This Show Must Not Go On: Protest Rally at the Met

The Jews of New York City stood up. They would not be silent.

Prof. Phyllis Chesler

OpEds Prof. Phyllis Chesler
Prof. Phyllis Chesler
Joan Roth

I am an avid opera-goer and opera-lover and it pains me beyond measure to have to approach the Metropolitan Opera, not with tickets in hand, but to participate in a protest against the choice of a particular opera, namely, "The Death of Klinghoffer."

Why-oh-why did Peter Gelb choose to produce this opera when the libretto is sub-standard, quite below par? This is quite apart from our collective concern about the content of this libretto and the lethal narrative of the opera itself.

Yes, the work presents the Israelis as colonizers and exploiters, the Jews as greedy exploiters, and the Palestinian terrorists as heroes. And yes, I understand that Gelb believes that John Adams, the composer, is the leading American composer of the 21st century. The music is very good.

I  am not sure where to focus my outrage and my sorrow.

On the opera itself, especially the libretto; on Gelb's decision to have it performed; by the ADL’s Abe Foxman’s deal with Gelb, namely, that Foxman would claim that the opera is not anti-Semitic and in return, Gelb would agree not to release the film version of the opera, world-wide; by the craven silence of the large American Jewish organizations--those who earn huge salaries, pensions, millionaire-level perks, and who are wedded to the Way Things Are, not the Way They Should Be.

I do not favor censorship and my right to dissent is precisely what allows Alice Goodman, John Adams, and Peter Gelb to present classic anti-Semitism as High Art, even when the art of the librettist is utterly lacking. I have said as much in my previous article on this subject.  

I am not saying that Gelb does not have artistic license to present what he wants. He does, he really does. And, because the Met receives government funding he has, in addition, a First Amendment right to do so as well.

Pace, pace.

I am questioning his aesthetic and moral judgment. But the First Amendment is not the issue here. Free speech is not at issue. What is: The moral decline of civilization, the choice to produce an opera which supports, even glorifies, a series of politically correct Big Lies is the issue as is the danger of both intended and unintended consequences.

I now know that Alice Goodman has composed anti-Semitic librettos before—and in conjunction with Adams. Dr. Larry Maas's review called this to my attention. In the opera, Nixon in China, librettist Alice Goodman portrayed the mass murderer Chairman Mao, Madame Mao, and President and Mrs. Nixon in highly positive ways. The one character whom she presented as a stereotypical, unlikable, manipulative, greedy, and cunning figure was none other than (the German Jew), Henry Kissinger, Nixon's Secretary of State. Dr. Maas likens this anti-Jewish stereotype to Wagner's fictional Jew, Beckmesser, in Die Meistersinger.

And now—to the demonstration.

Within an hour of when we started, the New York Times estimated that we were "a few hundred" protesters; AM New York said "dozens" were there. The Wall Street Journal estimated "more than a thousand" people.  The organizers, together with the New York Police Department estimated that participants numbered "between 2500 and 3000."

We stood across the street and opposite the Metropolitan Opera House and in front of the Opera House, on the same side of the street. People held many signs. They read: "Klinghoffer Opera: Propaganda Masquerading as Art." "Is Anonymous Terrorist  Money ($) Funding Klinghoffer?" "Gelb Are Your Taking Terror $$$$? "Klinghoffer Executed By PLO Terrorists." "The Met Opera Glorifies Terrorism." “Klinghoffer/Kahane/1993 WTC/9/11/Fort Hood/Boston/What’s Next?” “Opera Justified Attacks on America, Israel, Jews.” “The Show must NOT go on.”

When Peter Gelb was spotted entering the plaza, a cry of "Shame" went up. "Shame" was repeated many times. 

The utter absence of any representatives from the  organized Jewish world was and will forever remain haunting and reprehensible. (I understand their reasons, they are not “bad” people, they sit on philanthropic, corporate, and cultural boards and do not want to lose their positions, either personally or politically). And yet….and yet.

Yes, I understand that street theatre and cries of "Shame!" are not their cup of tea but really: What will it take to have them take a stand, one that does not drape them in glory but in risk? 

I met many colleagues and friends--and some followers of my work whose kind words both pleased and humbled me.

Speakers included: Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey,(R), Former NY State Governor George Pataki, (R),  Congressman Eliot Engel, (D) Assemblyman Dov Hikind, (D), MK Nissim Ze’ev, Dr. Donohue of the Catholic League, Consolee Nishimwe.

Rabbis Avi Weiss, Steven Burg, and Zev Friedman, Debra Burlingame, Devorah Halberstam, Mort Klein, Dr. Charles Small, Richard Allen, Beth Gilinsky, and probably others. Jeffrey Wiesenfeld served nobly as one of the organizers as the MC. Judea Pearl, Daniel Pearl’s father, sent a letter that was read aloud.

Rallies are both exhilarating and unsettling. The crowd disperses. The “high” does not last. One is never clear about the effect one has.

The Jews of New York City stood up. They would not be silent. These and other protesters plan to be out demonstrating every evening that the opera will be shown. Helen Freedman handed out yellow cloth stars which read: "Never Again."

