This week, “The Death of Klinghoffer” opened in New York. Rightly castigated for its invocation of unpleasant Jewish stereotypes and its apologia for the Palestinian terrorists’ murder of an elderly Jewish tourist in a wheelchair, its staging for the umpteenth time since it was first produced at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1991 has been interpreted by some in the Jewish community as signaling a “normalization” of anti-Semitism.
Indeed, this was the focus of a recent panel, organized by the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy in New York, in which I was privileged to participate. Inevitably, our exchange wasn’t simply restricted to the content of “Klinghoffer,” but spanned a range of issues from the perilous situation in the Middle East, presently caught in the pincers of Islamic State atrocities and rising Iranian power, to the explosion of anti-Semitic violence in Europe over the summer.
Reflecting on what was said at the panel, it’s clear to me that the issues that animate our side of the debate are utterly removed from the concerns of the opera’s defenders. Our awareness that the source of the savage attacks on Israel is the same genocidal ideology that has caused such appalling suffering to Christians, Kurds, and Yazidis forces us to confront how anti-Semitism is an integral element of the global assault on human rights. By contrast, for the other side, there’s only one issue that matters, only one obsession that imposes itself on all of us: “Palestine” and the Palestinians.
It’s an obsession that manifests itself far beyond the hallowed halls of the Metropolitan Opera. Look at the House of Commons, Britain’s parliament, which voted overwhelmingly in favor of recognition of a Palestinian state after a debate that kept the honorable members up until the wee hours. I doubt that they would have paid the same courtesy to the Yazidis, 10,000 of whom remain stranded on Iraq’s Mount Sinjar, surrounded on all sides by Islamic State terrorists and without food, clothing, or proper shelter. Similarly, not a single British parliamentarian issued a word of condemnation of Turkey’s bombing of Kurdistan Workers Party positions in Iraq, despite the enormous contribution this socialist organization has made to the war against Islamic State barbarism. Much the same can be said of the U.S. State Department and the White House, both of which go apoplectic whenever Israel builds so much as a bathroom extension in eastern Jerusalem, but are largely silent in the face of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s atrocities.
It seems as if our declining western civilization can summon the courage to speak loudly on foreign policy only if the policy question involves our ally, Israel, supposedly punishing innocent Palestinians. But is this anti-Semitism? In my view, yes, it is.
At the ISGAP panel, I made the point that what attracts the western intelligentsia to the Palestinian cause is the same dramatic point upon which “Klinghoffer” hangs. It used to be said by the anti-Semites that the “Jews are our misfortune.” Now that has been twisted – the Jews are the cause of their own misfortune as well. Since they “dispossessed” the Palestinians – I’m not quoting the historical record of the 1948 War of Independence here, but one of its tenuous, yet dominant, interpretations – the Jews bring misery on themselves. Klinghoffer was killed because he was seen as a representative of a people whose state was created at the expense of another. Similarly, the Jews attacked in Paris, Malmo, Manchester, and other cities in the last few months were targeted for the same reason. In other words, the purported victims aren’t actually innocent, and that’s as sexy a theme for a dramatist as it is for a Palestine solidarity activist burning with hatred for the Jewish state.
Here’s my overriding point, though, and it’s a sad one to make so soon after the Jewish festivals that come with the celebration of the Jewish new year: we can expect much more of the same in the coming months. In January, for example, we will mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. I confidently predict that Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms will be awash with comparisons between Gaza and the death camp crafted by the Nazis, as well as missives from the less subtle Israel-haters complaining that we’re weeping over dead Jews when we should be helping live Palestinians (and nobody else).
Diaspora Jews are, when all is said and done, a soft target, and increasingly the “Palestine” solidarity movement understands this. A recent article for Middle East Monitor, a pro-Hamas website, made the point that because the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement can’t hope to eliminate the vibrant, multibillionâ€“dollar trade between the west and Israel, its energies would be better spent on confronting the shadowy “Israel Lobby,” the real power behind the Middle East policies of western governments – far more influential than, I don’t know, the Qataris, who these days own half of London and Paris yet somehow have no voice in policy formation.
What does this really mean? It means pick on the Jews, stop them lobbying for Israel, stop them even identifying with Israel. It’s a reflection of the attitude that led Arab regimes, after Israel’s creation, to turn on their defenseless Jewish populations because they were too cowardly and incompetent to win on the battlefield. And it’s the direction that the Palestine solidarity movement, as well as its Arab and Islamist backers, is heading down. We must be prepared.
Ben Cohen, a regular contributor to JNS.org, also has written for the Wall Street Journal, Commentary, Haaretz, and other publications. His book, “Some Of My Best Friends: A Journey Through Twenty-First Century Antisemitism,” is available through Amazon.