Is there a child who has not read the books of the late British author Roald Dahl?
Talented and prolific, he wrote such classics as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Witches, both of which were read by millions of children, including my two daughters.
Dahl’s books, having been translated into numerous languages, have sold 250 million copies world-wide. Very few writers have matched this record. Blessed with a vivid imagination and a way with words, Dahl (1916-1990) knew how to captivate the hearts and minds of young and impressionable readers.
On a personal level, however, he was a nasty piece of work, judging by his unrepentant antisemitic views. As The Guardian reported a few days ago, the Royal Mint rejected a proposal to issue a commemorative coin in his honor precisely because of his bigotry.
The coin was to have been issued two years ago to mark the centenary of his birth, but wisely enough, the Royal Mint’s board of directors vetoed the idea, despite the Royal Mail’s inappropriate decision to honor Dahl with a set of commemorative stamps. To its credit, the Royal Mint concluded that, since he was “associated with antisemitism,” he was “not regarded as an author of the highest reputation.”
In 1983, Dahl fanned the embers of hatred by demonizing Jews. As he told the New Statesman, “There is a trait in the Jewish character that does provoke animosity. Maybe it’s a kind of lack of generosity towards non-Jews. I mean, there’s always a reason why anti-anything crops up anywhere.”
With this coarse and sweeping generalization, Dahl falsely crucified Jews. As we know from history, generalizations of this kind have led to catastrophic consequences.
Several months before his death, Dahl, in an interview with the Independent, openly described himself as an antisemite and, in that crude spirit, attacked the “Jewish-owned” media. “It began in 1982, when the Israelis invaded Lebanon,” he said. “They killed 22,000 civilians when they bombed Beirut. It was very much hushed up in the newspapers because they are primarily Jewish-owned …”
This comment is totally inaccurate and misleading. The figure Dahl cites is grossly inflated. In fact, the death toll in Beirut was much lower. And Israel’s bombardment of Beirut, whatever one may think of it, was not “hushed up,” as he claims, but widely reported.
During the course of this interview with the Independent, Dahl also said, “I’m certainly anti-Israeli and I’ve become antisemitic in as much as that you get a Jewish person in another country like England strongly supporting Zionism. I think they should see both sides. It’s the same old thing: we all know about Jews and the rest of it. There aren’t any non-Jewish publishers anywhere, they control the media – jolly clever thing to do – that’s why the president of the United States has to sell all this stuff to Israel … ”
These comments reveal the mind of a bigot. On the basis of these passages, Dahl believes that British Jews have no right whatsoever to be Zionists. And if they are sympathetic to Zionism, they have brought antisemitism upon themselves. What arrant nonsense! As for his snide remark, “we all know about Jews,” it is perfectly in keeping with his seething animus toward the Jewish people. Finally, Dahl’s stereotypical assertion that Jews “control the media” has been proven to be completely baseless.
Dahl was doubtless a great writer, but he was also a disgusting racist. Racism has no place in a civilized society. The Royal Mint therefore had no alternative but to disqualify him as a figure worthy of commemoration.
Wes Streeting, a Labor Party MP and co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on British Jews, probably put it best: “Roald Dahl’s children’s stories were my favorite books growing up and they will always occupy a special place in my heart. There’s certainly no reason why future generations of children shouldn’t continue to enjoy those stories.
“But I think it’s absolutely clear that the Royal Mint made the right decision because there is just no excusing or explaining away Roald Dahl’s comments and his views, which were antisemitic. It is as simple as that. This isn’t borderline antisemitism. This is classic, undeniable, blatant antisemitism. I think when it comes to celebrating individuals, these factors ought to be taken into account.”