Peter Sellars in the Guardian: “Nobody is allowed to discuss Palestine”

The word “censorship” generally refers to cases where “an instrument of government” uses the power of state to prevent citizens from exercising their right to free expression in the arts, politics or in the media.

Often, however, the debate about this important subject gets blurred by unserious assertions about the West’s supposed ‘creeping descent’ into censorship, sometimes after a theater company or cinema decides not to show a controversial play or film, or merely because the production is the subject of a peaceful protest or mild rebuke.

A Nov. 20 column by playwright Peter Sellars (in the Opera section of the Guardian) calls upon this hyperbolic tradition by conflating mere criticism with outright suppression.


Sellars helped create the original opera The Death of Klinghoffer and directed its first performance – an opera based on the 1985 hijacking of a cruise ship, in which a wheelchair-bound Jewish man was shot in the head by a Palestinian terrorist before being thrown overboard. And, Sellars devotes most of his Guardian article to the controversy surrounding the recent New York Metropolitan Opera production of this opera.

After lamenting how putatively fragile free speech is in America today, Sellars gets to the point:

Nearly 30 years ago, the passenger liner Achille Lauro was hijacked by Palestinians, who murdered and threw overboard an American Jew called Leon Klinghoffer. The story occupied the news for two weeks, then disappeared. What was the story of the century that preceded this? What was its aftermath in real terms? 

John Adams took up this challenge in 1991 with his opera The Death of Klinghoffer. Opera has always spoken to a cross-section of society. Its roots lie in Greek dramas, which were about the most difficult and dangerous topics, recognising that we can only face them if we face them as one.

Looking at something does not mean you’re endorsing it. One can abhor an event, yes, but one also needs to understand it.

He then turns to his central thesis:

Yet the US today is coming close to censorship.

Now, to his larger point about “Palestine”:

Nobody is allowed to discuss Palestine. Nobody is allowed to mention Palestinians, much less depict them. Most Americans have no idea about the history of Palestinians, or what their situation is now. When The Death of Klinghoffer was staged at New York’s Metropolitan Opera last month, it was picketed – and exploited – by extreme special-interest groups who had no interest in the actual opera, or indeed any opera.

First, the Opera was not cancelled by The Met, so it’s unclear what precisely is being censored.

More broadly, the assertion that “nobody is allowed to discuss Palestine” or “mention Palestinians” is so cut off from reality that it rises to the level of parody.

Indeed, the issue of Palestine is of course nothing short of an obsession at international bodies like the UN, and within much of the Western news media, and to claim just the opposite – that there is a dearth of conversation about Palestine and Palestinians – represents an astounding inversion of reality. 

Simply because The Death of Klinghoffer was criticized and was the object of a peaceful protest campaign – by those exercising their own right to free expression – doesn’t mean “you can’t discuss Palestine”.

It only means that you can’t expect to be immune from criticism when doing so. 

52 replies »

  1. “Nobody is allowed to discuss Palestine.”

    What bullshit.

    Is there any topic that is discussed more than Palestine,. specially in the Guardian, which is now actually an American blog with a UK outlet!

      • “Nobody is allowed to discuss Palestine” is a now longstanding meme of left-wing anti-Zionists. I doubt Sellars ever bothers looking for discussions about Palestine except perhaps in those places where the meme is dominant in the discourse.

    • Appalling how Sellars subverts the truth and is allowed to get away with it. ‘Nobody is allowed to discuss Palestine’? He HAS to be kidding, right?

      Today a cursory search in the History of the Middle East section of my local Waterstones [not a London branch, but a tiny branch in a small south England town] confirmed what a liar Sellars is. There are more than 20 books written about Palestine and only one book on Israel [and that is an anti Israel book to boot.]

      If a Martian landed in Waterstones this afternoon and wanted to find out the truth about Israel he would not be able to discover it from my local bookstore.

      So much for Palestinian issues being censored. It is friggin’ laughable!

      • Not sure he is kidding as such. I suspect that his brain has been fried to a crisp by willingly swallowing too many lies, so now he is only able to issue zombie-like (or Dalek-like) copies of these lies, like a Turing machine in an endless loop.

  2. The man has a point: not only is he more articulate, erudite, truthful and comedic than all of you idiots combined, he also provides the reader with a challenge – that Americans learn about the truth from objective sources.

