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October 31, 2014

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HERITAGEFLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, OCTOBER 31, 2014 PAGE 5A lve up By Ami Eden NEW YORK (JTA)--"See it. You Decide," the Metro- politan Opera of New York exhorts in a promotional push capitalizing on the controversy over its new production of "The Death of Klinghoffer." Well, I saw it. And I'm not sure which was more of a letdown, the hubbub over the show or the show itself. Let's start with the critics and protesters, since they are responsible ultimately for turning the show into the most buzzed about cultural happening in New York (at least since the close of the Jeff Koons retrospective on Sunday at the Whitney Museum). By the time I settled into my seat on Monday night-- after months of cries of "anti-Semitism" and "glo- rification/humanization of terrorists" filling my email box--I was expecting Shylock meets "Natural Born Killers." Not even close. Whatever the original intentions of composer John Adams and librettist Alice Goodman when they created the opera about 25 years ago, the latest production casts the killers as not particularly likable, violent thugs and puts Leon Klinghoffer at the moral center. So much so that the show's effort to provide a measure of absolution for the terrorists near the end comes off as contrived and heavy handed, and is immediately trumped by the final mono- logue from Klinghoffer's wife, Marilyn. Back in June, the Anti- Defamation League, with the support of Klinghoffer's daughters, convinced the Met to drop its planned simulcast of the show on the grounds that it might feed anti-Jewish violence in other parts of the globe. But after actually seeing the production, this seems wrong-headed: Com- pared to the anti-Semitic fare widely available on the Internet and Arabic televi- sion, this show could pass as an anti-terrorism public service announcement. None of this is to discount the objections of Klinghof- fer's daughters to the use of their father's cold-blooded murder as a dramatic or po- litical device. Or the concerns that ADL officials and other people of good will have over anything that might fuel anti-Semitic violence at a time when Jewish commu- nities around the world are increasingly forced to look over their collective shoulder. It's just that in the end, this production's moral equiva- lence of Palestinian and Jewish suffering does not translate into sympathy for or understanding of the kill- ers. Yes, the show's title is offensive and morally obtuse (it was a murder, after all), but this production does not sugarcoat what happened on the deck of the Achille Lauro in 1985. In fact, it doesn't do much of anything--at least on the political level. (I'll leave the musical criticism to people who actually frequent the opera.) Maybe when "The Death of Klinghoffer" first hit the stage in 1991, it put forth some uncomfortable, rarely heard perspectives about root causes of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict. But in 2014, as an act of political subversion, the opera feels dated. These days, New Yorkers can walk just a few blocks from where the opera is being staged to Lincoln Plaza Cin- emas, where they can probably catch an Israeli-made film taking a much deeper look and asking much harder questions about Palestinian suffering and the impact of Israel's poli- cies in the territories. Even some mainstream Israeli poli- ticians have more challenging things to say than this show does about the conflict and a possible resolution. Forget "Merchant of Ven- ice." This show and the controversy surrounding it are much ado about nothing. O By Lisa and lisa Klinghoffer On Oct. 8,1985,our69-year- old, wheelchair-bound father, Leon Klinghoffer, was shot in the headby Palestinian hijack- ers on theAchille Lauro cruise ship. The terrorists brutally and unceremoniously threw his body and wheelchair over- board into the Mediterranean. His body washed up on the Syrian shore a few days later. Beginning on Oct. 20 for eight performances, a bari- tone portraying"Leon Kling- hoffer" appeared on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera and sang the "Aria of the Falling Body" as he artfully fell into the sea. Competing choruses highlighted Jewish and Pales- tinian narratives of suffering and oppression, selectively presenting the complexities of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The four terrorists respon- sible for his murder were humanized by distinguished opera singers and given a back- story, an "explanation" for their brutal act of terror and violence. Opera-goers saw and heard a musical examination of terrorism, the Holocaust and Palestinian claims of dispossession--all in fewer than three hours. Since the Met Opera's decision to stage "The Death of Klinghoffer" by composer John Adams became public several months ago, much has been said and written about our father. Those opposed to the Opera's appearance in New York have elevated his murder atthe hands of terrorists into a form of martyrdom. To cultural arbiters and music critics, meanwhile, his tragic story has been seen merely as a vehicle for what they perceive to be artistic brilliance. For us, the impact and message of the oPera is much more deeply felt and tragically personal. Neither Adams nor libret- tist Alice Goodman reached out to us when creating the opera, so we didn't know what to expect when we attended the American debut at the BrooklynAcademy of Music in 1991. We were devastated by what we saw: the exploitation of the murder of our father as a vehicle for political com- mentary. Over the years we have been deeply distressed with each new production of"Klinghof- fer." Critical views of Israel permeate the opera, and the staging and props of various productions have only ampli- fied that bias. To have it now produced in New York--in our own backyard--by the country's most prestigious opera company is incredibly painful. Wehave alwaysbeen strong supporters of the arts, and believe they can play an im- portant role in examining and understanding significant world events. "Klinghoffer" does no such thing. It pres- ents false moral equivalencies without context and offers no real insight into the histori- cal reality and the senseless murder of an American Jew. The opera rationalizes, ro- manticizes and legitimizes the terrorist murder of our father. Long ago we resolved never to let the last few minutes of Leon Klinghoffer's life define who h~ was as a man, husband and father. Opera patrons will only see Leon Klinghoffer presented as a victim. He was so much more. Our father was an inven- tor who loved to work with his hands. After his stroke, he continued to use his one good arm to repair anything that