Opera Fight

Rudy Giuliani: Why I Protested ‘The Death of Klinghoffer’

The former New York City mayor joined a demonstration outside the Metropolitan Opera on Monday night before the first performance. He explains why John Adams’s opera is so damaging.

Jack Vartoogian/Getty Images

Let’s begin by making it clear at the outset, as Floyd Abrams did in his piece in The Wall Street Journal, that the First Amendment here operates to protect both parties to the dispute over the Metropolitan Opera’s staging of The Death of Klinghoffer.

The Met has the First Amendment right to present this opera, and people certainly have a similar right to attend. It is their choice.

Equally, all of us have as strong a First Amendment right to make our position clear and warn people that this work is both a distortion of history and helped, in some ways, to foster a three decade long feckless policy of creating a moral equivalency between the Palestinian Authority, a corrupt terrorist organization, and the state of Israel, a democracy ruled by law.

This is a complex issue for me.

As an opera fan of some 57 years, I find the opera and view the music as a significant achievement. I own a CD, have heard it, and have read the libretto three or four times.

As an opera, the music and choruses are quite excellent. John Adams is one of America’s greatest composers, and I admire and enjoy his music.

However, as a story attempting to recount the appalling terrorist murder of Leon Klinghoffer, a man who was thrown into the Mediterranean Sea simply because he was Jewish, the opera is factually inaccurate and extraordinarily damaging to an appropriate description of the problems in Israel and Palestine, and of terrorism in general.

As one who had occasion as a U.S. attorney to investigate Yasser Arafat, I can say with some certainty that this murder was a pure act of terrorism for which there was no justifiable reason but was part of an overall campaign of numerous terrorist acts intended to make Arafat and his organization bigger players on the world stage. This was not done for the purpose of helping the Palestinian people but rather for the purpose of furthering the goals of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

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! The terrorist killers were set free.

Arafat got himself a place at the international bargaining table and made fools of us for 10 years by taking our money but never agreeing to anything reasonable.

The truth should be told that this opera didn’t create but certainly contributed to a romanticized version of the Palestinian cause which led to the American administration giving them hundreds of millions of dollars meant for the Palestinian people but mostly taken by Arafat and his band of terrorist crooks.

The truth should be told that Arafat was offered everything he wanted by President Clinton and Prime Minister Ehud Barak but turned it all down because he preferred the con game he was playing to the peace and security of his own people.

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Knowing something about the running of large organizations and one as complex as the Metropolitan Opera, I sincerely appreciate Peter Gelb’s canceling the television and radio broadcasts of this opera. That was a much harder and more courageous decision than is recognized by those who oppose this opera. I do realize the difficulty in totally canceling productions of this opera.

I also appreciate that revisions were made to make it clearer that the responsibility for this terrorist act fell on the Palestinians. But in the overall context of the work, it doesn’t ameliorate the impression that there were simply no sympathetic justifications for this pure act of terror, nor does it tell the full story of this very well planned terrorist act and the true purpose of it.

My position, possibly different from some of the others, is that we recognize that people differ on this issue and that the First Amendment gives us the answer—the marketplace of ideas. The Met and those who decide to go have an absolute First Amendment right to do so, and it would be hypocritical and anti-American for us to interfere in the exercise of that right in any way.

But we also have a First Amendment right and obligation to point out the historical inaccuracy and the historical damage this opera contributed to: hundreds of millions of dollars going to Arafat, some of which is with Mrs. Arafat in the South of France and most of which never got to the people it was intended to help—the Palestinians. The opera also contributed to years of pursuing a plan for peace that was never realistic and never worked because it was based on a false premise of moral equivalency and a romanticizing of terrorism that has led to a world where terrorism has only become greater and greater, and too often justified as if it is the expression of a legitimate political philosophy.

I have been a patron of the Met for many years and appreciate its contribution to New York City and to the United States, and weigh that very much in the balance in deciding that I will continue to be a patron—but with sincere regret over the decision to stage The Death of Klinghoffer, which I consider to be a grave mistake.