    That’s right, objective sources, not special interest/ advocacy websites like this.

    Notice how you never provide access to academic historical sources.

    Funny that eh?

    • “not only is he more articulate, erudite, truthful and comedic than all of you idiots combined” – from the most ignorant, stupid, bigotted moron I have ever seen on this blog. By some margin.

    • “Funny that eh?”

      What is laughable are your attempts at mangling the truth, fact and history then stitching together a few phrases that you do not understand and posting them.

      Keep posting ‘Tamara’ I am building an idiot and using you as the blueprint.

    • “That’s right, objective sources”

      The world according to Tamara:

      “Objective sources, like, you know, Mein Kampf, the Hamas Charter and The Guardian.”

    • You shouldn’t call people idiots when almost every word you type here proves that you are likewise.

      Are you thick? If you want links then search for them yourself!

    • Tamara “not only is he more articulate, erudite, truthful and comedic than all of you idiots combined…”

      A core reflex of the anti-Semite down the ages has been the desire and necessity to parade their perceived moral, intellectual (and often physical) superiority over the yids.

      For someone who brags about their academic credentials, you don’t know nothin ’bout nothin.

  3. ” Most Americans have no idea about the history of Palestinians, or what their situation is now.”

    Sellars has a point here, but ironically not the one he intended to make.

  4. Great. Yet another bigot and moron whose works I will have to get rid of.
    Might fetch tuppence halfpenny on Amazon, which I’ll donate to Hadassah hospital or some other sane and humane cause.

  5. Nobody is allowed to discuss Palestine? NOBODY IS ALLOWED TO DISCUSS PALESTINE. Earth to Sellars. He just did. Also in an opera he wrote and had performed at the Met, a small obscure backstreet art centre tucked away in a back street of Manhattan that no one has ever heard of.

  6. Sellars will be busy helping to write and to direct some new operas:
    The Death of Goldberg
    The Death of Twersky
    The Death of Kupinsky
    The Death of Sif
    The Death of Lamkus
    The Death of Shiloni
    The Death of Asad
    The Death of Braun
    The Death of Mosquera
    And these subjects of his artistic interests are only the result of the last month work of his beloved poor Palestinian pets so neglected by the media…
    Go Sellars! The world’s every Jew hating shit wants to hear your art!

  7. “Most Americans have no idea about the history of Palestinians, or what their situation is now.”
    Does Mr. Sellers believe that the inappropriately titled “The Death of Klinghoffer” provides a definitive history of the Palestinians?
    Guess who knows everything there is to know? Why, it’s Opera Man! And of course, the Guardian where censorship is free.

  8. I’m waiting for a new Opera, “The Death of Free Speech or How Arab Propaganda infected the Western News Media.” Each performance runs about two weeks.

  9. I think people can protest what ever they like, and they do. So pro Pal protesters are good? and this protest is worthy of critique ? I don’t understand what Sellars is about.
    The Palestinians are all over the news in the USA. Just look at NPR, various TV channels and newspapers or TDB. To say nobody talks about Palestinians is simply not true. You can stream Al Jazeera America… 972mag
    I think what the Left don’t understand is that they have fallen for their narrative and have pushed aside the wider Arab responsibility of where the Palestinians are today.
    I like to think that it is unprecedentat in history that initially hundreds of thousands of refugees were kept in camps until they died there of old age. There are also quotes from Westerners who were working for the UN at the time complaining about the Arab’s clear instrumentality of the refugee’s. *That* needs to be talked about Mr. Sellars, the shafting of a vulnerable refugee population in the name of Arab nationalism. What that has led to can be seen in the medieval like housing conditions of the Pal “refugee’s” in Syria.
    It is shocking that nobody has held the various Arab governments to account for this. And the double irony is that the USA and the EU pay for these ‘refugee’s’.
    Hamas has boasted that they have changed their Western narrative. They did this with the help of Western academia, Leftist “journalism” and art celebrities like Sellars.

    What Sellars may be on about is that the US audience in particular but other audiences as well do not identify with the Palestinians/Arabs. This may be due to the cultural divide between what is going on in Arab and Middle Eastern Muslim society ( Turkey, Iran ) and the West. Please note that the Arabs with their unlimited finances have failed to make any DC lobbying inroads concerning Israel. Even after decades of Arab boycott nobody gives a shit. I think that is interesting. Does AIPAC outspend Saudi ? Or Qatar ? I don’t know. My guess is that Western elites are simply culturally ‘closer’ to Jewish people than they are to Muslim Arabs.

