Robert Cherry
Author: The State of the Black Family

BDS and Klinghoffer Opera: Liberal Focus on Incorrect Tactics, Not Incorrect Analysis

In the last year, there have been conflicts over academic support for BDS events and the staging of the Klinghoffer opera.  In both cases, many liberals supported the one-sided presentation of material that demonizes Israeli policies.  These liberals reject academic boycotts and terrorist acts but make clear that they support the criticisms of Israel being made.

At my own campus, Brooklyn College, the Administration and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the parent organization of the campus union, unequivocally supported the right of academic departments to co-sponsor one-sided BDS forums that demonize Israel.   When the American Studies Association passed a resolution supporting boycotts of Israeli academicians, AFT president, Randi Weingarten, made clear that her organization rejects academic boycotts.  She also could have pointed to ways she differed with BDS’s indictment of Israeli policies.   Instead, Weingarten voiced her complete agreed with the boycott proponents on their condemnation of Israeli policies when she wrote, “There is no doubt that the plight of the Palestinian people—for example, the seizure of their land for illegal settlements and the constraints on their economic, political and social development—must be addressed, and the Israeli government must do more to redress these injustices.”

More recently, there was controversy when Peter Gelb, the director at the NY Metropolitan Opera, reversed his decision on John Adams, “The Death of Klinghoffer.”  (Note that the title is “The Death …” not “The Killing …”)  Gelb had initially decided to simulcast the opera to 2,000 movie theaters worldwide but recanted noting that it “would be inappropriate at this time with rising anti-Semitism, particularly in Europe.”  A New York Times editorial called it a “step backward for both the Met and Peter Gelb.”    In defense of its position, the editorial stated, “The opera gives voice to all sides in this terrible murder, but does not offer resolutions. The audience hears from the Palestinians who killed an innocent man, but most powerfully from Klinghoffer, who indicts the gruesome cruelty of the terrorists and whose final aria is particularly moving.”

What the editorial ignored was that none of the claims made by the terrorists concerning Jews and Israeli policies is countered.  Brian Wise, a music critic for NPR’s WQXR praised the opera in 2012, noting: “No mere caricatures, the hijackers are heard reciting their ideals through soaring arias and reflective choruses.”   As Eve Epstein pointed out,

“Mr. Wise might be referencing the aria of the hijacker named Rambo, who informs the listener that ‘wherever poor men are gathered they can find Jews getting fat. You know how to cheat the simple, exploit the virgin, pollute where you have exploited, defame those you cheated, and break your own law with idolatry.’Rambo’s aria echoes the views of Der Stürmer, Julius Streicher’s Nazi newspaper, without a hint of irony or condemnation.”

In both cases, we find liberal organizations refusing to reject either BDS boycotters or Palestinian terrorists because their criticisms of Israel are exaggerated or false.   Instead, by their silence, these organizations give legitimacy to the demonizing efforts.  Jews have had a long history with organizations that agree with the slander made against them but rejected the violent solutions offered by the most regressive forces.  Although pre-World War II Poland has important differences from the contemporary threats Jews face, recall the 1936 Easter homily by Cardinal August Hlond, primate of the church in Poland.

“It is an actual fact that the Jews … constitute the vanguard of atheism, bolshevism and revolution … It is also true that the Jews are committing frauds, practicing usury and dealing in white slavery.  It is true that in the schools the Jewish youth is having an evil influence … on Catholic youth.”

A principled opponent of Nazism, Cardinal Hlond then made clear that while Catholics should boycott Jewish businesses, they should not engage in violent actions: “it is inadmissible to assault, hit or injure Jews. In a Jew you should also respect and love a human being and your neighbor.” Unfortunately, many Catholics only listened to his demonizing of Jewish behavior not Hlond’s advocacy for Christian ethics.  So, too, many of the listeners to BDS forums or the Klinghoffer opera will only absorb the unchallenged demonizing rhetoric presented and become less critical of the anti-Jewish actions promoted.

This is why I have been so critical of the New York Times reporter Jodi Ruderon.  Though she consistently writes columns on the plight of the Palestinians, she has yet to mention the remarkable improvement in the occupational and employment situation of the Arab citizens of Israel.  She has yet to report on the most recent government surveys that demonstrate how Israeli Arabs have a much more positive assessment of their economic situation than a few years ago.  And she has yet to report on Smooha’s recent survey results that a plurality of Arab citizens of Israel rejects being called Palestinians.  Until the New York Times confronts the exaggerated and false allegations made, their rejection of the extremist agenda is meaningless.


About the Author
Robert Cherry is a recently retired professor of economics at Brooklyn College. Author of Why the Jews? How Jewish Values Transformed Twentieth Century American Pop Culture (Rowman & Littlefield, 2021); and The State of the Black Family: The State of the Black Family: Sixty Years of Tragedies and Failures—and New Initiatives Offering Hope (Bombardier 2023).