Over his nearly 50-year career, the British novelist and short story writer Roald Dahl wrote classic children’s books such as ‘Matilda’, ‘James and the Giant Peach’, and ‘The BFG’, which have remained beloved of both children and adults over generations.
But 30 years after his death in 1990, Dahl’s family and the Roald Dahl Story Co, the global entertainment firm that manages the rights to the writer’s work and the characters created by him, have issued an apology for his anti-semitic remarks.
What did they say in the apology?
In the brief apology, tucked away inside the Roald Dahl website, the family has distanced itself from the anti-semitic sentiments expressed by the writer. “Those prejudiced remarks are incomprehensible to us and stand in marked contrast to the man we knew and to the values at the heart of Roald Dahl’s stories, which have positively impacted young people for generations,” the statement said.
“We hope that, just as he did at his best, at his absolute worst, Roald Dahl can help remind us of the lasting impact of words.”
It is not clear when the apology was posted, but it came to light after The Sunday Times reported it, along with further comments from the family. “Apologising for the words of a much-loved grandparent is a challenging thing to do, but made more difficult when the words are so hurtful to an entire community,” the family said.
“We loved Roald, but we passionately disagree with his anti-semitic comments,” they said.
So what did Dahl actually say?
In 1983, Dahl had reviewed Tony Clifton’s ‘God Cried’, a picture book that described the pain and suffering caused by the siege of West Beirut by the Israeli army during the 1982 Lebanon War.
Published in the Literary Review, Dahl said that “a race of people”, meaning the Jews, had never “switched so rapidly from victims to barbarous murderers”, and that empathy for the Jewish people after the Holocaust had turned “into hatred and revulsion”.
America, he said, was “so utterly dominated by the great Jewish financial institutions” that “they dare not defy” the Israelis.
That same year, Dahl 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. Even a stinker like Hitler didn’t just pick on them for no reason.”
A few months before his death, in 1990, in an interview given to The Independent, Dahl explained that his issues with Israel began after the Jewish state invaded Lebanon in 1982. “They killed 22,000 civilians when they bombed Beirut. It was very much hushed up in the newspapers because they are primarily Jewish-owned. I’m certainly anti-Israeli and I’ve become anti-semitic,” he said.
The statements prompted the UK’s Royal Mint to drop a proposed Dahl coin in 2014 ahead of his centenary anniversary, as he was “associated with anti-semitism and not regarded as an author of the highest reputation”. 📣 Follow Express Explained on Telegram
How has the apology been received?
While the apology was received with appreciation by Jewish groups, they did note that the family had made it decades after the author’s death, and after they had signed “lucrative deals” with Hollywood.
“(It) is disappointing and sadly rather more comprehensible,” the Campaign Against Antisemitism said in a statement. The group added that the apology was “encouraging”, but it’s “a shame that the estate has seen fit mere to apologise for Dahl’s antisemitism rather than to use its substantial means to do anything about it.”
Marie van der Zyl, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, pointed out that the apology was issued quietly, without too many people noticing.
Wasn’t Dahl’s self-confessed anti-semitism not known?
In 2016, when Steven Spielberg directed an adaptation of ‘The BFG’, he said he wasn’t aware of any of Dahl’s “personal stories”. In 2018, Netflix reportedly paid $1 billion for the rights to 16 of the author’s works.
Earlier this year, Netflix announced that the Oscar-winning director Taika Waititi was making an animated series of ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’, and a second film about the Oompa-Loompas, the factory workers in the book.
In October, Warner Bros released ‘The Witches’, a film based on Dahl’s 1983 book of the same name, starring Anne Hathaway and Octavia Spencer.
It has been pointed out that the obituaries for Dahl in The New York Times and The Washington Post had made no mention of these public statements.