Before I begin, please be forewarned — this is a ghastly and true recantation of a real life event from October 8, 1985. All the gory details are not necessary to make my case. Here are just the salient points. Klinghoffer was a retired American appliance manufacturer who grew up on the lower east side of New York City. He was disabled, wheelchair-bound and on a cruise with his wife on the liner Achille Lauro. They were celebrating their 36th wedding anniversary. Klinghoffer was Jewish. Four Palestinian terrorists hijacked the ship, held the passengers and crew hostage, ordered the Captain to sail to a Syrian port and demanded the release of 50 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons. The Syrian government refused to allow the ship to dock. Because the terrorists were denied, they singled out Klinghoffer because he was a Jew, shot him in the head and chest and forced two crew members to throw his body and wheelchair overboard. The act was disgraceful, cowardly and contemptible. Those despicable terrorists were not men, not even animals, they were cockroaches and I may be doing cockroaches a disservice in this comparison.
A very controversial American opera, The Death of Klinghoffer, first opened in 1991, based on this event. It has been criticized as being antisemitic and for glorifying terrorism. It has played in many venues since first being staged and has now come to the Metropolitan Opera in New York City where it has been denounced and praised. Personally, I cannot proffer an opinion as I haven’t seen it.
Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani protested outside the Met on opening night, saying it presented a perverted view of history. Giuliani said, “I speak here to warn people that the facts presented in the opera are incomplete and distorted. This murder was ordered, organized, and planned. It was not the act of people feeling oppressed. This was the act of an organized group seeking international recognition, moral equivalency, and money. And it worked!” Current Mayor Bill deBlasio defended The Death of Klinghoffer, saying, “I think the American way is to respect freedom of speech. Simple as that.”
While this is difficult for me to admit, I agree with deBlasio, this once. We must respect the First Amendment. BUT—- with freedom of speech should come good judgment. When there are no flames, yelling “Fire!” in a crowded theater is bad judgement. Leon Klinghoffer was murdered in cold blood because he was Jewish and his body was thrown into the ocean like garbage. It was a tragedy for his family and a callous, vile, barbaric, sordid act. Characterizing it as anything else is plain wrong. The Death of Klinghoffer opera is in poor taste if it is less than 100% accurate. Rewriting history does not change it.