(City Journal) -- In 1991, an opera debuted in Brussels, Belgium. The Death of Klinghoffer focused on an incident aboard the Italian tourist ship Achille Lauro in 1985, when a disabled Jewish passenger was slain by members of the Palestine Liberation Front. The terrorists hijacked the boat off the coast of Egypt, shot Leon Klinghoffer in his wheelchair, then dumped the body overboard. All this was portrayed in melodramatic arias and choruses, with much emphasis given to the Palestinian party line.
Response to the opera was immediate and sulfuric. Scores of protests poured in. But none had the moral force of a statement made by Lisa and Ilsa Klinghoffer, daughters of the deceased: “We are outraged at the exploitation of our parents and the coldblooded murder of our father as the centerpiece of a production that appears to us to be anti-Semitic.” In response, composer John Adams, and librettist Alice Goodman insisted that they were only trying to give “equal voice” to Israel and the PLO.
But their title gave the show away. It was not The Murder of Klinghoffer, or The Assassination of Klinghoffer, or The Execution of Klinghoffer. It was The Death of Klinghoffer, as if the 67-year-old had suffered cardiac arrest or succumbed to an asthma attack while on the sea. Staging of the opera in other nations, including the U.S., provoked similar outrage. Following the radical Islamic attacks of September 11, 2001, the Boston Symphony Orchestra cancelled a scheduled performance. In 2009, a scaled-down version went on at the Juilliard School of Music, but was condemned in Juilliard’s own periodical as “a political statement made by the composer to justify an act of terrorism by four Palestinians.” The school’s president disagreed. Juilliard and other institutions “have to be responsible for maintaining an environment in which challenging, as well as comforting, works of art are presented to the public.”
Advertisement - story continues below