"It is upsetting that the majority of the protesters against 'Death of Klinghoffer' have never seen the opera. They have been swept up by the catchwords and specific quotes, and that's how they decided it's anti-Semitic," said the 32-year-old Israeli currently residing in New York.
Politicians including former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani joined a crowd of demonstrators outside the Metropolitan Opera on Monday as part of an ongoing protest over the show opera, which is based on the murder of Leon Klinghoffer, an elderly disabled American Jew shot dead on a hijacked cruise ship by Palestinian terrorists and dumped overboard still in his wheelchair.
The 69-year-old Klinghoffer was on the Achille Lauro, an Italian cruise ship, when it was hijacked by four members of the Palestine Liberation Front in 1985. Critics say the opera glorifies his Palestinian killers.
Lahyani performs as a Palestinian presenting the background of one of the kidnappers. "I had a lot of difficulty with the role at first, but it was challenging," she said.
Still, Lahyani rejected all criticism of the opera's content as anti-Semitic. She said "Death of Klinghoffer" properly presents the background for a terror attack. "The opera is not easy but is emotional, and like every good work of art, it raises questions and thoughts, and lays out relevant events in a different light for the audience."
Lahyani was raised in Israel, served in the IDF, and returns every few months to visit her family. She said the "opera presents two sides of a struggle, but does not pick one."
The Israeli performer responded to the criticism of Klinghoffer's daughters, who originally opposed the opera when it was first written. "This is a new production, which strove to portray events as they were, without propaganda or bias. It shows those who turned to terror to achieve their political aims, but it does not justify the decision."
Lahyani insisted Israelis should stay more open to a nuanced dialogue. "I am not a politician, but as an Israeli artist I feel a duty to represent the patient Israel which is willing to listen to the other side. If I can show that Israel is also about culture, art, and music – I have done my part."
Responding to the large protests which accompanied the Monday premiere, Lahyani emphasized the show was well-received by the audience and was positively reviewed in the New York Times.