We need to discuss terrorism
A forthright editorial in the Boston Globe condemning the Met’s decision is followed by Noreena Hertz’s article about the supposed rising tide of antisemitism throughout the whole of Europe. There are then letters to the Guardian disagreeing with this opinion.
A scene from the 2012 English National Opera’s production of the Death of Klinghoffer. There is little action on stage; the work is dominated by long soliloquies by various key actors including Palestinian Rambo, the Captain, the Klinghoffers plus commentary by the chorus. No-one in their right mind can think that listening to and watching it constitutes an endorsement or glorification of or incitement to terrorism or antisemitism.
Boston Globe editorial
June 22, 2014
THE METROPOLITAN Opera’s announcement last week that it was cancelling the worldwide live broadcast of its production of John Adams’s “The Death of Klinghoffer” next fall due to the work’s sensitive political content sent a shockwave through the theater and classical music communities and beyond. The wrong-headedness of the Met’s decision sets a bad precedent for arts organizations and violates the vital notion that difficult ideas can be confronted and discussed through the arts.
Adams’s opera (with a libretto by Alice Goodman) concerns the 1985 hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro by Palestinian terrorists and their murder of a Jewish-American passenger, Leon Klinghoffer. In that incident, the wheelchair-bound Klinghoffer was shot and pushed overboard. The 1991 opera has been criticized by some for being insufficiently sympathetic to the Klinghoffer family and too sympathetic to the terrorists. Adams has denied any such intent, and supporters of the work have praised it for its humane presentation of all points of view. Despite complaints from the Klinghoffer family, the piece has been performed multiple times at a variety of international venues without any adverse incidents.
The Met’s decision to cancel both the live, high-definition theater transmission and the radio broadcast was made after the company’s general manager, Peter Gelb, was approached by Abe Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League. In a press release, the Met said that it had made the decision in response to “genuine concern in the international Jewish community” that the broadcast would be “inappropriate in this time of rising anti-Semitism, particularly in Europe.”
Both Gelb and Foxman have stated that they do not consider the work anti-Semitic (Foxman says he has not seen it). So the fear is only that this complex contemporary opera may somehow fuel the flames of anti-Semitism. Just how that would happen is unclear. Are the goons who dominate far-right parties in European countries really going to tune into opera broadcasts for their inspiration? The only other justification for cancelling the broadcast of the production (which will still be performed on stage at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, as planned) is that some audience members might take offense. If that’s the case, why produce opera at all?
Below,scene from the 2011 Opera Theatre of Saint Louis’s production of “The Death of Klinghoffer.” The Classial Review of this production said:
The strength of James Robinson’s simple yet probing production is that it reveals Klinghoffer to be no work of advocacy. After all, if the opera did have a subtext promoting the cause of the Palestinians, it would be absurd to make so thoroughly repugnant an act by them the focal point of the action. Adams and Goodman did, of course, choose an incendiary subject, but the opera does not offer solutions. Rather, in laying out the situation as best it can, its only commentary is one of deep-seated pessimism. Klinghoffer, in which choruses are so important, stakes a claim for evenhandedness at the outset by opening with successive choruses of refugees—first Palestinians, then Israelis. Photo: Ken Howard.
The rising tide of hostility towards Jews across Europe must be stopped. We can all help in the fightback
By Noreena Hertz, Comment is Free, Guardian
June 20/ 21, 2014
The New York Met this week cancelled its planned global telecast of John Adams’s The Death of Klinghoffer, the opera that portrays the hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship by the Palestinian Liberation Front in 1985. While emphasising that the work itself is not antisemitic, the Met’s general manager, Peter Gelb, said that he recognised concerns among Jews “at this time of rising antisemitism, particularly in Europe”. Regardless of one’s view of either the opera or the Met’s decision, Gelb is unfortunately spot on about Europe.
