“The Death of Klinghoffer” is a notorious opera based on the hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship by the Palestine Liberation Front in 1985 and the hijackers’ horrific murder of a wheelchair-bound Jewish-American passenger named Leon Klinghoffer.
Naturally, controversy has encircled this opera since it was first produced, with creators maintaining that they are trying to give equal voice to both Israelis and Palestinians. Since the day the opera was first seen in New York, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, in 1991, it has sparked outrage. Since then, most have rightfully condemned the production as appearing to be sympathetic to the hijackers while promoting and rationalizing anti-Semitism.
Earlier this year, the Metropolitan Opera cancelled an international television broadcast of this opera due to overwhelming public backlash; however, the creators stopped short at admitting their work was anti-Semitic but bowed to public pressure by reluctantly acknowledging that the opera would not be appropriate at that particular time due to rising anti-Semitism, particularly in Europe.
On the contrary, the dramatization of a horrific murder of a wheelchair-bound man would not be appropriate at any time – and yet the Metropolitan Opera is now scheduled to present “The Death of Klinghoffer” once again this October!
Today, I join the chorus of New Yorkers and people around the world who are infuriated that the opera is being staged once again in New York, amidst a new era of terror and against the wishes of Leon Klinghoffer’s daughters.
As you know, I have always been a very strong supporter of the arts. I believe that theater, art and music can play a critical role in our society, but “The Death of Klinghoffer” does nothing of the sort. “The Death of Klinghoffer” goes far beyond any issues or arguments of artistic freedom as it romanticizes and rationalizes the terrorist murder of an innocent man. Plain and simple, ghastly and horrible.
With so much turmoil and uncertainty in the Middle East, now is not the time for division. This is a time for us to come together as New Yorkers, as Americans and as human beings. So if an opera is prone to fanning anti-Semitism, then it should not be performed at all. Not now, not ever.
One thing is certain: “The Death of Klinghoffer” romanticizes the murder of an innocent, disabled man, and no matter how much time has passed, I remain outraged at the exploitation of this cold-blooded act.
A reenactment of a murder by terrorists is not entertainment and if terrorism, extremism and hatred are to be defeated, then universal public opinion must be united and turned defiantly against it in every form or disguise without any stipulation or equivocation.
City Councilmember Vincent Gentile represents Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Bath Beach and Bensonhurst in the City Council.