New York: the Palestinian killers’ reasons on stage at the Met

Let us run to the box offices: some time from now, at the Rome Opera House, a play will be performed, where the tenor will be an ISIS’ beheader, singing and pouring on us all his good reasons. In Paris, the Ku Klux Klan’s point of view on Martin Luther King’s death will be presented, with David Duke as the baritone, staging his countermelody with a mezzo-soprano.

Then, in London, we will have a piece about John Kennedy’s murder after Lee Harvey Oswald, accompanied by a chorus. Meanwhile, yesterday, at the Metropolitan in New York, the prestigious Met directed by Peter Gelb, “The death of Klinghoffer” has been performed, an opera play that gives an account of what happened on the Achille Lauro through the Palestinian assassins’ point of view.

This name, here in Italy, calls to mind the horrific incident that ended up in the Sigonella case, when the cruise ship Achille Lauro was hijacked by a group of four Palestinian terrorists by command of Yasser Arafat. That was the time of PLO’s international terrorism: in 1970, four planes were hijacked; in 1972, eleven Israeli athletes were killed in Monaco; in 1974, twenty two children were murdered in Ma’alot; in 1982, the Synagogue in Rome was attacked, and the two-year-old child Stefano Taché was killed. In 1985, the Palestinians made the big shot hijacking the Achille Lauro.

For long hours, the hostages were forced to stand on the deck, and Leon Klinghoffer, a 69-year-old, wheelchair-bound man with a speech impediment, who was on a trip with his wife Marilyn for their anniversary, became the hijackers’ intended target because he was an American Jew. His wife had cancer, and she was forced to see the worst of all nightmares coming true before her eyes: the terrorists shot Klinghoffer and tossed his body overboard into the sea, along with its wheelchair. What can be more evident of this episode from a moral point of view?

Nevertheless, a popular composer as John Adams decided to write a play, which libretto explains the reasons of those who killed an elderly man on a wheelchair like a dog. The so-called chorus of the “exiled Palestinians” sings: “You Jews are always complaining of your suffering, but wherever poor men are gathered, they can only 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, but our faith will take the stones you broke and break your teeth”.
In order to understand the emphasis of the subject that the Met proposed yesterday, you have to listen to that music.

The main chorus is a sort of Götterdämmerung, something halfway between Wagner and a frenzied Bach’s fugue taken to the extreme. The author says he wants to juxtapose the reasons both of the Jews and of the terrorists. It would be the same, in this case at least, to try to compare the reasons of Bluebeard’s wives with the reasons of the serial killer himself.

Obviously, Peter Gelb, the Met’s sophisticated Director, defends his choice in the name of freedom of expression, something not so different from what happens in those exhibitions where excrements are put on display. By the way, there is a huge difference between allowing freedom of expression and actually producing a work like that, funding it with lots of money. Yesterday evening there has been a huge protest in front of the Met, led by the former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, with a procession of paralyzed people on their wheelchairs, and with Klinghoffer’s daughters. “This work – they said – rationalizes, romanticizes and legitimizes the terrorist murder of our father”.

Performing a play like this casts a shadow of insanity on the “wit and smart” myth of New York. Let us not forget that the then Italian Prime Minister, Bettino Craxi, under the aegis of national independence, de facto prevented the Americans, the injured party, from arresting those four terrorists. Craxi and Andreotti, who negotiated with Arafat, had a certain sympathy for the Palestinians.


On the other hand, it is also true that the truth about Klinghoffer’s death was still not completely clear at that time. But today it is, and still the great Met produced and put on stage such a play.


This article originally appeared in slightly different form in Italian in Il Giornale (October 21, 2014)


About the Author
Fiamma Nirenstein is a journalist, author, former Deputy President of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, and member of the Italian delegation at the Council of Europe.