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October 7, 2015 Off

ADL Marks the 30th Anniversary of the Murder of Leon Klinghoffer

The Achille Lauro cruise ship hijacked by terrorists

The Achille Lauro cruise ship hijacked by terrorists

Tomor­row – Octo­ber 8, 2015 – marks the thir­ti­eth anniver­sary of the death of Leon Klinghoffer.

Leon Kling­hof­fer was mur­dered on Octo­ber 8, 1985 when ter­ror­ists asso­ci­ated with the Pales­tin­ian Lib­er­a­tion Front hijacked the cruise ship the Achille Lauro on which he was trav­el­ing in cel­e­bra­tion of his 36th wed­ding anniver­sary. Kling­hof­fer, who was wheel­chair bound, was shot in the head by ter­ror­ists, who then threw him overboard.

The ter­ror­ists who hijacked the Achille Lauro sin­gled out the Jew­ish pas­sen­gers on the ship. Thirty years later, ter­ror­ism remains inex­tri­ca­bly bound with anti-Semitism. ADL recently released a new report on the link between ter­ror­ism and anti-Semitism titled Anti-Semitism: A Pil­lar of Islamic Extrem­ist Ide­ol­ogy.

The mur­der of Leon Kling­hof­fer brought the deadly real­ity of ter­ror­ism home to Jews and Amer­i­cans. It was not only a tragedy, but also a wake-up call.

The attack was per­son­ally dev­as­tat­ing to the fam­ily of Leon Kling­hof­fer but, to their last­ing credit, his daugh­ters Lisa and Ilsa were deter­mined to ensure that their father did not die in vain. Within months of the attack, they joined with the ADL to found the Leon and Mar­i­lyn Kling­hof­fer Memo­r­ial Foun­da­tion of the Anti-Defamation League, which serves to edu­cate about ter­ror­ism and its vic­tims to this day.

ADL will be par­tic­i­pat­ing in a panel com­mem­o­rat­ing the anniver­sary of the Achille Lauro tragedy on Octo­ber 8 at 8:30 AM. The panel, Com­bat­ing Ter­ror­ism through Amer­i­can Law: On the Occa­sion of the 30th Anniver­sary of the Mur­der of Leon Kling­hof­fer, is pre­sented by the Cen­ter for Jew­ish His­tory and the Amer­i­can Jew­ish His­tor­i­cal Society.

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June 25, 2014 Off

Reactions to the Met’s Cancelation of ‘Death of Klinghoffer’ Simulcast

Fol­low­ing the announce­ment by Met­ro­pol­i­tan Opera Direc­tor Peter Gelb that the Met was can­cel­ing it simul­cast of the con­tro­ver­sial “Death of Kling­hof­fer” per­for­mance, due to con­cerns that the screen­ing could inflame the already ris­ing tide of global anti-Semitism or legit­imize ter­ror­ism, there have been strong reac­tions from all sides of the spectrum.

Many in the artis­tic com­mu­nity have long argued that the opera is purely a work of art and not a polit­i­cal state­ment, and num­ber of media out­lets and indi­vid­u­als have described the Met’s deci­sion as a capit­u­la­tion to pres­sure from out­side groups and indi­vid­u­als. They argue that the opera is not intended to glo­rify or even jus­tify the mur­der of Leon Kling­hof­fer, but rather offers an artis­tic per­spec­tive on the his­tory of the Israeli-Palestinian con­flict and the tragic events of the Achille Lauro.

Metropolitan_Opera_HouseFrom the NY Times edi­to­r­ial page:

“Art can be provoca­tive and con­tro­ver­sial. Many crit­ics of this opera have not actu­ally seen it, though they are cer­tainly free to express their con­cern or even out­rage. Their polit­i­cal and per­sonal views, how­ever, should not cause the Met to reverse its artis­tic judgment.”

Oppos­ing voices have argued that sim­ply can­cel­ing the simul­cast is insuf­fi­cient, and the Met should drop alto­gether the entire Fall per­for­mance of the “Death of Kling­hof­fer.” A num­ber of these indi­vid­u­als and groups claim that cer­tain scenes por­tray­ing the ter­ror­ists’ point of view are, at best, highly insen­si­tive to the Kling­hof­fer fam­ily, or, at worse, anti-Semitic. They argue that just as the Met would never per­form an opera show­cas­ing the “human­ity” of the 9/11 ter­ror­ists, they should not host one which attempts to human­ize terrorists.

From the NY Post:

“[Peter Gelb, the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Opera’s gen­eral man­ager] said, ‘John Adams has said that in com­pos­ing ‘The Death of Kling­hof­fer’ he tried to under­stand the hijack­ers and their moti­va­tions, and to look for human­ity in the ter­ror­ists . . .’ What human­ity can — or should — be found in the mur­der­ers of inno­cents? When do we get an opera paint­ing the 9/11 bombers as “men of ideals?”

