Media comment: Klinghoffer

Attempts to rewrite history are ubiquitous, but here arguably the most important opera house in the world is participating in this anti-Semitic distortion.

Achille Lauro 248 88 (photo credit: Courtesy [file])
Achille Lauro 248 88
(photo credit: Courtesy [file])
On May 30, 2014, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting (CAMERA), informed us of a rather disturbing story – disturbing, that is, for anyone who worries about the resurrection of blatant anti-Semitism.
It was based on an open letter published on the JNS website written by Myron Kaplan, a CAMERA senior research analyst.
The Achille Lauro, a Greek cruise ship, was hijacked on October 7, 1985, by terrorists, members of the Palestine Liberation Front (PLF), affiliated with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Reem al-Nimer, widow of PLF leader Muhammed Zaidan, testified in 2013 that the hijacking was planned 11 months in advance. The goal was to hijack the ship, run it to Ashdod port and then kill Israelis.
Surprised by a crew member, the terrorists were forced to alter their plans. They then set out for Syria, demanding the release of 50 Arab terrorists held in Israeli prisons in exchange for the hostages held on the Achille Lauro. The Syrians did not allow them to take refuge in the Syrian harbor in Tartus. The hijackers then murdered an American citizen: wheelchair-bound Leon Klinghoffer.
He was shot twice and the ship’s crew were forced to throw the body and the wheelchair overboard.
The PLO’s Faruq Qadummi denied responsibility and claimed that Klinghoffer’s widow, Marilyn, killed her husband in order to collect life insurance payments. It took over 10 years until Muhammad Zaidan, who eventually died in 2003 in American custody, finally admitted responsibility and the PLO reached a financial settlement with the family.
But this is only the background to our “story.”
In 1991, the librettist Alice Goodman, together with musician John Adams, created an opera titled The Death of Klinghoffer. It was backed by theater director Peter Sellars and choreographer Mark Morris. One of its five commissioners was the Brooklyn Academy of Music. John Rockwell, in a special report to The New York Times on March 21, 1991, gave it a rather positive review, predicting that the opera might reach greatness.
Indeed, the opera has finally reached the world scene. The New York Metropolitan Opera decided to present it to the public, not only as an opera at the Met but also to simulcast it in high definition to over 2,000 locations in 66 countries, all over the world.
So, what is so disturbing? The title of the Opera already says it all – the “death” of Klinghoffer. He did not “die,” he was murdered in cold blood. Adams’ libretto portrays the terrorists in a positive light, as idealistic freedom fighters. The opera includes blatant anti-Semitic statements as detailed by the Zionist Organization of America on its website.
It is an inglorious attempt to rewrite history, portraying the “bad guys” as the “good guys.”
Myron Kaplan was appalled and beseeched the Met to at least change its decision to broadcast the production to the whole world. Kaplan’s appeal together with the pressure of various organizations, such as CAMERA and ZOA, succeeded. The Met agreed to cancel the worldwide production, but the opera itself will continue to be part of the Met’s 2014 fall season program and will be staged at least six times.
Is this story of interest to the Israeli public? We think that it is. It exemplifies many of the problems Israel faces.
Attempts to rewrite history are ubiquitous, but here arguably the most important opera house in the world is participating in this anti-Semitic distortion. Secondly, this is a prime example of the importance of NGOs. It is only through their efforts, and not through governmental intervention, that the Met backtracked. Thirdly, though, it highlights Israel’s weakness when it comes to defending the Jewish people and itself. Official Israel has been silent on the issue. Israel’s President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu have not taken an official position, nor requested the Met to completely cancel the “opera.”
Why? One reason has to do with “agenda setting.” A well-known standard for pushing an agenda in the media is to have it surface at least 100 times within a one-week period. The radio and TV advertising business is guided by this. For example, the post-Zionist media will repeatedly cite President Peres’ complimentary comments to the Palestinian Authority’s leader Mahmoud Abbas, supporting the agenda of those among us who believe that Israel should deal with a Hamas-dominated government.
Has our mass media dealt with this matter? The Klinghoffer opera affair was mentioned on May 19 in Haaretz, in its cultural section. In the English version, published on June 6, the paper outdid itself, headlining the cultural news item with “Opera set to be performed by the Met in November, but Klinghoffer daughters say ‘biased’ and ‘historically naive’; Rabbi says great art should be provocative.”
The rabbi in question is Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor, VP for philanthropy at the World Union for Progressive Judaism.
Isi Leibler mentioned the affair in two lines in an op-ed in the Israel Hayom newspaper. The Arts and Entertainment section of this paper had an item on the cancellation of the world broadcast on June 19.
That’s about it.
This attitude is typical of our news media. In January, NGO Monitor exposed the anti-Israel actions of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), an NGO which is funded ($9 million annually) by Britain, Norway, the European Union and other countries.
These funds were used to intervene in Israeli policy and strengthen the international campaign of demonization against Israel. The NRC’s strategy is to “use all possible legal means to disrupt the Israeli legal system...and to add to the load on the courts and the Supreme Court.” It has funded close to 700 cases, most of which deal with property rights in Judea and Samaria. The coverage of this issue, reported only on the Galei Israel radio station and the IBA’s Kol Israel radio, was next to nil. The governments involved were not called to task by anyone in official Israel.
At Israel’s Media Watch, we are bombarded by people in Europe with complaints about anti-Israel bias in their local media. Jewish organizations such as the excellent Swiss Audiatur website attempt to defend Israel. But it is difficult. Official Israel is loath to provide statistics in too many cases and our local media does not demand transparency on issues which might just dispel the Palestinian narrative.
The pro-Israel NGOs in the United States did a great job in the Klinghoffer case. Official Europe has no problem in funding political NGOs and the press does not find it outrageous to support the agenda of these government- funded organizations (here, Israeli governmental support blemishes the recipients, coloring them as propagandists). Razi Barkai of Galatz honored the tenth anniversary of the anti-Israel and arguably anti-Semitic and European Union-funded organization “Breaking the Silence” with an interview.
At the end of the day, though, perhaps we should thank the Met.
Its actions serve as another warning bell to all as to what we should be doing to defend our country and our people.
The authors are respectively vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (