Thursday, June 19, 2014

Opera and Anti-Semitism

With reluctance I take up the topic of the current controversy over the Met's cancellation of their simulcast of John Adams' opera The Death of Klinghoffer. Here is the Guardian story on it.
"I'm convinced that the opera is not anti-semitic," said Peter Gelb, general manager for the Met, "but I've also become convinced that there is genuine concern in the international Jewish community that the live transmission of The Death of Klinghoffer would be inappropriate at this time of rising anti-Semitism, particularly in Europe."
The composer John Adams made the following statement:
In his own statement, Adams argued that the Met's "regrettable" move promotes "the same kind of intolerance that the opera’s detractors claim to be preventing". "My opera accords great dignity to the memory of Leon and Marilyn Klinghoffer, and it roundly condemns his brutal murder," the composer wrote. "It acknowledges the dreams and the grievances of not only the Israeli but also the Palestinian people, and in no form condones or promotes violence, terrorism or anti-semitism."
The controversy over this opera did not start here of course and I have blogged about it previously here and here.

As I note at the first link, Richard Taruskin accused the composer of "moral blankness and opportunism". I think this is a fair criticism and one that Taruskin supports with considerable detail. There is a subtle kind of moral stratagem at work here that is frequently used in the mass media to give the illusion of fair and objective reporting. There are two opposing points of view: both are reported with no moral analysis. This was what was done for a long time in the Canadian media regarding the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Each side is presented as if they are equally morally valid. Yes, the Palestinians commit acts of terrorism in which innocent people are murdered, but the Israelis stole their land so this is how they fight back. Seems fair, doesn't it? But this kind of argument, like a straw man argument, depends on the ignorance of the reader. If you know nothing about the history of the Middle East, nothing about the history of Zionism, nothing about the 1948 war, the Six-Day war, the Yom Kippur war, then this might seem perfectly plausible. But the "moral blankness" that Taruskin references is precisely this: a blankness as regards the moral right of Jews to live and protect themselves. Adams' argument is that he "acknowledges the dreams and the grievances" of both sides equally. This is what is morally blank: the Jews want to live in peace with defensible borders and the Arabs want them all to die. To treat both sides equally is to be morally obtuse.

I said I take this up with reluctance because I have had the experience in the past of being attacked for stating what seem to me to be simple historic facts. I do not normally moderate comments, but the one time I did so, it was a comment on a post about this controversy. So be warned: if your comment departs significantly from the usual standards of civility that we observe on this blog, I will simply delete it.

I suppose that the piece to append to this post could be no other than this one. Here is the opening chorus:

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