In response to the wide­spread crit­i­cism of the Met’s deci­sion, Lisa and Ilsa Kling­hof­fer, daugh­ters of Leon Kling­hof­fer, wrote a let­ter to the New York Times defend­ing the Met. They argue that, while they strongly believe the opera triv­i­al­izes their father’s death and ratio­nal­izes ter­ror­ism, the Met did not capit­u­late to their request by can­cel­ing the simul­cast, nor do they sup­port the notion of cen­sor­ing an artis­tic event.

From their let­ter:

“The Met should be praised, not faulted, for tak­ing a step that will pre­vent this biased and flawed opera from appear­ing in 66 coun­tries, includ­ing in some regions where anti-Semitism is dis­turbingly on the rise. The Met did not “bow” to our wishes in can­cel­ing the global simul­cast sched­uled for this fall, but rather lis­tened to our con­cerns and acted appro­pri­ately. We are strongly opposed to cen­sor­ship and resent the impli­ca­tion that we would want to cen­sor an artis­tic event.”

Their let­ter con­cludes with a strong mes­sage about the dan­gers posed by ter­ror­ists to inno­cent civil­ians, and an impor­tant reminder to opera goers and oth­ers that “any effort to politi­cize that mes­sage is a dis­tor­tion of our father’s hor­rific death.”

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June 23, 2014 Off

Answers to the FAQs on “The Death of Klinghoffer” Opera

by Abra­ham H. Fox­man
National Direc­tor of the Anti-Defamation League

Since the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Opera’s announce­ment that it would can­cel plans for a global simul­cast of the con­tro­ver­sial John Adams opera, “The Death of Kling­hof­fer” in response to con­cerns that the opera’s broad­cast to 66 coun­tries around the world could pro­mote anti-Semitism and legit­imize ter­ror­ism, there have been impas­sioned argu­ments on both sides of the debate. Some music crit­ics and fans have mis­un­der­stood — or mis­char­ac­ter­ized — our con­cerns about the opera, while oth­ers have ques­tioned why so many in the Jew­ish com­mu­nity, par­tic­u­larly the daugh­ters of Leon Kling­hof­fer, con­tinue to object to per­for­mances of this flawed and biased work.

AP/Kathy Wil­lens

Here is my attempt to answer some of the most com­mon ques­tions, and to clear up some mis­con­cep­tions sur­round­ing the Anti-Defamation League’s advo­cacy on behalf of the Kling­hof­fer fam­ily in work­ing to con­vince the Met that, given the sub­ject mat­ter at hand, a simul­cast of this opera in more than 2,000 the­aters world­wide would be ill-advised at this time of ris­ing anti-Semitism around the world.

  • Who was Leon Kling­hof­fer, and what exactly hap­pened to him?

The ter­ror­ist mur­der of the 69-year-old, wheelchair-bound Amer­i­can Leon Kling­hof­fer in 1985 was a water­shed event for Amer­i­cans and Amer­i­can Jews who were then mostly unaf­fected by ter­ror­ism. Klinghoffer’s death was sense­less and hor­rific. Pales­tin­ian ter­ror­ists took over the Ital­ian cruise ship Achille Lauro on Octo­ber 7, 1985. The ter­ror­ists, affil­i­ated with the Pales­tin­ian Lib­er­a­tion Front, sep­a­rated the Amer­i­cans and the British cit­i­zens from the more than 400 peo­ple on board. Kling­hof­fer and his wife, Mar­i­lyn, were on the cruise with a group of 11 friends cel­e­brat­ing the couple’s wed­ding anniver­sary. The fol­low­ing day, on Octo­ber 8, the ter­ror­ists viciously shot Leon in the head and pushed him in his wheel­chair over­board into the Mediter­ranean Sea.

  • Why is the John Adams opera such a light­ning rod?

The opera jux­ta­poses the plight of the Pales­tin­ian peo­ple with the cold-blooded mur­der of an inno­cent dis­abled Amer­i­can Jew, and attempts to take this bru­tal act of ter­ror­ism and ratio­nal­ize, legit­imize and explain it. The opera has been a source of great dis­tress for the Kling­hof­fer fam­ily and par­tic­u­larly his daugh­ters, Lisa and Ilsa, who co-founded a memo­r­ial foun­da­tion at the Anti-Defamation League that works to com­bat the threat of ter­ror­ism. They strongly believe that the opera is a ter­ri­ble dis­tor­tion and triv­i­al­iza­tion of their father’s death.

  • Do you believe the opera is anti-Semitic?

No. While the opera is highly prob­lem­atic and has a strong anti-Israel bias, it is not anti-Semitic. A scene fea­tured in the opera’s 1991 pre­miere, in which some of the Jew­ish char­ac­ters exhib­ited stereo­typ­i­cal behav­ior, was removed by the com­poser and to our knowl­edge has not been fea­tured in any pro­duc­tion since that time.

