In 1985, four hijackers from the Palestinian Liberation Front boarded the Achille Lauro cruise ship with plans to murder Israeli soldiers when the ship reached it’s destination in Ashdod, Israel. When their plans went awry, they instead held everyone on board hostage and demanded the release of 50 Palestinians who were in Israeli jails. While the terrorists ultimately failed in their mission, they did murder one man while aboard the ship. Wheelchair bound, Jewish-American Leon Klinghoffer was on board with his wife celebrating their 36th wedding anniversary. The hijackers killed Klinghoffer and threw his body overboard on October 8, just three days after his wife’s birthday. Under the direction of President Ronald Reagan, the hijackers were later arrested by Italian authorities. Klinghoffer was survived by his wife and two daughters.
Now fast forward to 1991. The story of the murder of Klinghoffer has been made into an opera and is premiering at the Théatre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels, Belgium. It isn’t the first time art has depicted a tragic reality and it won’t be the last. However, in the case of The Death of Klinghoffer, the opera is immediately met with controversy. It isn’t the first time art has been met with controversy and it won’t be the last. But when is it okay to create controversy with art and when is it the case that the art is simply in bad taste?
This month, the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City has resurrected The Death of Klinghoffer with plans for it to run through mid-November. Once again, many are upset that the opera is being staged and protesters took to the streets the day of the premiere.
Their main complaint is the blatant anti-semitism that seems to encapsulate the opera’s version of the story. The composer, John Adams, and librettist, Alice Goodman, have been accused of having anti-Jewish sentiments in their previous works. In fact, Goodman renounced her Jewish heritage during the writing of The Death of Klinghoffer and joined the Anglican church. Within the opera, the hijackers sing about being “men of ideals” while they demonize the Jewish people. From The Jerusalem Post:
The Palestinians sing, “We are soldiers fighting a war. We are not criminals and we are not vandals but men of ideals.”
The principal terrorist says, “Wherever poor men are gathered, they can find Jews getting fat. …read more