On the first crisp night of fall, about a thousand people — many of them in wheelchairs — gathered outside the Metropolitan Opera to protest the opening night of John Adams’s opera “The Death of Klinghoffer.”
Both sides of Broadway between 63rd and 68th street were closely secured by NYPD officers and some of their trained canines, and barred off with barricades meant to confine the protesters. In front of the opera house, 100 people, mainly senior citizens, sat in wheelchairs to protest the murder of Leon Klinghoffer, the wheelchair bound American Jew who was murdered by terrorists aboard the cruise ship Achille Lauro in 1985, and the subject of the opera. On the east side of the street, protesters gathered to hear keynote speakers former New York City mayor, Rudy Giuliani and Congressman Peter King protest the Met’s decision to produce the show.
Sarah Meller, 82, sat in a wheelchair from 4 pm until 7:30, when the opera began. “I am upset about the glorification of terrorists,” she said. “They’re glorifying terrorists who killed Leon Klinghoffer for no reason other than because he was Jewish.” Meller had traveled to New York from Philadelphia with her synagogue Shaare Shamayim. “I understand that they have the right to do what they want, but I believe that this was an injustice, and how they’re portraying this isn’t right,” she said.
Speaking just after 5 pm when the protest began, keynote speaker Giuliani riled up the crowd, explaining his version of the Klinghoffer story. “This murder was organized,” he said. “This murder was planned.” Giuliani, who in 1995, famously kicked Yasser Arafat out of a concert at Lincoln Center, expressed dismay that the Achille Lauro incident got Arafat “a place at the international bargaining table.”
“People have a right to see it if they want to,” Giuliani said of the opera. “All of us have just as strong a first amendment right to protest.”
“Tell ‘em Rudy!” some members of the crowd chanted.
King, a Long Island Republican, took the podium on the back of a U-Haul truck set up on 63rd and Broadway, and said the opera was dishonest: “If this opera were honest, it would be called ‘The Murder of Klinghoffer,’” he said.
Although the protesters seemed united about the fact that they found the opera offensive, they were nevertheless split about what exactly they found offensive.
Josh Dublin and Benji Kattan, two high school students at Rambam Mesivta in Long Island who also attended last month’s protest with their school, explained that they felt compelled to return to the Met on opening night. “I just think its wrong,” said Dublin. “It’s totally anti-Semitic.”
Hillary Barr protested with her organization Mothers Against Terrorism, “This incites terrorism. It glorifies it,” she said. “It sympathizes with them and makes excuses for someone who murdered an innocent human being…. It sends the message that if you murder someone, we’ll put you on the stage of New York City. “
Sammy Engelberg, an Austrian student currently enrolled in Pace University, said he “came to protest anti-Semitism, anti Zionism and anti Israel sentiment,” which he feels are present in Alice Goodman’s libretto.
Lenore Schultz, who lives across the street from the Met said she was “very disappointed” by the Met’s decision to produce this opera. “What’s next? An opera about ISIS beheading James Foley?” she asked.
The protest was met with a counter protest of about 10 individuals, none of whom were protesting together.
“It’s important that I say believe that the murder of Klinghoffer was anti-Semitic,” said Jake Goodman who says he holds a masters in Jewish Education from Columbia University’s Jewish Theological Seminary. “But this opera isn’t anti-Semitic. It’s wrong to protest artists and this opera by saying it’s anti-Semitic. It’s not.”
Goodman’s words were met by boos from dozens of protesters.
Contact Rachel Benaim at firstname.lastname@example.org