Silence Klinghoffer? The ADL Should Silence Itself Instead

David Benkof Contributor
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The newest nonsense from the Air-of-Desperation League (ADL) is their declaration of victory, having convinced the Metropolitan Opera to cancel its plans for a worldwide simulcast of its production of John Adams’ opera The Death of Klinghoffer. Under the terms of the “compromise” the ADL worked out with the Met, the show will only be offered to those few who happen to be in New York and are able to pay hundreds of dollars for a ticket to the live version.

The well-past-his-prime director of the ADL (which actually stands for Anti-Defamation League), Abe Foxman, acknowledged that the work was not anti-Semitic (not that he ever bothered to see it). But the ADL was afraid that someone who already hated Jews might see it and be reinforced in their prejudice. So the ADL tried to shut it down.

Sorry, but the answer to speech we don’t like — and yes, art is speech — is more speech, not threats and pressure from an activist organization that answers to nobody but its board. If the ADL wishes to commission an opera about the Klinghoffer Affair in which all the Jews look like Dudley Do-Right and all the Palestinians look like Snidely Whiplash, good for them. Maybe I should produce an opera in which ADL employees look like Snidely Whiplash and anyone who doesn’t toe their line looks like Dudley Do-Right.

This brouhaha is only the latest evidence that the ADL does more harm than good.

For example, newspapers and broadcasters recently fell all over themselves to disseminate the ADL’s “alarming” report that a quarter of the world’s population is anti-Semitic. Of course, nobody seemed to pay attention to the fact that the more anti-Semitism the ADL can point to, the more money it can raise. Would the news media hyperventilate over a study by the American Soybean Association showing that Americans need more vegetable protein in their diet? Or a report from the Sierra Club showing a state of emergency requiring more money to help save the trees?

And the survey itself was so arbitrary and slanted to solicit “anti-Semitic” answers that a number of Jewish leaders who took the survey said they would have been counted as being “infected” (the ADL’s term) with anti-Semitism.

The ADL calls itself “the nation’s premier civil rights/human relations agency, [which] fights anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry, defends democratic ideals and protects civil rights for all.” But if you look at the issues they work on, many are simply pulled from the platform of the Democratic Party.

According to their Web site, the ADL has worked hard to support the legality of partial-birth abortion. Now, for most Americans, abortion is a difficult issue because it requires balance between competing values — most importantly bodily integrity for women and life for a developing human person. According to Gallup, that mental calculus has led to 68 percent of Americans opposing partial-birth abortion. What part of the ADL’s mandate does their abortion stance help accomplish? Is banning a late-term abortion procedure “bigotry”? Is it “anti-democratic”?

The ADL also supports same-sex marriage, which I guess they feel is a “civil right.” This might explain why their opposition to bigotry — which dictionary.com defines as “stubborn and complete intolerance of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one’s own” — hasn’t led them to lift a finger to help bakers who face being fined or sent to re-education seminars because they won’t celebrate “marriages” they don’t think are marriages.

They don’t defend adoption agencies that allies of the gay community try to shut down because they want to continue to have the right to give tie-breaker preference to families with both a mother and a father. They do not fight the groups that have “complete intolerance” for totally understandable points of view like not wanting one’s daughter to be forced to share a locker room with a woman who happens to have male genitalia. They do not try to protect religious groups on campus that are losing the right to meet on campus and receive funding because their beliefs do not allow members of other faiths or open practitioners of behaviors their values reject to serve as leaders.

One more point about the Klinghoffer fiasco — some art is important precisely because it contains attitudes and perspectives that are disturbing but deserve exposure and discussion.

I’m not talking about gratuitous slurs and random insults here and there — I’m talking about classic films like “Song of the South,” which Disney refuses to release on video or otherwise in the United States because its political correctness trumps the ability of Americans to learn the full history of racial attitudes in this country and to discuss them after seeing a movie that has been rated among the top 75 animated films of all time.

Another example relates to the 1966 cast album and original stage production of the brilliant show “Cabaret,” set in Berlin during the Nazi rise to power. One of “Cabaret”’s most shocking and thought-provoking musical numbers has as its very message (perhaps the most powerful moment in the show) the last line, “if you could see [a gorilla] through my eyes — she wouldn’t look Jewish at all.” But under pressure from B’nai Brith (which included the ADL at the time), the verse was changed in a nonsensical way that undermined the political point.

The ADL has long outlasted its usefulness. I could support an organization devoted to reporting actual anti-Semitic and other prejudiced behavior and events, which focuses on improving community relations with no particular political slant, and responding to expressions of ideas it doesn’t like by criticizing them but not trying to make them go away.

Unfortunately, the ADL is not that organization. People interested in First Amendment liberties — and especially Jews who feel that way — need to communicate to the ADL that nobody elected them the Jewish community’s thought police, and the speech that needs to stop is their own.

David Benkof is a frequent contributor to the Daily Caller. Follow him on Facebook or E-mail him at DavidBenkof@gmail.com.