A survey of global attitudes towards Jews conducted by the Anti-Defamation League recently found that 24% of people in western Europe (37% in France, 29% in Spain, 27% in Germany, 69% in Greece) and 34% in eastern Europe (41% in Hungary, 45% in Poland, 38% in Ukraine) harboured antisemitic views. By this it meant they agreed with six or more classical stereotypes about Jews from a list of 11 including “Jews have too much control over the US government”, “Jews are responsible for most of the world’s wars”, and “People hate Jews because of the way Jews behave”.
Such beliefs are translating to support at the ballot box. At last month’s European elections, three countries – Greece, Hungary and Germany – elected neo-Nazi MEPs. Germany’s NPD openly describes itself as national socialist. Antisemitism is also leading to violence against Jews. Four people were murdered at the Jewish Museum in Brussels just days before the European elections. Facing trial is Mehdi Nemmouche, a French Muslim radicalised in Syria with an expressly antisemitic agenda. In 2012, a rabbi and three children were murdered at a Jewish school in Toulouse by Mohammad Merah, another radicalised Muslim with similarly antisemitic views. There were 170 antisemitic acts reported to the Paris-based Jewish Community Protection Service and the French Ministry of the Interior in the first three months of 2014. Jews in Kiev, Bucharest and Stockholm have been attacked, the Jewish cemetery in Andrychów desecrated and the president of Rome’s Jewish community was sent the head of a pig in a box.
When antisemitic attitudes are so widespread across Europe, these tragic and terrifying incidents are the real and disturbing consequences. No wonder Jews all over Europe are feeling increasingly worried. Over half of French Jews now think that “Jews have no future in France”. As many as 75% of French Jews say they are considering emigrating. Many already have. One of my closest friends recently moved from France to Canada, because he felt “the situation there is no longer safe for my [Jewish] children”.
We cannot as a continent allow ourselves once again to be passive witnesses. We need to acknowledge the scale of the problem, understand the forces driving it, and seek to do something to stop it in its tracks: zero tolerance.
Undoubtedly the economic downturn has inflamed matters. In a 2009 European survey, 31% of respondents said that they believed Jews were responsible for the financial crisis. “Jews have too much power in international financial markets” is of course another “classical” antisemitic trope and the link between economic crisis and the rise of antisemitism is all too familiar on this continent. But there is more here at play. Jews in Europe now face a three-pronged attack.
First, from the far right, for whom antisemitism is a long-established part of their manifesto. Second, from the liberal left, whose often knee-jerk anti-Zionism serves to fan the flames of antisemitism, all too frequently expressing its hostility to Israel in language and imagery traditionally deployed to attack Jews.
Jews around the world, even those who disapprove of some of the Israeli government’s policies towards Palestinians, find it hard to understand why Israel, a democracy in which women and gay people are treated equally, is singled out for academic boycotts, divestments and sanctions by many such supposed liberals – rather than Saudi Arabia or Qatar, say, countries where homosexuality is punished by death and rape victims risk being charged with adultery.
And finally but no less disturbingly, Jews face attack from an increasingly violent cadre of Islamist extremists. With radicalisation appearing to be on the increase, this is a problem that looks likely to grow in Europe in the next few years.
These three constituencies are not always separate. You’ll see the troika in the audiences of French comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, whose “jokes” include the belittling the Holocaust and references to gas ovens. At a typical anti-Israel demonstration there will be members of the far right and the political left as well as Islamist extremists. The new antisemitism is rainbow coloured, and its heterogeneity makes it an especially fearsome foe. Europe’s governments need to act unreservedly and without delay. A pan-European plan to deal with antisemitism online, as part of a broader package to deal with online racism, is urgently needed. I for one won’t be reading the social media posts that are likely to follow this article. I am talking about legislation with teeth.
European security services, stretched as they are, need to have sufficient focus on the threats facing their Jewish citizens and deploy sufficient budgets to address them.
Interfaith education in schools, prisons and wider communities needs investment if there is to be generational change. Credible measures also need to be put in place to prevent the continued funding of extremist imams by Saudi Arabia.
