Opera As ‘Teachable Moment’ In Fight Against Anti-Semitism
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Opera As ‘Teachable Moment’ In Fight Against Anti-Semitism

There were calls today to use last night’s controversial Metropolitan Opera presentation of “The Death of Klinghoffer” as a teachable moment in the fight against anti-Semitism.

The John Adams opera is based on the assassination of an elderly Jew, Leon Klinghoffer, by four members of the Palestine Liberation Organization during their 1985 hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship.

“The people who assassinated Mr. Klinghoffer came from an ideology that blames Jews and Americans for all the evils of the world,” said Charles Asher Small, founder and director of the Institute for the Study of Global Anti-Semitism and Policy, which explores the issue of anti-Semitism within a comprehensive, interdisciplinary framework.

“Their assassination of a Jewish man is consistent with their political and military teachings — and this ideology is seeping into Western cultural and academic institutions,” he added.

Small, who said he was in the audience last night and found “the whole performance painful,” said he believes “this has to be a moment in which the Jewish community — which has been quiet for too long — wakes up and learns what is happening globally and locally. It is time to defeat the ideology of radical political Islam, founded by the Muslim Brotherhood 100 years ago and which gave birth to all of the other radical Islamic organizations.”

Eve Epstein, a former Juilliard student and one-time Met season ticket holder, said this is a lesson that must be learned by all, not only Jews.

“It’s a very sad day for America when anti-Semitic propaganda is given an ovation in America’s iconic cultural institution,” said Epstein after attending the Met performance. “It was something I never would have imagined had I not seen it and heard it with my own eyes.

“I think Jewish organizations need to band together now and have massive educational programs and teach-ins and develop a curriculum that is distributed in schools [dealing with anti-Semitism]. What we need to do is get out of this ‘don’t rock the boat’ ghetto mentality — where Jews behave the way Jews did when my father was in Buchenwald.”

Rabbi Eric Hoffman of Stamford, Conn., posted a comment on the Met’s website in which he wrote that although the opera “reflects the horror and criminality of the terrorists,” their equation of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism, and “arguments against Israel through accessible references, it does not provide the case for Israel.”

“The other side,” he wrote, “…is not a complement to the Palestinians’ case against the State of Israel. This flaw, unfortunately, gives the impression that Jews can be treated sympathetically only as powerless victims but not as claimants to their own independent country.”

In an interview, Rabbi Hoffman stressed that he has been a regular Met attendee for years and that he was distressed by all of the criticism heaped upon it after it selected this opera to produce.

“It was almost as if a member of my family were saying something anti-Semitic, so I wanted to check to see what was really happening.”

He said he was impressed by the staging of the opera and that his “skin crawled” at the end when the terrorists were let go and “walked off the stage and up the left aisle and out of the theater. It showed the horror of releasing these people into the general population without any punishment. They walked right passed where I was sitting and you felt the uncleanliness of these people.”

Epstein said the Met’s “brilliant staging turned a rather boring opera with tepid music into propaganda that was much more effective. … It was totally anti-Semitic, with Jewish characters portrayed as materialistic, greedy, self-involved, manipulative and exploitive of others. The Palestinians speak of ideals and causes, the Jews are concerned about whether they should wear a hat and their toilet functions.”

stewart@jewishweek.org

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