  10. “Nobody is allowed to discuss Palestine except in terms I approve of”. Typical third-rate arty-farty narcissist. The only reason his lousy opera ever got an airing is that it’s about Palestinian terrorists. Had it been about the Kurds or the Cypriots or Middle East Christians, and had there been any criticism of Islam it would never have got near any opera house.

  11. What he meant to say is that you can say anything BAD about the holy sacred “Palestinian people” because you’ll be ostracised by the arty-farty litterati and the US printed press which is almost entirely right-on PC.

    • Very true. On Jihad Watch at, Robert Spencer writes about the terminally confused leaning tower of the Muslim community in the UK Mehdi (kufar are cattle) Hasan. You may remember that Hasan made a horse’s backside of himself by trying to give apologies for Lord Ahmed’s “I said Jew because there’s no word in Urdu for Zionist” gaffe and only made matters worse because we found out what a hypocrite Hasan really was.

      Robert Spencer tells us that Hasan wants all criticism of Islam and Muslims silenced.

      • Hasan is a clever guy. He is a subversive political player fostering part of the Islamist discourse in the UK MSM. You godda hand it to the guy who climbed through communist papers to Al Guardian and is now a common sight on TV. The dude is like Mursi.
        I think people in the West for the most part do not understand that Islamist’s have hid themselves in plain view since the founding of the Brotherhood in Egypt in the 20’s.
        It is common practice to place “sympathetic” authors in positions.
        Ronald Reagan turned Republican ( from Democrat ) when he found out as a young actor that closet Communist screen writers were lacing studio scripts with pro USSR lines.
        Here is a great read. In the spirit of RT tv , a piece on Ronnie’s years as a a young Liberal actor

        • And, given the recent statement re the bottom feeder Anjem Choudary from the UK judiciary, he is so with their willing connivance.

          Choudary is more of a louse than Hasan, but they are cast from a similar mould.

  12. The Guardian yet again slumps to the depths of printing an article that is based on outright lies.

    Opinion pieces are entitled to be controversial – that is their point – but when they are such obvious falsehoods, they become an embarrassment to the organ that gives them space.

    Don’t the editors at the Guardian have any shame?

    • The last 25 years have answered that question comprehensively, surely?
      Can you imagine a ‘controversial’ opinion piece containing equivalent (or even very much weaker) bigotry about Muslims, being given house room in Der Guardian? Because I can’t.

  13. The absurdity of Sellar’s contention about a lack of conversation regarding the Palestinians has been well discussed here. As to censorship, this is a common refrain from many anti-Israelis. What they really mean is freedom from any criticism, a sheltered workshop if you will, where all the “playbook” opinions and ideas will not only not be criticised, but will be nurtured and glorified. A hearty fuck you to them.

    • It’s a circle jerk of bigots. Laughing and pointing fingers at them is ‘censorship’ in their hallucinatory world.

  14. Does Sellars himself believe his own lies? His claims are a total absurd.
    The anti-Israel propaganda is becoming less and less intelligent. Exactly as was the case with the Soviet propaganda in the 20th century.

  15. I was really hoping this was Peter Sellers lamenting to the British press their inability to discuss Western Palestine rather than continuously stall Judaic autonomy in the Middle East.

    I prefer that story to some blowhard asshole who chose to abuse the legacy of a real man to tell his fictionalized account of a brutal murder.

  16. “American Jew ‘called’ Leon Klinghoffer?” No, his “name” was Leon Klinghoffer. The author can’t even hide his disdain for Jews. Just another Antisemite.

  17. Many subjects are rarely discussed in the media but the idea that Palestine is one of them is an outright and deliberate falsehood.

  18. How the Guardian reported about Palestinian slaughtering 4 Jews in a synagogue in Jerusalem.
    The Guardian wrote that Four worshippers were killed in attack on Jerusalem synagogue” The Guardian refused to mention it was Palestinians who slaughtered these 4 Israeli’s.

