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Index's View: Index defends the right to artistic freedom of expression and is deeply concerned by the Metropolitan Opera's decision to cancel the simulcast of the show. We encourage arts organisations - particularly those in influential and high-profile positions - to champion free expression and to promote open debate rather than succumb to pressure from special interest groups. Access to challenging arts is necessary part of creating a free and open society.
By Index on Censorship / 27 June 2014
New York’s Metropolitan Opera cancelled a simulcast of composer John Adams’ The Death of Klinghoffer after discussions with a Jewish group.
While Adams’ opera exploring the hijacking of the cruse ship Achille Lauro in 1985 and the death of wheelchair-bound American Leon Klinghoffer will still be performed, the simulcast, which would have reached a larger audience, will not go forward. The Met’s director, Peter Gelb, told The New York Times that the November 2014 simulcast was cancelled after discussions with the Anti-Defamation League. Gelb told The Times that broadcasting the opera “would be inappropriate at this time of rising anti-Semitism, particularly in Europe.” All the parties involved with the discussions said that they did not think the opera itself was anti-Semitic.
The move has prompted a range of reactions, including the launch of a Change.org petition calling for the Met to reverse its decision. Joshua Markel, the creator of the petition, writes from his point of view on the cancellation:
John Adams | Metropolitan Opera | Peter Gelb | The Death of Klinghoffer
The decision by the Metropolitan Opera to cancel the simulcast of “The Death of Klinghoffer” is a blow against artistic freedom and all forms of freedom of expression.
John Adams is perhaps the greatest living American opera composer and his opera, “The Death of Klinghoffer” has been recognized around the world as both a first class work of art and a moving and balanced presentation of the moral and political dilemmas inherent in the conflict over Palestine.
Peter Gelb, Director of the Met has been quite open about the fact that this decision was driven by pressure brought from the Anti-Defamation League and a fear that many important Met funders might be alienated by airing the work. Gelb portrayed the decision as a kind of compromise since the work will still be staged live. Not only does this kind of compromise vastly decrease the audience for this important art work but sets a terrible precedent that money and influence should control content.
Ironically, the success of the Anti-Defamation League in silencing the broadcast of this work not only limits free speech it furthers the very forces of anti-Semitism it pretends to oppose. One of the basic tenets of anti-Semitism is that Jews exert power and influence way beyond their numbers in controlling the discussion of Middle East policy. The ADL’s success in this matter certainly bolsters that impression.
The best thing Peter Gelb could do would be to reverse this decision, but he surely won’t unless confronted by a groundswell of opinion in favor of freedom of expression.”