However, the organized Jewish world did not stand up, did not take to the streets, did not confront the august and distinguished Opera House. They sent letters to Peter Gelb; the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) will be showing a documentary film about the murder of Klinghoffer on the Achille Lauro. Institute for the Study of Global Anti-Semitism and Policy (ISGAP) will be holding a Panel Discussion about the opera and the issues it raises on October 14th at the Walter Reade Theater.

Kudos and Bravo! to the organizers who worked so hard to make this happen.

For the record, list of supporters:

Sponsors of Rally:

Advocates for Israel (AFI)


Americans for a Safe Israel (AFSI)

American Friends of Ateret Cohanim/Jerusalem Chai

Americans for Peace and Tolerance

Ari Halberstam Memorial Fund

Catholic League

Citizens Opposed to Propaganda Masquerading as Art (COPMA)

Christians’Israel Public Action Campaign (CIPAC)

Congregation Havurat Yisrael

Congregation Ohab Zedek

Congregation Or Chayim

Congregation Or Zarua

Council of Orthodox Jewish Organizations of the West Side

Edmond J. Safra Synagogue

Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET)

Fifth Avenue Synagogue

Genocide Survivors Support Network (GSSN)

Hasbara Fellowships

Human Rights Coalition Against Radical Islam (HRCARI)

International Committee for the Land of Israel

Institute for the Study of Global AntiSemitism and Policy (ISGAP)

Israel Forever Foundation

Israel Independence Fund

Jewish Action Alliance

Jewish Political Education Foundation

Kings Country Jewish War Veterans

Lincoln Square Synagogue


Mothers Against Terrorism

National Conference on Jewish Affairs

One Israel Fund

Our Soldiers Speak

Phyllis Chesler Organization

Proclaiming Justice to the Nations (PJTN)


Rambam Mesivta High School


Shalhevet High School for Girls

Shomrei Haam

Simon Wiesenthal Center


Strength to Strength

The Bridge Project

The International Conference for the Land of Israel

Westchester Hebrew High School

Yiddish Theatrical Alliance

Yiddish Artists & Friends- Actors Club (YAFAC)

Zionist Organization of America (ZOA)

Listed Speakers:

Rabbi Schwartz, Congregation Oheb Zedek on the Upper West Side

Rabbi Joe Potasnik, Rabbi and Radio Show Host - He currently serves as the Executive Vice President of the NY Board of Rabbis

Rabbi Pesach Lerner, Executive Vice President, Emeritus National Council of Young Israel

Rabbi Avi Weiss, AMCHA, Rabbi of HIRR, author, lecturer, teacher and activitst

Charles Asher Small (D.Phil. Oxon.), Koret Scholar, Hoover Institution, Stanford University, Director, Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy (ISGAP)

Lauri Regan, Heads NY Chapter of Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET)

Assemblyman Dov Hikind, Brooklyn’s Assembly District 48

Dr. Bill Donahue, Catholic League, Sociologist and Civil Activist

Rabbi Steven Burg, Eastern Director, Simon Wiesenthal Center

Tony LoBianco, Actor, Film and Television

Bruce Blakeman, Congressional Candidate for 4th District NY

Sarri Singer, Founder & Director, Strength to Strength, Israel Survivor of terrorist attack bus bombing on June 11, 2003, Father NJ State Senator

Wendy Lanski, Board Member, Strength to Strength, 9/11 Survivor who was in the North Tower on the 29th Floor

Hillary Markowitz, Mother's Against Terrorism

Helen Freedman, AFSI

Richard Allen, JCCWatch

Westchester Student - dont have name

Rambam Student - dont have name

Laurie Cardoza-Moore, Founder and President, Proclaiming Justice to the Nations, Christian Activist & Leader

Attorney General Michael Mukasey, lawyer, former Judge who served as the 81st Attorney General of the US

Rabbi Abadie, Rabbi, Edmond J. Safra Synagogue

Rabbi Algaze, Rabbi, Havurat Israel Synagogue, Forest Hills

Mort Klein, President, ZOA

Congressional Candidate Grant Lally, Republican, Conservative and Libertarian candidate for NY's 3rd Distrcit

Ben Brafman, Esq., Criminal Defense Attorney known for representing high profile defendants including celebrities, accused mafia figures and political figures

Devorah Halberstam, Ari Halberstam Memorial Fund, son Ari was gunned down on the Brooklyn Bridge by terrorists on March 1, 1994. Ari was 16 years old.

Consolee Nishimwe, Genocide Survivors Support Network, Survivor of the 1994 genocide against the Tutsis in Rwanda - she was 14 years old. Her father and 3 brothers were murdered and she endured physical torture but she survived along with her mother and younger sister. She is a speaker and advocate for victims and wrote a book "Tested To The Limit: A Genocide Survivor's Story of Pain, Resilience and Hope"

Sgt. Benjamin Anthony, Our Soldiers Speak, Veteran and combat reservist in the IDF, founded organization which brings the proud truth of the soldiers to campuses and communities of the English speaking world

Debra Burlingame, sister of Charles Burlingame III, pilot of the hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 that was flown into the Pentagon on 9/11, she is the co-founder of Keep America Safe and she is a former flight attendant, lawyer and television producer

Rabbi Kermaier, Rabbi of 5th Avenue Synagogue

Rabbi Zev Friedman, Rosh Hamesivta of Rambam Mesivta HS in Lawrence, NY

MK Nissim Ze'ev

 The number of sponsoring organizations and the number of potential speakers is amazing.