needed fixing. Every Saturday night he and our mother, Marilyn, would get dressed up and go Out daric- ing. Family and friends meant everything to him. He was on a cruise with our mother, celebrating their 36th anniversary with a group of lifelong friends who sum- mered together on the Jersey shore, when terrorists took over the ship, announced a hijacking in progress, and separated the Jewish pas- sengers from those on board. The terrorist thugs who murdered Leon Klinghoffer didn't care about the good, sweet man our father was. To them he was just a Jew--an American in a wheelchair whose life they considered worthless. As the years have passed, we have tried to ensure that his murder would not be forgotten or, worse, co-opted or exploited by those with an agenda. We believe his ordeal should continue to serve as a wake-up call to civilized society about the dangers of terrorism, We have dedicated our lives since the tragedy to educating people about the danger of terrorism, and put- ting apersonal face onvictims and their families through the Leon and Marilyn Klinghoffer Memorial Foundation of the Anti-Defamation League. Our father was one of the firstAmerican victims of Mid- die Eastern terrorism. Today with the memory of 9/11, the reality of al-Qaida and ISIS, and countless other attacks and threats, Americans live under the deadly threat of terrorism each and every day. Terrorism is irrational. It should never be explained away or justified. Nor should the death of innocent civil- ians be misunderstood as an acceptable means for drawing attention to perceived politi- cal grievances. Unfortunately, "The Death of Klinghoffer" does all of this and sullies the memory of our father in the process. Lisa and Ilsa Klinghoffer of New.York City are co- founders of the Leon and Marilyn Klinghoffer Memo- rial Foundation of the Anti- Defamation League, which they established with their late mother, Marilyn, in 1985, to raise awareness about the evils of terrorism. By Rafael Medoff Ex-presidents seldom take an interest in Jewish affairs, with two notable exceptions. One is Jimmy Carter, who has repeatedly clashed with the Jewish community. Another is Herbert Hoover, an unlikely ally of the Jews who passed away 50 years ago this week (Oct. 20, 1964). Most ex-presidents have gone quietly into the sunset, and some have taken issue with the few who.have chosen to speak outon currentaffairs. George W. Bush, for example, last week had some strong words in reaction to fellow ex-president Carter's public criticism of President Barack Obama's Mideast policies. "To have a former president blo- viating and second-guessing is, I don't think, good for the presidency or the country," Bush said. Much of Carter's post- presidential activity has re- volved around Israel. He has repeatedly taken controversial stands, such as comparing Israeli policies to apartheid, urging the U.S. to withhold aid from Israel to force it to change its positions, and praising Hamas as "a legiti- mate political actor." Douglas Brinkley's 1998 book, "The Unfinished Presi- dency: Jimmy Carter's Jour- ney Beyond the White House," furnished some embarrassing details about Carter's rela- tionship with the late Pales- tinian leader Yasser Arafat. According to Brinkley, Carter "developed a fondness for Ara- fat" based on his belief "that they were both ordained to be peacemakers by God." The former president went so far as to personally draft a speech forArafat that he hoped would "help him to overcome the deficit understanding" for him in the West. By contrast, Hoover, as ex-president, repeatedly took positions favorable to the Jew- ish community--even when it was not in his political interest to do so. In early 1933, Jewish leaders asked president-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt to join Hoover, the outgoing president, in a joint state- ment deploring the mis- treatment of Jews in Nazi Germany. Hoover agreed to do so; Roosevelt declined. Before leaving office, Hoover instructed the U.S. ambas- sador in Germany, Frederic Sackett, "to exert every in- fluence of our government" on the Hitler regime to halt the persecutions. But FDR soon replaced Sackett with William Dodd, and instructed Dodd that while he could "unofficially" take issue with Nazi Germany's anti- Semitism, he was not to issue any formal protests on the subject, since itwas "not a [U.S.] governmental affair." Hoover publicly endorsed the 1939 Wagner-Rogers bill to permit 20,000 German Jewish children to enter the U.S. outside the quota system. He also assisted the sponsors of the bill behind the scenes, by pressuring waver- ing members of the House Immigration Committee to support the measure. The endorsementofthe only living former president gave the bill a significant boost. He likely would have been able to accomplish more for Wagner-Rogers if not for some unfortunate partisan sniping. James G. McDonald, chairman of the President's Advisory Committee on Po- litical Refugees, believed the ex-president could rally im- portant support for the ef- fort. He suggested "that Mr. Herbert Hoover might assume leadership in raising funds and in administering the work of placing the children in suitable homes." But Roo- sevelt administration officials blocked the proposal. It is worth noting that Hoover's stance on the bill ran counter to his own political interests, since he hoped to win the GOP presi- dential nomination in 1940, and most Republicans (like most Democrats) opposed increased immigration. Moreover, since Roosevelt was enormously popular in the Jewish community (he won about 90 percent of the Jewish vote in the previous election), Hoover had little reason to think that support- ingWagner-Rogers was going to win Jewish votes. During the Holocaust years, Hoover associated himself with the activist Bergson Group, which lob- bied for U.S. action to rescue Jewish refugees. He served on 'the Sponsoring Committee of Bergson's protest pageant, "We Will Never Die." The for- mer presidentwas also honor- ary chairman of Bergson's July 1943 Emergency Conference to Save the Jewish People of Europe, and addressed the event via live radio hook-up. Additionally, Hoover played a significant role in the deci- sion to include a plank in the 1944 Republican Party platform urging the rescue of Europe's Jews and supporting Jewish statehood in the Brit- ish mandate of Palestine. It was the first time inAmerican history that either major po- litical party took such stands, and it forced the Democrats to adopt similar language at their convention later that year. As a result, support for Zionism and Israel became a permanent part of both parties' platforms and a cor- nerstone of American political culture--and has remained so, even when challenged in recent years by another ex- president. Dt