As a left-wing, liberal Jew, there is one subject I rarely discuss in private, let alone publicly, let alone in a blog. The Israel/Palestine situation is heart-breaking, anger-making, painful and divides Jews all over the world. Violence cannot and never will be the answer. The hatred on both sides fills me with despair. Of course, fear of the other, intransigence in opinion and belief in the rightness of the cause is not confined to Israel/Palestine, but because of who I am, because the bus journey from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is one of the most beautiful in the world and because people I love live in that tiny country, it feels personal. Of course it does – I’ve never hidden either my Jewishness or my political beliefs, but part of my history – my personal history – lives there.
Today, the Metropolitan Opera said this:
“After an outpouring of concern that its plans to transmit John Adams’s opera The Death of Klinghoffer might be used to fan global antisemitism, the Metropolitan Opera announced the decision today to cancel its Live in HD transmission, scheduled for November 15, 2014.”
Peter Gelb, the Met’s General Manager, says the following:
“I’m convinced that the opera is not antisemitic. But I’ve also become convinced that there is genuine concern in the international Jewish community that the live transmission of The Death of Klinghoffer would be inappropriate at this time of rising antisemitism, particularly in Europe.”
For those who don’t know, The Death of Klinghoffer deals with the hijacking of the cruise ship Achille Lauro in 1985 by the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Front) and subsequent murder of wheelchair-bound Jewish passenger, Leon Klinghoffer. The opera is devastating on many levels; difficult and challenging as the greatest art is and should be. Since its first performance, Adams has been vilified by both sides, being accused of being both antisemitic and anti-Palestinian. Or rather, pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli. In my opinion it is neither. It is raw, it is grief and despair. It doesn’t romanticize terrorism in the slightest – I often wonder how many of those baying for its closure/banning have even seen or heard it?
I had the privilege of recording the soundtrack for Penny Woolcock’s superb Channel 4 film of Klinghoffer – I was singing with the London Symphony Chorus at the time. John Adams conducted his own work and we recorded just days after 9/11. No-one who was there will ever forget how it felt to record Adam’s beautiful, heartbreaking score at that time.
Mr Gelb says he is convinced that the opera is not anti-semitic. However, he is also convinced that to transmit the performance would be inappropriate. I’m not sure how that works. How can you be convinced of those two things at once? And the bigger question – if you are staging it at all (which of course you should) why should the rest of the world be denied the opportunity of making their own minds up?
I am not denying for one second that there is rising anti-semitism across the world – similarly who can deny that there is anti-Muslim feeling across the world? But how can censorship of great art be the answer?