US politicians join protesters at Met ‘Klinghoffer’ opening

Some 400 people gather outside barricades to chant against company; hecklers disrupt first act of opera

People, some in wheelchairs, gather at Lincoln Center as they protest "Death of Klinghoffer" Monday, Oct 20, 2014, in New York. (Photo credit: AP/Craig Ruttle)
People, some in wheelchairs, gather at Lincoln Center as they protest "Death of Klinghoffer" Monday, Oct 20, 2014, in New York. (Photo credit: AP/Craig Ruttle)

NEW YORK — Politicians including former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Reps. Carolyn Maloney and Peter King joined a crowd of demonstrators outside the Metropolitan Opera to protest an opera they say glorifies Palestinian terrorists.

Demonstrators, primarily associated with Jewish groups, rallied outside Lincoln Center with 100 wheelchairs, in honor of the slain handicapped Leon Klinghoffer, on whom “The Death of Klinghoffer”  is based.

About 400 people stood behind barricades Monday, chanting “Shame on the Met.”

Klinghoffer was hurled from the Achille Lauro cruise ship by PLO terrorists in 1985 after it was hijacked. The opera, which centers on the terrorists who perpetrated the murder, has been accused of glorifying terrorism and incorporating anti-Semitic tropes.

Journalists attending the show said the first act of the opera was disrupted Monday night.

Monday’s was the first of eight performances and the Met has vowed to go ahead with the production, calling it a legitimate piece of art, though the protests have had their effect.

The company earlier pulled the plug on planned HD and radio broadcasts, canceled a panel discussion out of safety concerns, and agreed to include a note in the program from Klinghoffer’s daughters denouncing the opera.

In anticipation of the rally, there was a “heavy police presence” at Monday night’s opening, the New York Post reported, citing police sources.

“It’s been a steady diet of e-mails, phone calls and letters for a couple of months now,” Met director Peter Gelb told the Sunday Times. “The people who don’t want this opera to be performed are not silly; they are very angry.”

The Jewish organizations hosted a press conference at 5 p.m. ahead of the protest. Rabbi Avi Weiss and other rabbinical leaders hosted a vigil outside Lincoln Center in memory of Klinghoffer ahead of the protest.

The rally was organized by some 50 Jewish and Catholic groups, including the Zionist Organization of America, One Israel Fund, One Family Fund, Simon Wiesenthal Center, and Catholic League. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani reportedly will be the keynote speaker at the event.

Leon Klinghoffer, 1916-1985 (screen capture: Youtube)
Leon Klinghoffer, 1916-1985 (screen capture: Youtube)

On Sunday, Klinghoffer’s two daughters released a statement condemning the opera, which will also be enclosed in the opera playbill.

The show recounting the murder of their father “rationalizes, romanticizes and legitimizes” the killing, Lisa and Ilsa Klinghoffer wrote.

“The terrorists, portrayed by four distinguished opera singers, will be given a back story, an ‘explanation’ for their brutal act of terror and violence,” they wrote. “We are strong supporters of the arts, and believe that theater and music can play a critical role in examining and understanding significant world events. The Death of Klinghoffer does no such thing. It presents false moral equivalencies without context, and offers no real insight into the historical reality and the senseless murder of an American Jew. It rationalizes, romanticizes and legitimizes the terrorist murder of our father.”

“Klinghoffer” has provoked controversy from the time of its premiere in 1991 in Brussels, Belgium. Some later productions were canceled and others were picketed, though the Met clearly hoped that after 23 years the furor had died down.

Last month, thousands of demonstrators gathered outside the Met on its Opening Night Gala chanting “Shame on the Met!” and “Say no to the show!” in protest of the Met’s decision to produce the opera.

JTA contributed to this report.

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