But fighting antisemitism cannot just be a top-down initiative. Each of us has to take responsibility for this project. This means being mindful about language and the imagery we accept. It means standing up to the use of the word “Yid” at football stadiums or the person at the dinner party who says: “Well, they are tight, aren’t they?” and sniggers. It means being careful to keep criticism against Israel fair and legitimate – evidence based, politically balanced and absent of racial overtones – so that it doesn’t demonise Jews. It means understanding our own latent biases, so that we can consciously address them.
The Death of Klinghoffer neither condemns nor condones the execution of the American Jew Leon Klinghoffer by Palestinian terrorists. In the world of opera this may be acceptable. This may be the prerogative of art. In the real world not taking a stand against antisemitism is categorically not an option.
Letters, The Guardian
June 24, 2014
Antisemitism is an age-old phenomenon long preceding the emergence of Israel – with the role of churches playing a part – and Noreena Hertz is right to talk of individual responsibility in combatting it. But it is odd that she is silent on Israel’s own responsibility in fomenting antisemitism and that she castigates leftists for “kneejerk anti-Zionism”.
Israeli policies have often fanned the flames of antisemitism with their obdurate denial of justice to the Palestinians and, indeed, a large part of the radicalisation of Muslims and “the increasingly violent cadres of Islamic extremists”, which she describes as one of the three prongs of antisemitism, can be attributed to Israeli government policies. It is the kneejerk responses of Israel towards the Palestinians that bear a heavy responsibility for antisemitism today. The Israeli journalist Ari Shavit has recently spoken of Israel sitting on a volcano; it behoves individual Jews, wherever they happen to be, to use their influence to change Israel’s policies.
• It is ironic that Noreena Hertz, in her article about antisemitism, argues that criticism of Israel should be “absent of racial overtones”. It is Israel itself that demands that the Palestinians recognise it as the Jewish state. Why then should one criticise the actions of the Jewish state without using the word “Jewish”? As for calling for criticism of Israel to be “evidence-based”, it’s perhaps unfortunate that her piece appears after a week in which Israel broke every rule of civilised nationhood by retaliating for the kidnapping of three Israeli youths by arresting hundreds of Palestinians against whom there was no evidence, and rearresting former prisoners who had been released under a binding agreement for the release of Gilad Shalit.
Author, Palestine: A Personal History
• Noreena Hertz’s assertion that John Adams’s opera The Death of Klinghoffer “neither condemns nor condones” the killing of the American on board the Achille Lauro is on a par with suggesting that Tosca is ambivalent about the use of torture. Klinghoffer is controversial in the west because it does not use “terrorism” to blank out the tragic and complicated history of which it is the outcome. Hertz is also wrong to imply that, by insisting that we extend our sympathy to both Palestinians and Israeli Jews, Adams used the “prerogative” of the artist to sidestep the issue of antisemitism. The upsurge of xenophobia in Europe is deeply worrying, but cancelling the broadcast of Klinghoffer is to reduce access to a profound work that challenges racism of all kinds.
Dr Martin Kemp
Psychotherapist, UK-Palestine Mental Health Network
• Noreena Hertz declares: “The Death of Klinghoffer neither condemns nor condones the execution of the American Jew Leon Klinghoffer” – an opinion founded presumably upon having seen, or at least heard, the opera. If so, might she not extend the same privilege of making one’s own mind up to those of us deprived of the streaming of the New York Met’s production by the latter’s lamentable and bizarre capitulation to lobbying and censorship?
Notes and links
Antisemitism in Europe: find the facts you want, responses to the FRA’s report on antisemitism i Europe. It found that although there was fear in some countries of increasing antisemitism, there was no significant increase in the reporting of antisemitic incidents. November 2013.
Main form of antisemitism in EU – the internet, mixed bag of pieces on hate crime in Europe, including the FRA report and its finding that most antisemitism seen by, and causing fear in, European Jews was on the internet. June 2014.
Test your antisemitism; no facts needed critiques of the ADL survey, including the actual questions asked and the actual answers received – which bear litle interpretation to the spin put on them by the ADL or Noreena Hertz.May 2014.
Need to ‘prove’ global antisemitism meets contempt, the ADL’s global survey on antisemitism – and why most of us would have failed the test.