A few days before Rosh Hashanah my daughter and I and an estimated two thousand other demonstrators gathered in front of New York City’s Metropolitan Opera to protest the Met’s showcasing of the shamefully anti-Semitic “The Death of Klinghoffer.”
We joined in the chants of “Shame on Peter Gelb,” the Met’s Jewish general manager who has steadfastly refused to pull the opera from this season’s program, where it pollutes the likes of La Boheme andDie Zauberflote.
The opera has been denounced for romanticizing terrorists, condemned for its anti-Israel and anti-U.S. attitudes, and slammed for its anti-Jewish stereotyping. The name of the opera itself, with the neutral “death” rather than the more starkly accurate “murder,” conveys the impression that Leon Klinghoffer just happened to have had the bad luck to die on board the Achille Lauro as it was being hijacked. How unfortunate.
Pressure thus far on the Met and Peter Gelb has been met with silence. And despite a concession by Gelb last June when he cancelled the HD showings of the opera in theaters around the world due to Jewish concerns about growing anti-Semitism, he continues to insist the work is not anti-Semitic.
In the fury and flurry of publicity surrounding the Klinghoffer opera, another musical affront to Jews almost went unnoticed. The 2014 Lucerne Festival this summer featured the conductor Daniel Barenboim leading the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, which he founded in 1999 with his good friend the late Columbia University professor Edward Said. Against the backdrop of this summer’s violent conflict in Gaza, while torrents of rockets rained down on Israel, the orchestra chose to play, in what was dubbed a “potent statement,” the second act of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde.
That was hardly a surprise to those familiar with the leftist Barenboim, champion of the miserably failed Oslo Accords and the first conductor to brazenly play the works of the proto-Nazi Wagner in Jerusalem. (Barenboim’s championing of Wagner, whose 1850Jewishness in Music is regarded as a benchmark in the history of German anti-Semitism, is an affront not only to Israel, where an unofficial ban on Wagner continues unabated, but to Jews worldwide.)
Nor was surprising that Barenboim, talented as he is, chose to collaborate with the bitterly anti-Israel Said to create an ensemble bringing together young musicians from Israel, “Palestine,” and other Arab countries.
Jews like Gelb and Barenboim play make-believe in a world currently experiencing a horrific onslaught of Islamic terrorism, naively believing that their heads will never roll. Sadly, they don’t seem to grasp that beheaded journalist Steven Sotloff was not spared despite being a fluent Arabic speaker whose mother said he “cared deeply for the people of the region” and reported on the “suffering of Muslims at the hands of tyrants.” (Indeed, a friend of Sotloff’s commented that despite his Israeli citizenship, Sotloff “never struck me as someone who was a Zionist.”)
We will never know what epiphany Sotloff might have had during a captivity that prompted witnesses to recall his fast on Yom Kippur and his silent show of prayer facing Jerusalem. No matter the level of one’s religiosity before captivity, there is no such thing as an atheist in a Syrian foxhole.
Though supporters of Gelb and Barenboim claim all is fair in art and culture, all is not fair when “art and culture” endangers Jews and Americans outside the opera hall. Promoting terrorism through arias and librettos is merely a more genteel expression of self-loathing by Jews eager to distance themselves from Judaism and Zionism and stubbornly blind to the perils that expression creates.
To sane non-Jews, such reasoning is incomprehensible. In a conversation I had last week with former congressman Joe Walsh (R-IL), currently the blunt-talking radio host of the Joe Walsh Show (970 on the AM dial in the New York area between 5 and 7 p.m.), Walsh told me he is confounded by Peter Gelb’s stance.
“I don’t want to limit expression of free speech but…this guy is a Jew. If there’s one resounding theme I yell about on the air it’s that most American Jews are not pro-Israel.”
Walsh’s private conversation reflects the outrage he expresses on the air. “When you get liberal Jews, forget it,” he told me. “They are ambivalent at best or they literally abhor Israel. They feel guilty about Israel. They condemn Israel. So you produce an opera like this, and as a non-Jew, the expression I always think of is ‘self-hating Jews.’ Why are they propagating this message? They’re anti-Israel. They do not [follow] Judaism. They worship liberalism. To me that’s the cancer.”
If the inverse of the self-hating Jew is the Ohev Yisrael, the lover of Jews, then we are fortunate to have the Walshes of the world to counteract the Gelbs and the Barenboims. As the war on Islamic terrorism continues and the threat of anti-Semitism from the traditional sources of Wagnerian bigots persists, we Jews find ourselves in an increasingly precarious position that will take more than protests to remedy. It’s a malignancy that must be confronted without artistic or cultural prevarications and equivocations. And it’s certainly nothing to sing about.