    The website of British newspaper The Guardian ran a story about the attack from Reuters. The wire dispatch the agency sent included the headline ‘Palestinians kill four in Jerusalem synagogue attack’ and led with the sentence: ”Two Palestinians armed with a meat cleaver and a gun killed four people in a Jerusalem synagogue on Tuesday before being shot dead by police….”

    However The Guardian changed their headline to “Four worshippers killed in attack on Jerusalem synagogue” and in their lead, they also excised any reference to Palestinians, publishing: “Two men armed with axes, knives and a pistol have killed four Israelis and wounded several others in a Jerusalem synagogue …”

  19. There’s a widespread assumption: that Palestinians are ‘noble savages’ who are not responsible for their actions.”
    Blaming Israel for Palestinian violence is racist: it denies that Arabs are moral agents
    The media response to the Jerusalem killings betrays a widespread assumption: that Palestinians are “noble savages” who are not responsible for their actions
    Terror attack at Jerusalem synagogue
    The terror attack at a Jerusalem synagogue this week
    By Alan Johnson
    Nov 20 2014

    There were some odd media reactions this week to the murder of four Jews at prayer (and the heroic Israeli Druze first responder Zidan Saif who tried to rescue them) by two Palestinians perpetrators in Jerusalem.

    • The Canadian Broadcast Company tweeted “Jerusalem police fatally shoot 2 after apparent synagogue attack”

    • The CNN headline read ‘4 Israelis, 2 Palestinians dead in Jerusalem’ without noting that the two Palestinians were the terrorists. (CNN later apologised. See the memes here.)

    • The Guardian altered a Reuters dispatch about the massacre in Jerusalem to remove any reference to Palestinians.

    • In the Left-wing Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the writer Amira Hass wrote about “the despair and anger that pushed the Abu Jamals to attack Jews in a synagogue (emphasis added).”

    Part of the explanation lies in the profound influence that the anti-Zionist ideology (a system of demonising ideas and representations about Israel and the Jews) now exercises in our culture. At the heart of the ideology is a deeply buried, often unconscious, assumption about the dichotomous natures of Israelis and Palestinians that warps our understanding of the conflict. Here it is: Palestinians (and Arabs in general) do not have agency and choice, and so cannot be held accountable and responsible. Israelis do and can; always, and exclusively.
    Palestinians are understood as a driven people, dominated by circumstance and emotion, lacking choice, below the age of responsibility, never to be held accountable. Israelis are the opposite; masters of all circumstances, rational and calculating, the root cause of everything, responsible for everything.

    It is, palpably, an Orientalist view of the Palestinians as the Other, except this time they are affirmed as noble savages. It’s a bit racist, to be honest. For example, the Liberal Democrat David Ward MP tweeted that the Palestinian synagogue terrorists had been “driven to madness” – which not only removes agency from them but also sanity.

    This group is the reason that parts of the media are reluctant to challenge the Palestinian national movement when it is guilty of rejectionism, terrorism, authoritarianism, corruption and the promotion of a vile culture of incitement, demonization and antisemitism. After all, those things are just not the “the Israel story”, are they? As Matt Seaton, comment editor at the New York Times, tweeted recently, his opinion pages will only cover Palestinian racism when “they have [a] sovereign state to discriminate with.”

    The world view is being spread by a network of hugely influential public intellectuals. They are shaping much of the debate about the conflict in Britain because their ideas are not remaining in the seminar room but are being ‘translated’ and popularised by determined activists with status and authority in universities, churches, trade unions, NGOs, political parties and popular culture.

    • Academic and writer Jacqueline Rose says Israel is “the agent” that is responsible for Palestinian suicide terrorism. She uncritically passes on to her readers a defence of the suicide bomber given by Hamas leader Abdul Aziz al-Ratansi (“If he wants to sacrifice his soul in order to defeat the enemy and for God’s sake – well, then he’s a martyr”).

    • The Israeli novelist (and Peace Now founder) Amos Oz complains that incitement by extremist Palestinian intellectuals leads some Palestinians to be “suffocated and poisoned by blind hate.” The anti-Zionist writer Yitzhak Laor is outraged, denouncing Oz for… “incitement” against the Palestinians.

    • Shlomo Sand – whose books are found in Waterstones stores across the UK –expresses his disgust at Jewish Israeli intellectuals who opposed Saddam Hussein during the first Gulf War. Now, Saddam was firing scud missiles at Israeli civilians at the time, so how did he justify his stance? Palestinians felt “joy” at an ““Arab” show of force”, he wrote, and that should have been decisive.

