest against your freedom from responsibility. It was not about your right to make this performance happen, it was only about your wisdom to pursue this goal at this time and under the current circumstance.
Alice Goodman perhaps didn’t understand that the terrorists’ dream was not just about destroying the borders of Israel and ridding the world of Israel’s evil romantic nationalism. Today, it is known that the terrorists’ goal is to destroy the “evils of Western civilization”, which includes music, opera, dance, art and our freedoms.
Peter Gelb, the Metropolitan Opera and Alice Goodman, you may not get it, but you, innocent you, are the so-called humanized enemy’s target, not just wheelchair restricted Jewish Mr. Klinghoffer and his make believe personality faults.
Perhaps your opera choice would be appreciated as benign art if it were a wordless painting hanging on the wall of a world-class museum. But the Klinghoffer opera is a political statement asking compassion and understanding for terrorists at a time in human history when innocent Western journalists’ heads are being removed, innocent young women are being kidnapped and forced into sexual enslavement, communities are being murdered, civilized civilization is being targeted for its demise, Israel is being internationally isolated and boycotted and Jews around the world are living under threats unknown since Nazism.
Virtually every review of the Death of Klinghoffer states that the opera lends support to the terrorists by presenting their side and claim of oppression that can be used to justify their actions. No published review of Klinghoffer states that the opera served to condemn and stop the terrorizing murder of innocent civilians or that it left the audience with a message not to accept any justification or rationalization for such actions.
Many concerned citizens, along with the appalled Klinghoffer family members who begged you and the Met not to present this opera, felt that your performance of the Death of Klinghoffer at this time was grossly irresponsible and insensitive to today’s current concerns.
Those who protested the Klinghoffer opera can’t understand your profound lack of wisdom which ignores that collective guilt has been indiscriminately placed upon all of our heads. The protesters can’t relate to your pride and your boast of success claiming that this opera will open the audience’s mind to compassion and sympathy for those who want to end our culture. It is understood by many who care about art, culture and our civilization that our existence is now under direct terrorist threat and any conjure up excuse is clearly unacceptable. This is why, in the eyes and hearts of many, your proclaimed “Death of Klinghoffer” performance “success” merits a grade of “FAIL”.
Dr. Daryl Temkin is based in Los Angeles and frequently writes and lectures of topics of Judaism, Israel, technology and innovations. He is the Founder of the Israel Institute for the Advancement of Alternative Energy which serves to teach and promote Israel based innovations for advancing the world. He can be contacted at: DarylTemkinPhD@Gmail.com.