Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Gov. George Pataki and two U.S. congressmen are among hundreds demonstrating outside the Metropolitan Opera on Monday to protest the Met premiere of "The Death of Klinghoffer."
"The truth should be told that this opera didn't create, but it certainly contributed to a romanticized version of the Palestinian cause and a romanticized version of terrorism," Giuliani said. "It's a factually in accurate and extraordinarily damaging piece."
The production is based on the 1985 murder of a disabled Jewish passenger, Leon Klinghoffer, on the Achille Lauro, an Italian cruise ship hijacked by four members of the Palestinian Liberation Front. The 69-year-old New York retiree was shot in his wheelchair and pushed overboard. A video preview of the opera depicts gunfire, the blindfolding of hostages and derogatory references toward Jews by the terrorists, CBS 2's Scott Rapoport reported.
In a symbolic gesture, protest organizers lined the street at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts with 100 wheelchairs.
When told of Giuliani's vocal opposition to the opera, Mayor Bill de Blasio minced no words about his Republican predecessor, WCBS 880's Rich Lamb reported.
"The former mayor had a history of challenging cultural institutions when he disagrees with their content. I don't think that's the American way, I think the American way is to respect freedom of speech," the mayor said.
De Blasio said he's heard all the buzz about "The Death of Klinghoffer," but hasn't seen it, 1010 WINS' Sonia Rincon reported.
"I don't want to judge something I haven't seen. I think there is a serious problem today in the world that has nothing to do with this opera and I've spoken about it many times," he said. "There is an anti-Semitism problem in this world today, particularly in Western Europe, that worries me greatly."
Ahead of the protest, prominent New York Rabbi Avi Weiss led a prayer vigil outside the Met. Teenagers from Jewish faith-based schools joined Weiss in shifts of about a dozen throughout the day to discuss scriptures.
"It is presenting Jews in the most terrible, terrible light," Weiss told Rapoport. "This is an opera that says you can murder and you will be on the stage of the Met and you'll be portrayed as a heroic figure."
The Met released a statement Monday saying: "John Adams's The Death of Klinghoffer deals with a difficult subject: the horrific murder of an innocent man during an act of terrorism committed in 1985. However, the fact that Klinghoffer grapples with the complexities of an unconscionable real-life act of violence does not mean it should not be performed. The rumors and inaccuracies about the opera and its presentation at the Met are part of a campaign to have it suppressed. Klinghoffer is neither anti-Semitic nor does it glorify terrorism. The Met will not bow to this pressure."
Instead, the Met allowed Klinghoffer's daughters Lisa and Ilsa to post a statement in the show's program. The statement read, in part, "We are strong supporters of the arts and believe that theater and music can play a critical role in examining and understanding significant world events. The Death of Klinghoffer does no such thing. It presents false moral equivalencies without context and offers no real insight into the historical reality and the senseless murder of an American Jew. It rationalizes, romanticizes, and legitimizes the terrorist murder of our father."
"Terrorism cannot be rationalized. It cannot be understood. It can never be tolerated as a vehicle for political expression or grievance. Unfortunately, The Death of Klinghoffer does all this, and sullies the memory of a fine, principled, sweet man in the process."
The Met already canceled its planned November movie theater and radio broadcasts of American composer John Adams' 1991 work amid pressure from Jewish groups, especially the Anti-Defamation League, whose members say the music romanticizes Klinghoffer's killers, along with the opening "Chorus of Exiled Palestinians."
Met General Manager Peter Gelb warned the broadcasts could trigger anti-Semitism overseas.
But opera expert Fred Plotkin said the work depicts the Klinghoffers as the moral backbone.
"Does this opera present the killers in a favorable light? No," he said. "Are the Klinghoffers far and away the most sympathetic characters in the opera, the ones we care about most? I believe so."
The opera has been a lightning rod since February, when it was first scheduled for this season.
The opposition is now reaching fever pitch, with word spreading that protesters may try to disrupt Monday's performance.
It's the second largest New York demonstration against the work since the Met's Sept. 22 season opening night, when protesters carried signs that read "Klinghoffer Opera/Propaganda Masquerading as Art" and jeered at arriving spectators.
Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind was among the protesters, WCBS 880's Marla Diamond reported.
"What are we going to do next, down the line? Have an opera about ISIS? About al Qaeda? I mean, it's absolutely insane to do this," he said.
Plotkin noted that many "Klinghoffer" opponents have never seen the work.
In a video on the Met's website, director Tom Morris said he views "The Death of Klinghoffer" as an intellectual exercise.
"It's saying, 'Let's spend some time wrestling with the very difficult questions that arise from this very difficult conflict,'" Morris said.
The Met is advertising the production with the slogan: "See it. Then decide."
"The Death of Klinghoffer" was first premiered in Brussels in 1991, with little controversy, then in various European cities as well as at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, where it was greeted with both praise and anger, especially from Klinghoffer's two daughters.