  • Is it true that one of the char­ac­ters in the opera makes anti-Semitic remarks?

Yes. In Act 2, Scene 1, the char­ac­ter of “Rambo,” the ter­ror­ist who sub­se­quently shoots Leon Kling­hof­fer, sings an aria in which he taunts Leon with anti-Semitic invec­tive. We do not view this openly artic­u­lated ani­mus toward Jews as pro­mot­ing anti-Semitism; rather, it exposes Rambo’s and the hijack­ers’ entrenched and destruc­tive anti-Semitism. Other operas, films and plays fea­ture char­ac­ters whose anti-Semitism is part of their char­ac­ter and part of the plot’s devel­op­ment. In such cases, the char­ac­ter is anti-Semitic, but the opera, film or play is not.

  • If the opera is so offen­sive, why didn’t you ask the Met to can­cel the entire production?

We reached a com­pro­mise. In my dis­cus­sions with Peter Gelb, the Met’s gen­eral man­ager, I empha­sized that our great­est con­cern would be that the opera, in reach­ing such a large audi­ence through the Met’s high-definition simul­cast, would reach into coun­tries where anti-Israel atti­tudes are at an all-time high and anti-Semitism is resur­gent. Mr. Gelb under­stood this, but defended the work on its artis­tic and musi­cal merits.

While not every­one will be pleased with the out­come, I believe that this was the best solu­tion given the fact that the opera will now only be seen by patrons attend­ing the pro­duc­tion at Lin­coln Cen­ter in New York. More­over, the Met has vol­un­teered space in the Play­bill pro­gram for an essay by the Kling­hof­fer daugh­ters explain­ing their point of view. It should be noted that other recent pro­duc­tions, such as one staged ear­lier this year by Long Beach Opera in Cal­i­for­nia, have made sim­i­lar accom­mo­da­tions to the Kling­hof­fer family.

  • Isn’t this a form of censorship?

We don’t believe so. In Amer­ica, the First Amend­ment guar­an­tees the right to free­dom of expres­sion, and the com­poser John Adams cer­tainly has the free­dom to write any opera of his choos­ing. But the First Amend­ment also gives us the right to raise our voice, and to appeal to the con­science of those who mount pro­duc­tions of the opera or any work of art, to do so respect­fully and responsibly.

  • What con­di­tions glob­ally have made the air­ing of this opera in the­aters so fraught with risk? Isn’t anti-Semitism largely a thing of the past?

In the United States, it is true that anti-Semitism is at its low­est recorded lev­els in his­tory. But con­di­tions are much dif­fer­ent in other parts of the world. In Europe, a ter­ror­ist who said he wanted “to kill Jews” recently opened fire in the Jew­ish Museum, killing four peo­ple, and we have recently seen a rise in the num­ber of anti-Semitic attacks against Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ties. Our recent Global 100 sur­vey of anti-Semitic atti­tudes in 100 coun­tries around the world found that 24 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion of West­ern Europe har­bors anti-Semitic atti­tudes; the num­ber was even higher, in East­ern Europe, at 34 percent.

The con­tin­ued elec­tion suc­cess of far-right par­ties in the recent Euro­pean Union elec­tions has also height­ened con­cerns about the rise of xeno­pho­bic and anti-Semitic polit­i­cal par­ties. Play­ing into this dan­ger­ous envi­ron­ment, we feared that the opera could reaf­firm hate­ful views of Israel and of Jews, par­tic­u­larly among those who already are infected with anti-Semitism.

  • I heard you haven’t seen the opera. How can you com­ment on a pro­duc­tion you haven’t seen?

While I haven’t per­son­ally seen the opera, numer­ous experts on anti-Semitism and the Arab-Israeli con­flict on the ADL staff have, and our objec­tions are based on their analy­ses and a full read­ing of the libretto.

  • So why object to this opera, and not to per­for­mances of oth­ers in the canon, such as Richard Wager’s “Der Meis­tersinger,” which some say embraces com­mon anti-Semitic stereo­types once preva­lent in 19th Cen­tury Germany?

Wagner’s operas are unde­ni­able mas­ter­pieces. He was a flawed genius whose anti-Semitism came through in his volu­mi­nous writ­ings and may have been woven into the ide­o­log­i­cal frame­work of some of his operas. But Wagner’s opera are fic­tional and mod­ern per­for­mances are con­tex­tu­al­ized with com­men­tary, and his operas are no longer con­tro­ver­sial or con­tentious. “The Death of Kling­hof­fer,” how­ever, por­trays a real and prac­ti­cally cur­rent event that is, even by the composer’s own admis­sion, used in the opera to make a larger polit­i­cal point that many Jews find offen­sive. The fact that some have taken to twit­ter to make anti-Semitic and anti-Israel remarks in the wake of the Met’s announce­ment shows how this opera still has the poten­tial to bring out man­i­fes­ta­tions of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel attitudes.

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