J’accuse Peter Gelb

Met balcony

An open letter to the New York Metropolitan Opera general manager

Dear Mr. Gelb,

I am incredibly sad that The Metropolitan Opera has chosen to perform Alice Goodman and John Adams’ “The Death of Klinghoffer” and, worse, to simulcast it to 2,000 theaters in 66 countries where it can reach hundreds of thousands of people with its biased propaganda.

The opera justifies terrorism by its soft-focus potrayal of the Palestinian terrorists who hijacked the Achilles Lauro cruise ship in 1985 and murdered the elderly disabled Jewish man, Leon Klinghoffer. It distorts the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict and is marked by anti-Israel propaganda, misinformation, and anti-Semitic canards that are explicit in the libretto. As has been noted (http://www.camera.org/index.asp?x_context=3&x_outlet=126&x_article=2721), the very title, “Death of Klinghoffer”, avoids the word “murder” and sets the tone for the euphemisms and fake moral equivalences that are so characteristic of political propaganda apologists for terror.

Great art provokes and disturbs too, and can be similarly amoral. The difference is that a great masterpiece is characterized by the ability to project the audience in multiple directions in a manner that is not explicit or expected. Great art can transcend the stated goals of the creator. The libretto and plot line of this opera do not reach the standard of great art. The Death of Klinghoffer harnesses great artistic skill with the explicit political propaganda goal to bring the audience to a simplistic political view of the ongoing Arab war against Israel. It fits into the same category as Leni Riefenstahl’s “Triumph of the Will”; interesting for the historical record and artistically influential (being generous), but not worthy of the prominence of the world’s most important opera house.

I also want to distinguish crude propaganda from artistic interpretation. A couple of years ago, we sat through a performance of Aida at Glimmerglass that was clearly intended to be a commentary on the policies of George W. Bush, complete with an onstage portrayal of waterboarding. I was uncomfortable and it provoked me, but I certainly wouldn’t condemn it. I draw a distinction between being exposed to a particular interpretation, no matter how political or contrived, of an opera that is truly a great masterpiece, designed to transcend, and a work that from its conception is designed to lock the audience into a single political view. “The Death of Klinghoffer” relentlessly and explicitly hounds the audience towards the creator’s viewpoint of moral murkiness. This pseudo-sophistication provides a convenient vector for audiences to justify anti-Semitic biases.

This opera’s inflammatory bias is well-documented. At its 1991 performance in San Francisco, groups picketed; the Los Angeles Opera and the Glyndebourne Opera Festival cancelled scheduled performances despite the fact that they were among the co-commissioners of the work. After 9/11, performances were cancelled in Boston and elsewhere because of the opera’s sympathetic portrayal of terrorists. The daughters of Leon Klinghoffer have also expressed their outrage. Despite the guise of presenting different points of view, this opera spreads anti-Israel and anti-Semitic views. Opera is a synthesis of text, acting and music. If the text and storyline are false propaganda, it is difficult to understand how a Met performance is justified, no matter how exquisite the music may be.

I urge you to reconsider the decision to broadcast the opera worldwide. I also call on you to publish, in every program handed out at the Met and in the sheet given to each movie attendee, the statement issued by the daughters of Klinghoffer. This will help the audience to be aware that the “artistic masterpiece” is a straight-up serving of propaganda and will show respect to the feeling of the living victims:

“We are outraged at the exploitation of our parents and the coldblooded murder of our father as the centerpiece of a production that appears to us to be anti-Semitic. While we understand artistic license, when it so clearly favors one point of view it is biased. Moreover, the juxtaposition of the plight of the Palestinian people with the coldblooded murder of an innocent disabled American Jew is both historically naive and appalling.”

There are terrific modern operas out there, I might humbly suggest that Harrison Birtwistle’s opera “Gawain” is truly a masterpiece and worthy of the Met’s attention. Attracting excitement through “controversy” is a classic publicity move. There is a long Western intellectual tradition of romanticizing or excusing “political murder” To paraphrase Orwell, this is “an idea so morally stupid that only the greatest of intellectuals could believe it”. The ideas promoted in this opera are not original, this is not great art but fancy window-dressing of tired clichés no different to the näive college student who sports a T-shirt of Che Guevara. The juvenile crassness of this piece tarnishes the reputation of the Met.

I am a loyal long-time opera attendee and supporter of the Met. No more, my hitherto passionate support of this institution is shattered. By making the decision to stage this opera you broke faith with me and your public.

J’accuse Peter Gelb. You push the institution of the Met over the red line of racism. With high art, you pour fuel over the fire that enables age-old blood libels against Jews to be cast in modern form. It is shocking and depressing to contemplate.



Met outside


Right here, right now

Cornell Israeli flag

Dear Friends,

I wrote about “Academia and Israel” a few months ago and also about anti-Jewish boycotts in this post on the anniversary of Kristallnacht.

Now we are dealing with this right here in Ithaca on the Cornell campus. Legal Insurrection reported that Cornell Students for Justice in Palestine proposed a Divestment resolution to be voted on over Pesach, a time during which many Jewish students will be away. The resolution was announced at the last possible minute with no notice, an obvious tactic to neutralize possible opposition and debate on the issue.

Pro-Israel students have started a Facebook page (Invest in Peace) and a petition against the resolution.

Please sign this petition. Anybody can sign whether you are a member of the Cornell community or not. Help support students and counter anti-Semitism in the 21st century.

More information and discussion on what’s happening at Cornell at Legal InsurrectionCommentary magazine and the Tower.

For more general background, I highly recommend this wonderful article coauthored by noted historian Simon Schama and lawyer Anthony Julius “The call for a cultural boycott of Israel is banal, gestural and morally compromised“. Other excellent resources dealing with the BDS debate can be accessed here

Divest from hate

Local event: Israel and academic freedom

IC Hilllel

William Jacobson will be speaking at an event sponsored by Ithaca College Hillel next Tuesday February 25th. A recent commentary article in the Ithacan showcases how necessary these types of events are to help students understand the complex realities of Israelis and Palestinians.

This past weekend at Limmud NY I had the pleasure of hearing a talk from Ari Shavit, journalist and author of the New York Times bestseller My Promised Land. He is nearing the end of a book tour of the US and mentioned how his encounters on campuses had left him with a profound sense of the disconnect of the average secular American-Jewish student to the Jewish state and his/her understanding of the issues facing Israel. I have no idea why this is the case but I am a firm believer in the value of education to help young people understand the issues and empower the next generation to be strong leaders.

Standing up for Israel on campus event

Jacobson talk

Background of Speaker:

William A. Jacobson is a Clinical Professor of Law and Director of the Securities Law Clinic at Cornell Law School. He is a 1981 graduate of Hamilton College and a 1984 graduate of Harvard Law School. He also studied in the Soviet Union during the cold war, earning an Advanced Certificate in Russian Language.  At Harvard, he was Senior Editor of the Harvard International Law Journal and Director of Litigation for the Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project. Prior to joining the Cornell law faculty in 2007, Professor Jacobson had a civil litigation and arbitration practice in Providence, Rhode Island.

Suggested reading prior to event:

The Legal Case For Israel

American Studies Association Whistleblower Complaint

Propagandists with Ph.Ds: Month One of the anti-Israel academic boycott

For more information about this event and to RSVP for the dinner preceding the talk:

Website: www.chabadcornell.com/standupforisrael

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/771457159550001/

Context is everything. What I have really appreciated about Legal Insurrection is the clarity and concise logic as Professor Jacobson discusses this issue. It is very educational and I wish I had this information when I was an undergraduate in the UK in the late 1980’s.

The 1980’s was a period when anti-Israel activity on campus was unleashed and given quasi-legitimacy by the infamous UN resolution. Although this resolution was later rescinded, the cultural nemes it fueled have been tremendously poisonous factors in European society, witness the demonstrations in Paris this week. Academic and cultural elites have always had a global reach but, thanks to the work of people such as Professor Jacobson, the jury is out on whether US academia will be a victim of such a profound erosion of tolerance and justice.


Academics and Israel

As a student in the UK, I witnessed first-hand how negative memes about Israel gain rapid traction in campus settings.

The nature of these “academic” debates have generated a climate where a significant fraction of British society sees nothing untoward about the following image, taken from a rally held in the heart of London:

Trafalgar Square, London, 21st August 2011

Trafalgar Square, London, 21st August 2011

With the recent news of the ASA vote to boycott Israel it is concerning that a campuses in the US are embarking on a similar journey. Although the US is very different to the UK, it would seem prudent not to be complacent.

As a college town, Ithaca can expect to be ensnared in these debates (see this recent editorial in the The Ithacan for a classic example of misinformation).

What can you do? If you are an academic, you can join the effort to contact the academic institutions who are members or support the ASA so they can take an appropriate stand against academia being hijacked in this discriminatory manner. This response is being coordinated through the Legal Insurrection blog.

As community members and parents, we should be cogniscent of the fact that our college-bound children will increasingly be required to address issues arising from the activities of those who seek to delegitimize Israel.

Now is the time to pay attention to our children’s education and strengthen their connections with Israel. Let’s make sure that our children have the historical facts and understanding that will enable them to rebut anti-Israel propaganda and stay confident and secure in their minority identity.