Using opera to poison minds against Israel

By Myron Kaplan/JNS.org

Click photo to download. Caption: Gioachino Rossini, whose classic 1800s opera “Moses in Egypt,” based on the biblical narrative, is the most recent of several opera productions in Europe misappropriated to vilify Jews and the Jewish state. Credit: Étienne Carjat via Wikimedia Commons.

We like to believe that we make up our own minds on political and international matters, but for most of us it’s a matter of being strongly influenced by opinion molders (teachers, journalists, media personalities, artists and so on). In Europe, the opinion molders tend, even more so than in America, to lean to the post-liberal left and its anti-Israel fetish. In Europe, where grand opera is a popular art form, propagandized anti-Israel opera productions are symptomatic of, and probably contribute to, an increase in anti-Semitism.

Gioachino Rossini’s classic 1800s opera “Moses in Egypt,” based on the biblical narrative, is the most recent of several opera productions in Europe misappropriated to vilify Jews and the Jewish state. Director/producer Graham Vick and set/costume designer Stuart Nunn have outfitted Moses to appear as a bin Laden-look-alike terrorist leader toting an assault rifle. But Vick makes sure Moses is easily recognized as a Jew since he always wears a tallit (Jewish prayer shawl).

All the music is from Rossini and the words sung are those of Rossini’s librettist, but everything else in this production—made available in a video released in August 2013 and performed at the August 2011 Rossini Opera Festival in the composer’s home town of Pesaro—is from Vick and Nunn. The production, a huge success in Europe, is meant to indoctrinate people with the idea that Israel is the villain in its conflict with the Palestinian Arabs. Judging by audience reception, the attempt seems to have succeeded.

Director Vick updates the ancient and infamous false “blood libel” accusation that Jews murder non-Jews, especially Christian children, in order to obtain blood for the Passover or other rituals. This update is a diabolical reversal of the story in the Bible’s Book of Exodus. God instructed the Jews to mark their homes so that their firstborn sons would not be killed by the avenging angel of death, after Pharaoh refused to let the Jewish people leave Egypt. The Jews spread the blood of an unblemished slaughtered lamb on their doorposts. In this opera production, ancient Egyptians (in traditional Arab garb) are marked with blood to designate death in their family.

Upon entering the hall, the audience notices that the walls are covered with photos of Arab children. The captions on the photos include—surprisingly in English—“Missing.” The opera begins with a man (ancient Egyptian) wearing blood-spattered Arab attire, slowly walking across the stage set carrying the body of a lifeless child. The first words sung are the chorus’s “Ah! chi ne aita?” ("Ah, who can help us?”). Simultaneously, a figure dressed in blood-spattered Arab attire appears at the audience front row. He leans over a spectator to show a photo of a missing (or dead) child. Soon, approximately 20 mournful actors appear at the back of the audience wearing blood-spattered Arab attire.

Director Vick seems to want the audience to imagine that the Israelites of 3,000 years ago in Egypt were complicit in the death’s of the other side’s children (plague of the first-born children—the final of the plagues visited upon the Egyptians) just as today’s Israelis are allegedly responsible for supposed deaths and disappearances of Palestinian Arab children. Vick wants people to think of today’s Palestinian Arabs seeking to be free of Israel (when most already are ruled by the Palestinian Authority or Hamas, both of whose propaganda calls for Israel to be free of Jews) when they imagine the ancient Israelites seeking to be free of the Egyptians.

He wants the audience to think of today’s Palestinian Arabs using terrorism when they imagine biblical Israelites allegedly using terrorism against ancient Egyptians. He wants people to think of Palestinian Arabs seeking to overcome Israel’s security fence (imposed against terrorism)—when they imagine ancient Israelites escaping Egypt through the miraculously opened barrier of the sea. He wants them to think of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden when they imagine Moses using (allegedly) terror tactics in leading the Israelites. Vick attempts to accomplish this through stage set design, costumes, wall posters and the appearance of blood-spattered actors in the audience.

There is much unintended irony in having ancient Egyptians outfitted as modern Arabs including male singers and actors wearing keffiyehs, the traditional Bedouin headdress. Keffiyehs are now commonly seen throughout the Arab world and were popularized in the West by the late Palestinian terrorist leader Yasser Arafat. Inconveniently for Vick’s heavy-handed polemics, Egyptians of 3,000 years ago were not Arabs. The descendants of Pharonic Egyptians in Egypt today are primarily Coptic Christians (10 percent of the population). They have been persecuted severely for decades by members of the majority Muslim Arab community.

Myron Kaplan

When the aim is to brainwash people to hate Jews, the end always justifies the means— deceit, distortion, falsification. It’s been like this for millennia, but never more than now.

Myron Kaplan is Senior Research Analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA).

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Posted on September 3, 2013 and filed under Israel, Opinion.