antisemitism,  Freedom of Expression

The New York Met cancels Klinghoffer simulcast

The Death of Klinghoffer (which I wrote about here back in 2012) has been in the news again recently.  A proposed simulcast of a New York Met production to theatres in 66 countries has been cancelled following concerns raised by, amongst others, Leon Klingoffer’s daughters.   The countries would have included many (both in Europe and MENA) where antisemitism is a serious problem.

The New York Times deplored this decision in a recent editorial. I’m not inclined to agree with their evaluation of the opera’s impact, although clearly it is difficult to assign a single meaning to a complex work which may be produced in a range of different ways.

The opera gives voice to all sides in this terrible murder, but does not offer resolutions. The audience hears from the Palestinians who killed an innocent man, but most powerfully from Klinghoffer, who indicts the gruesome cruelty of the terrorists and whose final aria is particularly moving.

I agree with the points made by Ilsa and Lisa Klinghoffer in their letter to the New York Times:

The Met did not “bow” to our wishes in canceling the global simulcast scheduled for this fall, but rather listened to our concerns and acted appropriately. We are strongly opposed to censorship and resent the implication that we would want to censor an artistic event.

Our 69-year-old father was singled out and killed by Palestinian terrorists on his wedding anniversary cruise in 1985 solely because he was Jewish. His memory is trivialized in an opera that rationalizes terrorism and tries to find moral equivalence between the murderers and the murdered.

This is a particularly important point:

These terrorists hijacked an Italian ship with American tourists and murdered an American Jew. What, precisely, did this have to do with Israel? Absolutely nothing.

If the opera, to quote the editorial again, ‘gives voice to all sides in this terrible murder, but does not offer resolutions’, that in itself is a problem.  It is reasonable to see the wider Israel/Palestine conflict from both ‘sides’, but not the murder of an innocent man.

Adams has described the murder of Leon Klinghoffer as “a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions”. I find this an odd, but rather telling, assertion; tragic heroes – however noble and sympathetic – are not usually completely innocent victims of circumstance.

I’m ambivalent about the simulcast cancellation, and I certainly wouldn’t want the production to be cancelled completely.  I’d rather it had never been proposed for the simulcast (there were plenty of other productions which could have been chosen) in the first place than have to be withdrawn in this way.  (I had similar mixed feelings about the Hirsi Ali/Brandeis furore.) Some people, reasonably, are pointing out some illogic in the position taken by the Met’s general mananger, Peter Gelb.  He asserts that he doesn’t think the opera is antisemitic – so why has he backtracked on this? I’m not  as sure as Gelb that the opera can be exonerated – but there’s a still a good case to be made for allowing everyone to reach their own conclusions.

Hat Tip: Bella Center