Arriving at my daughter’s home after attending the protest rally across the street from Lincoln Center, and announcing where I had been, my daughter, who was ten years old in 1985 when the Achille Lauro was hijacked but has spent quite a bit of time in Israel since then asked me, “who was Leon Klinghoffer?” I realized at that point that the author of that opera, a convert from Judaism named Alice Goodman may have, unintentionally, done us a service.
The New York Times article about the impending protest skewed the issue as The Jews vs. The Constitution, and many Times readers from around the world, who submitted online comments, took the Jewish community to task for attempting to interfere with free expression where Israel is concerned. However, all of those who spoke publicly at the protest disproved that canard when they agreed that the Met has the right to stage even the vilest of material. And to the extent that “The Death of Klinghoffer” gives vent to and even romanticizes terrorism, it is certainly that.
The important issue, it seems clear to me, is not what the Times has trumped up here. It is not Jews wanting to suspend the First Amendment. The problem, which media outlets such as the Times as much as anybody have helped to foster all along, is lack of memory. Consider the effect on current world opinion of the shocking lack of memory of terrorist events such as the Achille Lauro, which were created by the same minds that produced the original “Death of Klinghoffer”: the massacre of schoolchildren in Maalot, and bombings at the Park Hotel, Sbarro’s Pizza, the Moment Café, to name but a few. Today is the 20th anniversary of the suicide attack on Tel Aviv Bus No. 5 outside Dizengoff Center, in which 29 people were murdered. Does anyone so quick to criticize current Israeli policy even remember that?
So thank you, Alice Goodman, and please, before more people forget this summer’s kidnappings and the rockets and the tunnels, hurry and get to work on your next masterpiece. For this I propose the Munich Olympic massacre set to music. Because it is the failure to attribute such atrocities to the perpetrators of current events which has greatly contributed to the creeping acceptance of Palestinian propaganda and to the current wave of anti-Semitism in Europe and elsewhere.
In my view, the opera is indeed a worthy effort, but only so that we never forget the “Death –no, Murder- of Klinghoffer.”