    • Ilan Pappe’s recent book The Idea of Israel (Summary: it was a very Bad Idea and should now be Corrected) offers an apologia for the pro-Nazi war-time Palestinian leader Al-Husseini. So keen was Al-Husseini on Adolf that he formed a Muslim SS Unit, but Pappe reduces all this to “an episode” in the “complex” life of a nationalist; a “foolish flirtation” that should only be of interest to the reader because it has been exploited by Zionists to “demonise” the Palestinians. Pappe argues that Al-Husseini was – here it comes! – “forced” into the alliance with Hitler.

    The idea that good/innocent/authentic Palestinians are in a Manichean struggle against bad/guilty/inauthentic Israelis is part of a mind-set – a “theory” of sorts – that became dominant on much of the Left after the 1960s. Let’s call it reactionary anti-imperialism. It divides the world, and everything in it, into two opposed “camps”: Imperialism versus Anti-Imperialism. Anyone shooting at Imperialism (the USA, the UK, Israel, “the West”, “the Global North”, or just “the Man”) is now part of the progressive anti-imperialist “resistance” to imperialism. Once in thrall to this ‘theory’, parts of the left redefined themselves as (not very) critical supporters of, or at least apologists for, the reactionary forces doing the shooting, including radical Islamists.
    Here is the Socialist Workers Party theoretician John Molyneux instructing the members in the finer points of reactionary anti-imperialism:

    “To put the matter as starkly as possible: from the standpoint of Marxism and international socialism an illiterate conservative superstitious Muslim Palestinian peasant who supports Hamas is more progressive than an educated liberal atheist Israeli who supports Zionism (even critically).”

    And here is Judith Butler – a professor at Berkeley and one of the most influential academics on the planet – drawing the political conclusions: “[Hamas and Hezbollah are] social movements that are progressive, that are on the Left, that are part of a global Left.” (See 16:24 in this video.)

    What we learnt (again) this week was that the anti-Zionist ideology, the ludicrously simplistic assumptions it makes about Palestinians and Israelis, and the demonising/exculpatory framework through which it distorts our understanding of the conflict, is now bleeding from the cloisters of academia into those wider structures of feeling and patterns of response that shape our public square. A prediction: we ain’t seen nothing yet.

  20. The completely detached standpoint claimed by SWP “theoretician” (sic) Molyneux,
    is seen again and again in the rants and published texts deployed by True Believers, or Completely Pure Ideologues — i.e., totalitarians, who have begun with morally valid and laudable goals like “Truth, Justice, Freedom and Equality” (that must be the` Utopian,’ or at least `pretty damn good,’ result of kibbutzim, after all)– to leave the most cosmic questions of the Universe and Creation aside — and arrived at half-baked, semi-conscious pseudo-rationales, defending genocide.
    And, as was pointed out earlier, crucially misconstruing that most tendentious of loaded terms, “genocide” — the only possible way this kind of mind-boggling misunderstanding is possible, is to combine occasionally latent but always possibly virulent anti-Semitism with an evil djinn’s concoction of: ignorance of history, manipulation by `outside forces’ (collapsing Ottoman Empire), iatrogenic cultural dysfunction, and a host of other terrible and sometimes violently deadly confusions.
    And when several thousand unguided missiles or mortars are launched by terrorists over a period, not of hours, not of days, etc. — Hamas, the paradigm case of terrorism? is the obvious culprit — as in their Article 4 incitement to genocide… Discuss! — then, well…
    It’s the most gut-wrenching, morally challenging part of the 20th Century, and clearly continues to challenge my syntax, but not my moral understanding. C’est la vie!

  21. “Hi. My name is Tamara. My entire purpose in life is to shit on Jews. And I’m so wonderful. Everyone thinks so. I’ve got accounts all over the Interweb, and real, honest, hard working people love me. So stop saying I’m delusional, because I assure you, I am most definitely not. I believe in peace and love, and all of that begins the moment the Jews stop living in the Middle East.

    “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go and touch myself.”

    • All views expressed Paid for by the coin of Israel, no independent thoughts allowed or even possible by this bunch of schmucks