“Klinghoffer” depicts the 1985 hijacking of the cruise ship Achille Lauro by members of the Palestine Liberation Front and the killing of a disabled Jewish American passenger, Leon Klinghoffer. The Met, which is staging this 1991 opera for the first time, scrapped plans to simulcast the work to movie theaters around the world after some Jewish groups raised objections. Some of those groups plan to protest outside the Met Monday night to urge the company to cancel the production altogether, claiming that the work promotes terrorism.
Mr. Morris, who directed it at the English National Opera in London in 2012 without incident, told the cast that the charge that the opera condoned terrorism was “a profound misapprehension.”
“What this opera does is it dramatizes terrorism,” Mr. Morris said. “It does not condone it in any sense. And to say that it condones the murder that happens at its heart is the equivalent of saying that the opera or the play — ‘Othello’ or ‘Otello’— is an opera that tells people to kill their wives. Of course, it doesn’t. Of course, it doesn’t. Rather, that opera, and this opera, investigate and dramatize what might be happening around that horrendous criminal act.”It dramatizes terrorism--but, in an instance of moral blindness, it equates the victim of terrorism with his terrorist killers (who are seen as "victims," too, in this morally topsy-turvy worldview).
Here's how Jonathan S. Tobin unpacks it:
The problem with Klinghoffer is not, as some of its defenders have always claimed, that it humanizes the Palestinians. But by using the story of the hijacking of the Italian cruise ship, Achille Lauro as the setting for its attempt to juxtapose the Jews and the Palestinians, it creates a false moral equivalence thought ought to offend all decent persons, especially in the city where the 9/11 attacks occurred less than 13 years ago.
For those who don’t remember, the Achille Lauro incident was one of the most shocking acts of international terrorism. During a cruise from Alexandria, Egypt to Ashdod, Israel in 1985, the ship was taken over by terrorists from the Palestinian Liberation Front, a faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization led by Yasir Arafat. Eventually, the hijackers traded the ship and its passengers for promises of safe conduct from the Egyptian government. But before they left it, the Palestinians murdered one of the many American passengers; a wheelchair-bound elderly Jew named Leon Klinghoffer, and then threw his body into the sea.
To say that art should challenge its audiences to rethink their positions on issues or values is one thing. But to rationalize terrorism and the murder of a helpless old man simply because he was a Jew and spoke up against his tormentors does more than push the envelope of conventional tastes. It treats the indefensible as arguable. It portrays actions which are, in any civilized society, considered immoral and base and treats them as merely a question of one’s point of view. As such, “Klinghoffer” must be considered as not merely offensive but morally corrupt.To return to the Othello comparison: the reason it doesn't work is because no one is made to think that Desdemona--Othello's wife and victim--and Othello co-exist on the same moral (or immoral) plane.
Update: The words of the Chorus of Exile Palestinians show that the English director is speaking utter bollocks when he says the opera does not condone the Jew's murder. What the song does, in fact, is make you feel really sorry for Palestinians whose homes were stolen and then destroyed by those hard-hearted "Joooos." The clear implication being: who wouldn't want to seek retribution for such heinous crimes?
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