The twenty-first century is providing fertile ground for the “artistic” transmission of anti-Semitism on two levels. For mass consumption, Mel Gibson’s film, “The Passion of the Christ” (2004), modernized the medieval passion play to which the Nazis had continued to pay homage at Oberammergau.
With a powerful flair for violent filmmaking in the tradition of Sam Peckinpah, Gibson could have limited his film to portraying the core New Testament story—whose redemption narrative certainly had sufficient wrenching violence for him to tap. The result would have been theologically anti-Judaic and uncomfortable to Jewish sensibilities, but it need not have been radically anti-Semitic. Instead, Gibson followed the gospels but drew his real inspiration from the passion plays which he updated by portraying Jews opposed to Jesus as literally demonic and by using bizarre costumes and even facial disfigurements to personify the Temple priesthood.
Evangelical Christians flocked to see Gibson’s “The Passion,” but not necessarily to imbibe his Jew hatred. Fortunately, most according to polling watched his film through philo-Semitic glasses, embracing it as a way to satisfy their hunger for the “pro-Christian” themed entertainment denied them for many decades by secular Hollywood.
Anti-Semitism was calibrated for “high culture” in John Adams’ 1991 opera about the Achille Lauro hijacking, ”The Death of Klinghoffer,” which had its New York premier at the Walter Reade Theater at Lincoln Center in 2003 when it was also released on DVD. Now, Adams’ opera is being resurrected by New York’s Metropolitan Opera following a 2009 Juilliard performance, defended by Julliard President Joseph W. Polisi on, among other grounds, that he has made ballyhooed visits to Israel to receive awards—or, to translate, that some of his favorite travel agent friends are Jewish.
Following the 9/11 attacks, when the Boston Symphony cancelled a performance of selections from “Klinghoffer” and Richard Taruskin in the pages of the “New York Times” criticized Adams’ opera as a bromance with terrorists, Adams defended himself by accusing Turaskin and other critics of the ultimate sin of being in bed politically with George W. Bush’s Attorney General John Ashcroft. Compared to such egregious guilt by association with Bushites, the anti-Semitism of Adams’ “Klinghoffer”—at least in Adams’ eyes—needed no denial.Details