On Monday, a rally against the Metropolitan Opera’s decision to stage the controversial 1991 opera The Death of Klinghoffer this fall drew nearly 1,000 protestors, many of them Jewish. They argued that the opera, which depicts the 1985 hijacking of an Italian cruise ship by the Palestinian Liberation Front and the murder of Leon Klinghoffer, a wheelchair-bound Jewish passenger, is anti-Semitic and sympathetic toward terrorist acts.
The Met Opera’s production of The Death of Klinghoffer, scheduled to begin performances Oct. 20, has sparked a heated dialogue about thorny questions of art, representation, and trauma. Judea Pearl, the father of journalist Daniel Pearl, who was kidnapped and killed by terrorists in Pakistan in 2002, denounced the cultural institution’s decision to stage the opera in a moving letter to the editor published in the New York Times this week. (A version of the letter was read aloud at Monday’s protest.) The Met had, he argued, elevated an act of terror and brutality into something “worthy of artistic expression.”
“I submit that there has never been a crime in human history lacking grievance and motivation,” Pearl, a professor of computer science at UCLA and president of the Daniel Pearl Foundation, wrote. “The 9/11 lunatics had profound motivations, and the murderers of our son, Daniel Pearl, had very compelling “grievances.”
In the last few weeks we have seen with our own eyes that Hamas and the Islamic State have grievances, too. There is nothing more enticing to a would-be terrorist than the prospect of broadcasting his “grievances” in Lincoln Center, the icon of American culture.
Yet civilized society has learned to protect itself by codifying right from wrong, separating the holy from the profane, distinguishing that which deserves the sound of orchestras from that which commands our unconditional revulsion. The Met has trashed this distinction and thus betrayed its contract with society.
You can read the full letter here.
Stephanie Butnick is chief strategy officer of Tablet Magazine, co-founder of Tablet Studios, and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.