Our Three Boys and the Scandal at the Met

Along with other American Jews and Jews worldwide, over the last week the Jewish community of central New York has mobilized in support of Israel’s kidnapped teens. My community is small, only a few thousand strong, but we punch above our weight. We hold special prayer services, recite daily psalms, and participate in virtual vigils online. Yet even as we are fixated on our three boys and getting them safely released, we have also begun to organize around an issue closer to home: getting the Metropolitan Opera to reconsider its decision to perform “The Death of Klinghoffer”.

It’s a controversial libretto written by U.S. composer John Adams that dramatizes the 1985 murder of a 69 year old Jewish-American disabled tourist aboard the Achille Lauro, an Italian cruise ship hijacked by the Palestinian Liberation Front. Klinghoffer’s daughters have accused the opera of “romanticizing and perverting the terrorist murder of our father” by trying to elicit the audience’s sympathy for the perpetrators. Composer John Adams counters that he wrote the opera not to condone violence or terrorism, but to “acknowledge the dreams and grievances” of the Palestinian people and to “understand the hijackers and their motivations, and to look for humanity in the terrorists.”

What possible humanity can be found in shooting a disabled Jew and then dumping him into the sea with his wheelchair? The people who did this already lost their last shred of humanity. Nor does this cruel and senseless murder lend any insight whatsoever into the plight of the Palestinian people. Its dramatization merely rationalizes anti-Jewish violence.

And so we have joined opera lovers worldwide and the Anti-Defamation League to question the wisdom of featuring this problematic opera alongside Georges Bizet’s magnificent Carmen and Giuseppi Verdi’s Don Carlo and La Traviata. A day ago we were pleased to learn that the Met has nixed plans to simulcast the opera at 2,000 movie theaters in 66 countries (it’s the first time such an international broadcast has been cancelled since they began in 2006). At a time of rising global anti-Semitism (a recent ADL survey shows that over 1 billion of the planet’s adult population harbors a hatred of Jews), calling off the live HD broadcast is a no-brainer.

But now the Met’s managers must take the next step and cancel the opera’s opening on October 20 and its eight scheduled performances. No other country or contemporary conflict is featured in the Fall season line-up and the Met should know better than to single out Israel for condemnation. After all, this selective focus on Israel (whether deliberate, or as is more likely the case here, unintentional) is one of the defining features of anti-Semitism since it puts Jews, and not others, under scrutiny.

Think the abduction of three Jewish teenagers as they hitchhiked from their Gush Etzion yeshiva and an opera at the Met have nothing in common? Think again.

The four hijackers who kept the crew and 400 passengers captive for two days in October 1985 demanded the release of 50 Palestinian prisoners being held in Israel before they would let their hostages go free. Sound familiar? It should. Because today Hamas is no doubt also looking to swap Palestinian prisoners for our three boys. The release of Palestinian prisoners is so important to the public that Hamas, faced with a record low approval rating, is gambling that it can regain trust by negotiating to bring at least some of them back.

Hamas is using a tried and true trick of the trade. If we know anything about terrorism it’s that successful tactics tend to diffuse from one terrorist organization to the next. It used to be that airline hijacking was the preferred method of choice. Then came the suicide bombing bandwagon. Kidnapping has never gone out of fashion though. In 2012, The Guardian reported that at least 3,000 hostages were being held in different parts of the world, most likely a conservative estimate. In North Africa alone, Al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM) has earned $70 million since 2003 by kidnapping foreigners. European governments typically pay up to $7 million to free a single citizen from captivity.

To be sure, most of this hostage taking is for ransom, done by criminal gangs hoping to profit financially. But politically-motivated kidnapping (which involves holding innocent people as bargaining chips in order to achieve political goals, and to wear down and bully the enemy) is also in vogue, mostly because terrorists are realizing that it pays out big. Gilad Shalit was traded in 2011 for over 1000 incarcerated Palestinians, who were together responsible for the murder of nearly 600 Israeli civilians. And less than two weeks before Eyal, Naftali, and Gil-ad were kidnapped, Bowe Bergdahl, the US army sergeant who disappeared in 2009 from his base in Afghanistan, was exchanged for five hard-core senior Taliban operatives. It’s not a coincidence that our teens were abducted so soon after five high-risk terrorists were traded away in return for Bergdahl’s release.

Let me be clear: everything that can be done must be done to bring our three boys home. But we should do it by doubling down on the hostage takers and not by letting the terrorists extort us. A prisoner swap will only encourage more kidnappings to spring more murderers free. It should come as no surprise that of the recent arrests of 65 Palestinians in Operation Brother’s Keeper, 51 were Hamas members who had been released as part of the 2011 Shalit deal. At the time of Shalit’s joyous homecoming, many experts warned that a substantial number of the freed prisoners would be involved in future terrorist attacks. Today, critics are also right to find fault with the Bergdahl exchange—the released terrorists are now in Qatar where they will be closely monitored for a few months. Then what happens? Most of them will also go back into the field.

To the managers of the Met the Jewish community of central New York says this: Please come to your senses and remove the offensive “Death of Klinghoffer” from your repertoire. The world does not need a docu-opera of the brutal murder of an innocent Jew to remind it of the plight of the Palestinians. Most people on the planet, including the majority of its Jews, already know that the Palestinians have legitimate rights that ought to be addressed. Even Israelis now accept this. Recent polls show that two thirds of Jewish Israelis recognize the necessity of withdrawing from most of the West Bank, and nearly 70 percent view the Palestinians as a people deserving of a state.

And to the Palestinians we say: Please do the right thing and support President Mahmoud Abbas and his security forces, which are assisting Israel’s army to find the three Israeli teens. In light of recent setbacks and the collapse of the peace talks, it is understandable that you are angry. But this frustration can in no way justify the abduction of innocents. We stand in solidarity with Israelis, our fellow American Jews, and Jews worldwide in repudiating those of you who think that the innocent can be used as pawns, and we renounce those of you who now applaud and celebrate the harm that has befallen our Eyal, Naftali, and Gil-ad.

Today marks their first week in captivity. Please G-d it will be their last.

About the Author
Miriam F. Elman teaches and writes on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from her hometown in New York. She is a political scientist and security studies specialist at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University.
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