Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Why I protested Klinghoffer

Sar Shalom

klinghofferLike many supporters of Israel, I joined in the protests against the Met Opera's production of The Death of Klinghoffer, both at the Met's season opener and at the premier of Klinghoffer. Having participated in the protests, I would like to suggest what it is about Klinghoffer that merits protests and hopefully help sharpen the arguments against it. A frequent complaint against the opera is that it is propaganda and not art. I find this argument non-sensical in that art can also be propaganda. For instance, Lysistrata was a work of propaganda against the Peloponesian War, does that mean that it's not a work of art. The Figaro trilogy (the three works The Barber of Seville, The Marriage of Figaro, and The Guilty Mother) was a work of propaganda against the French aristocracy of the late-18th century, does that mean that the three plays and derived operas are not works of art. Klinghoffer is propaganda, but that is not what I see as a reason to protest.

Another common complaint about Klinghoffer is the judeophobic lines placed in the Palestinian characters' mouths, such as "Wherever you Jews go, you bring misery with you." This too is not automatically grounds for protest. The reality is that that is the way partisans of the Palestinian national movement speak. For the opera to say that they speak in such manner should not be confused for the opera saying that the way they speak is the way things are. As a comparison, the character Borat says many things that are equally vile about Jews. However, Borat is not a target for protests the way Klinghoffer because Borat clearly does not endorse its title-character's screeds.

So what is a reason to protest? For one, there's the portrayal of the Jewish chorus. While I did not have that on my mind as I went to the protest, that is only because I was unaware at the time of the opera's portrayal of the Jewish chorus. While having the Palestinians say that the Jews peddle misery is not the opera saying that the Jews peddle misery, having the Jewish chorus focus on the most vain things in life is the opera saying that the Jews only focus on the most vain things in life.

Further, while the Palestinian characters' expression of their judeophobia is not an issue, what the opera says about those character is an issue. The reality about the Palestinians' complaints that they are not terrorists, does any group see itself as a group of terrorists, and that the Jews bring the Palestinians' reaction upon themselves is that they are expressions of moral sophistry. Unfortunately, the public does not need works like Klinghoffer to be exposed to the Palestinians' moral sophistry. What is needed is for the public to be made aware of what is in the moral sophistry and to learn why it is moral sophistry. However, Klinghoffer passes off the Palestinians' moral sophistry as though it were genuine morality. Here the contrast with Borat is instructive. Borat's obsessive judeophobia is indelibly combined with beliefs in fanciful ideas, such as the notion that Jews can morph into insects, so that one can draw and association between judeophobic beliefs and disconnect from reality. However, the Very Serious defenders of Klinghoffer don't hesitate to point out how the Palestinian characters' complaints about the Jews show the need to look for the humanity even in such terrorists. In other words, those complaints are to be taken at face value.

With that said, what would it take for a work like Klinghoffer to earn my support rather than my opposition? This is an important question not to find reasons to justify works like Klinghoffer, but in order to highlight the principles that Klinghoffer violated and thus drawn our ire. A start would be to change the portrayal of the Jewish chorus. If the Palestinian are portrayed as having serious grievances, so should the Jews. Second, the terrorists' moral sophistry must be exposed as moral sophistry. When the terrorists claim not to be terrorists, the same aria should should describe actions that they claim are not terrorism, but which any audience member would recognize as terrorism if they do not believe that directing violence automatically makes it not terrorism. This could be augmented by having the terrorists engage in the Palestinian pastime of simultaneously questioning whether the Holocaust happened and lauding Hitler for having perpetrated it. A further enhancement would be for Klinghoffer's exchange with his assassins to evoke the cabaletta from "Rachel! Quand du Seigneur," with the terrorists shouting "Au bûcher le juif, le juif quils pèrissent." While this would not be necessary, for anyone who knows opera, it would demonstrate what really lies behind the Palestinians' motives.

A final message would be about the Metropolitan Opera in general. For opera fans, The Metropolitan Opera is one of the institutions that makes living in New York worthwhile. Gelb's poor judgement aside, The Met also participated in the revival of Jacques Fromenthal Halevy's La Juive. Just try not to throw out the baby with the bath water.

1 comment:

  1. Good point on babies and bathwater... he grudgingly admits to himself... I suppose.