Klinghoffer: It’s not enough to be not anti-semitic

Klinghoffer: It’s not enough to be not anti-semitic


norman lebrecht

June 22, 2014

The Guardian published a thoughtful, slightly counter-intuitive op-ed yesterday by the English economist and intellectual, Noreena Hertz.



Noreena supports Met Opera chief Peter Gelb’s cancellation of The Death of Klinghoffer relay ‘at this time of rising antisemitism, particularly in Europe’ and furnishes it with credible statistics. She quotes an ADL survey: ‘ 24% of people in western Europe (37% in France, 29% in Spain, 27% in Germany, 69% in Greece) and 34% in eastern Europe (41% in Hungary, 45% in Poland, 38% in Ukraine) harboured antisemitic views.’

However, in justifying the Met’s cancellation, Noreena Hertz promotes an artistic taboo that, in our view, cannot be helpful either for intellectual clarity or for the fight against racism. Here’s here conclusion:

The Death of Klinghoffer neither condemns nor condones the execution of the American Jew Leon Klinghoffer by Palestinian terrorists. In the world of opera this may be acceptable. This may be the prerogative of art. In the real world not taking a stand against antisemitism is categorically not an option.

Would that mean a ban on Merchant of Venice, Oliver Twist, Richard Wagner, T. S. Eliot and certain works of Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie?

Isn’t it better to name the beast than to push it under the bed?  Few stage works express Arab anti-semitism more directly than Klinghoffer. Gelb’s ban suppresses that recognition.

Nothing is gained by censorship except the closing of minds. Evil exists in this world and art must seek to confront it.

Anti-semitism is a resurgent evil. Let’s name it, shame it and keep it under discussion.


  • Will Wyatt says:

    I have seen both the TV version and the ENO production of this work. It makes you think! If there is anti-Semitism, name it and shame it.

  • Richard Hallam says:

    Well said, Norman. There are some rough times ahead, I think, and these issues need to be constantly aired and in the forefront of public consciousness otherwise they’ll get plastered over and then we’ll all be stepping back 50 years.

  • Edgar Brenninkmeyer says:

    Thank you, Norman, for speaking and writing words that reveal the sense of healthy adult wisdom, so painfully lacking (because suppressed) at the MET, and which, sadly, were also missing in Noreena Hertz’ opinion piece. I am about to purchase the Channel 4 film, and hope to attend a performance at the MET in November (hoping that the performance will happen, about which I am not entirely confident. Not to mention strikes. The MET is a in a big mess).

  • anonymus says:

    I’m not sure the ADL is the best suited institution to undertake a survey about anti-semitism. You also don’t ask the fox to guard the chicken.

    Check their questionnaire:

    So by their definition you are an anti-Semite, if you answer “probably true” to the question, if you believe that Jews are more loyal to Israel than to their host countries? Seriously?

  • Petros Linardos says:

    Thank you, Norman, for overall excellent coverage of the controversy around the cancellation the Kilnghoffer telecast. First and foremost, thank you for offering different points of view. I happen to agree with your thoughts in this posting. I wouldn’t believe in a ban of the Merchant of Venice for antisemitism, or of the Magic Flute for racism.

  • william osborne says:

    In the context of the cancellation, much is being made of the ADL survey of anti-Semitism. From a scientific point of view, one could politely say the survey a bit rough around the edges. Hence some odd results. Greece becomes 13 percentage points more anti-Semitic than Iran whose recent President was a Holocaust denier who called for the destruction of Israel. Things aren’t great in Greece, but something is obviously askew. Cross-cultural surveys cannot be conducted in such a facile manner.

    See this criticism in NY Magazine of the survey:

    And this one in Haaretz:

  • Bruys says:

    Does this work promote or incite anti-semitism? It portrays anti-semite characters, and it “doesn’t take a stand against antisemitism”. It is now common in film and television to portray horrific events without adding a layer of moralizing – that doesn’t indicate that the events are condoned. Adding the moralizing element can be self-defeating. Events can speak for themselves. Can it be believed that the hijackers have furthered their purported cause, or derived any other advantage, through the senseless murder of an elderly man in a wheelchair? It beggars belief that anyone would pay to watch this work in a cinema to be confirmed in their anti-semite views, or to be converted to an anti-semite viewpoint. The separation of the “real world” from “opera” is not apposite, this opera is trying to say something about the real world. Bravo Norman “Nothing is gained by censorship except the closing of minds”!

  • m2n2k says:

    The wisdom of the Met’s decision can certainly be questioned, but please do not call it “censorship”. It isn’t.