Tonight, the Metropolitan Opera will premiere its first staging of the John Adams opera, The Death Of Klinghoffer, about the 1985 hijacking of the Achilelle Lauro and brutal killing of a disabled Jewish-American man, Leon Klinghoffer. The NYPD is apparently expecting about 3,000-4,000 people to descend near Lincoln Center to protest the performance.
Critics of the 1991 opera contend that it casts the hijackers, who were terrorists from the Palestinian Liberation Front, in a sympathetic light. The NY Times reports, "Some go further, charging the opera is anti-Semitic, which is disputed by the Met, the opera’s creators, and the Anti-Defamation League." Guess who also be in attendance at the protest: Rudy GIuliani.
Giuliani told the Times he didn't want the opera to be banned but felt it was a "distorted view of history." He was upset that some people have been making threats toward the Met, "There shouldn’t be any threats here. This is a historical, sociological and artistic issue — not some issue of violence." There will be other current and former lawmakers on hand: "Rep. Peter King (R-Nassau County) and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-Bronx); as well as former Gov. David Paterson, Queens Borough President Melinda Katz and and former U.S. Attorney General Michal Mukasey," per the Daily Politics.
The Lincoln Square Business Improvement District sent an email last Friday, alerting area businesses and residents about the protests:
We have been informed by the New York City Police Department that there will be a protest on Monday, October 20, 2014, between the hours of 4:00pm and 8:00pm in and around Dante Park (across from Lincoln Center between 63rd and 64th Street), in connection with The Metropolitan Opera's Opening Night Performance of The Death of Klinghoffer. It is our understanding that the NYPD expects 3,000-4,000 people to attend, with protesters gathering at approximately 2:00pm. The parking lane alongside Dante Park on Columbus Avenue between 63rd and 64th Street will be cordoned off with police barricades, which may be moved further west to close traffic lanes if necessary. It is also our understanding that there will be a platform set up in the parking lane near West 63rd Street.
The majority of the demonstrators will be in Dante Park; however, there will be approximately 40-50 additional demonstrators in front of Lincoln Center's Josie Robertson Plaza. Expect to see "No Parking" signs around the perimeter of Dante Park on Monday, October 20 and, depending on the turnout, there may be temporary lane/crosswalk closures in and around the Dante Park area. The NYPD will maintain a presence throughout the event. We will also have our public safety officers present.
Today, the Anti-Defamation League issued a statement from Klinghoffer's daughters, Lisa and Ilsa Klinghoffer, which will also be in the playbill of the opera:
Twenty nine years ago, our 69 year old, wheel chair-bound father, Leon Klinghoffer, was shot in the head by Palestinian hijackers on the Achille Lauro cruise ship. The terrorists threw his body, along with his wheelchair, overboard into the Mediterranean. A few days later, his body washed up on the Syrian shore.
Tonight, as you watch The Death of Klinghoffer, a baritone will play the role of Leon Klinghoffer, and sing The Aria of the Falling Body as he artfully falls into the sea. Competing choruses will highlight Jewish and Palestinian narratives of suffering and oppression, selectively presenting the complexities of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The terrorists, portrayed by four distinguished opera singers, will be given a back story, an "explanation" for their brutal act of terror and violence.
We are strong supporters of the arts, and believe that theater and music can play a critical role in examining and understanding significant world events. The Death of Klinghoffer does no such thing. It presents false moral equivalencies without context, and offers no real insight into the historical reality and the senseless murder of an American Jew. It rationalizes, romanticizes and legitimizes the terrorist murder of our father. Our family was not consulted by the composer and librettist and had no role in the development of the opera.
Our father was one of the first American victims of Middle Eastern terrorism. Nearly three decades later, after PanAm 103, 9/11, and countless other attacks and threats, Americans live under the deadly threat of terrorism each and every day.
For our family, the impact of terrorism is obviously deeply personal. We lost our father because of the violent political agenda of these terrorists. The trauma of his murder never goes away. Our father was caring, creative, thoughtful and smart. As a young man, he invented the rotisserie oven, the first of its kind. After his stroke, our father continued to use his one good arm to repair anything that needed fixing. With the help of our mother, he never allowed his disability to limit his enjoyment of good times with his family and friends, who meant everything to him. He loved life and lived it to the fullest. He was an inspiration to us. It is particularly sad that the life of such a vibrant and gentle man could end suddenly in such a hate-filled and violent manner.
Our father is also a universal symbol of the threat terrorism poses to our societies, our values and our lives. Indeed, we have dedicated our lives since this tragedy to educating about terrorism, and putting a personal face on the victims and their families.
Terrorism cannot be rationalized. It cannot be understood. It can never be tolerated as a vehicle for political expression or grievance. Unfortunately, The Death of Klinghoffer does all this, and sullies the memory of a fine, principled, sweet man in the process.
In June, following series of conversations between Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director, representing the wishes of the Klinghoffer family, and Peter Gelb, General Manager of the Metropolitan Opera, the Met announced that it would cancel a global simulcast of the controversial John Adams opera in response to concerns that the opera’s biased portrayal of events surrounding the hijacking of the cruise ship Achille Lauro could foment anti-Semitism globally or legitimize terrorism. At that time, Mr. Foxman said: "Obviously from our point of view and from that of the Klinghoffer sisters, we would have hoped that the Metropolitan Opera would have stayed away from mounting such a problematic opera," Mr. Foxman said. "We certainly did not want to see the Met production simulcast into theaters around the world. The Met was very open to hearing our concerns. After listening to our views, they have agreed to cancel the simulcasts and to take steps to ensure that the Klinghoffer family’s perspective is clearly heard by opera patrons."
In 1986, the Klinghoffer family established the Leon and Marilyn Klinghoffer Memorial Foundation of the Anti-Defamation League, which is dedicated to which is dedicated to developing educational, legislative and legal responses to terrorism.
ADL National Director Foxman has never seen the opera.