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Hundreds Protest Met Premiere Of 'The Death of Klinghoffer'

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- Some big-name politicians joined protesters Monday night in a growing firestorm against an opera they say glorifies Palestinian terrorists.

One person was arrested during the protests.

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Gov. George Pataki and two U.S. congressmen were among hundreds demonstrating outside the Metropolitan Opera on Monday to protest the Met premiere of "The Death of Klinghoffer.''

PHOTOS: "Klinghoffer" Opera Protest

"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 inaccurate and extraordinarily damaging piece."

Mayor De Blasio Weighs In On 'The Death of Klinghoffer' Protest

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. As CBS 2's Jessica Schneider reported, police barricaded the walkways around the Met to let operagoers in amid the protests.

Protesters line up 100 wheelchairs as symbolic gesture during protest against "The Death Of Klinghoffer" opera (Credit: Marla Diamond/WCBS 880)

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."

Mayor De Blasio Weighs In On 'The Death of Klinghoffer' Protest

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 said.

Weiss told 1010 WINS' Al Jones the opera sends the wrong message.

"I think it inspires violence and it sends a message to people: do this kind of stuff and you'll be presented heroically on stage," Weiss said.

And many protesters said the hateful words against Jews that are uttered throughout the production indeed cross a line between free speech and hate.

"I think this play symbolizes everything I'm against. I think it glorifies terrorism. I think it's dangerous. I think it shouldn't be shown," said Sharon Schmidt of Philadelphia. "And shame on (Met manager) Peter Gelb for doing it."

"To me, it just shows a vision of the future that a year from now, we'll have an opera of the ISIS people, and perhaps we should see it from their view," said Mordechai Besser of Kew Gardens, Queens.

But some people attending the opera said it was all a matter of artistic freedom.

"Free speech is obviously important, but so is free expression, so is artistic expression, so is innovation -- and this is great art," said operagoer Hume Martin, "and I think this is ridiculous."

"I think people should go see it," said First Amendment attorney Martin Garbas. "I think there's a lot to be learned by going to see it."

The Met released a statement Monday saying: "John Adams' 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."

Hundreds Expected To Protest Met Premiere Of 'The Death of Klinghoffer'

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 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.''

Hundreds Protest Met Premiere Of 'The Death of Klinghoffer'

The opera has been a lightning rod since February, when it was first scheduled for this season.

Monday's protest is 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.

State Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn) 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.''

During the first act of the opera, there were some minor disruptions, including a few boos, and a man who said, "The murder of Klinghoffer will not be forgiven."

One person was also arrested at the Met Opera and charged with disorderly conduct Monday night, police said.

"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.

"The Death of Klinghoffer'' runs through Nov. 15 at the Met.

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