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From the NS archive: Tale of the unexpected

In this short excerpt from 1983, New Statesman writer Michael Coren contextualized the contemporary argument “raging” about Roald Dahl’s “violent attack on Israel” in the form of a book review in the Literary Review. In it, Dahl compared Israeli leaders to the Nazis, which was widely condemned as “blatant anti-Semitism.” When Coren interviewed an author known for bestselling children’s novels such as James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, he was greeted with “a series of startling comments” about the Jewish people – and those comments as they appear they were published. Dahl’s reputation as an anti-Semite was established here. Following news in September 2021 that Netflix had bought the rights to Dahl’s children’s books, Koren returns to his meeting with Dahl in a new article. for The New Statesman. “He was polite, not unfriendly,” Coren writes, “and he was completely grotesque.”

There is currently controversy over the publication of a review by author Roald Dahl God cried, a book about the tragedy in Lebanon, in Literary review… In a 2½-page article, Dahl violently attacks Israel: “Should Israel, like Germany, be brought to its knees before it can learn to behave in this world?” and repeatedly compares Israeli leaders to the Nazis. But what angered both Jews and non-Jews so much was his inability to distinguish between an Israeli and a Jew, and what is seen as his “blatant anti-Semitism.”

Dahl writes: “Never before in the history of mankind has the human race rapidly transformed from very miserable victims to barbaric murderers. Never before has the human race evoked so much sympathy all over the world, and then, during its life, did not succeed in turning this sympathy into hatred and disgust. “

He goes on to condemn “Jewish financial institutions” and “American Jewish bankers” and concludes his review with the words: “Now is the time for Jews around the world to follow the example of the Germans and become anti-Israel. But do they have a conscience? I wonder if they have enough courage? “

Matthew Kalman, chairman of the Jewish Students’ Union, considers the article “one of the most scathing articles ever written about Jews in a British publication,” and when Roald Dahl was asked about it by NS, he made a series of startling comments. Referring to the question “do they, I wonder, have the courage?” Dahl said, “Maybe I shouldn’t have said it, but it came from my military experience. [in the RAF], then we hardly saw them in the armed forces. I mean, if you and I were standing in line, moving towards what we knew were gas chambers, I’d rather take one of the guards with me; but they have always been submissive. “

He continued: “I did not dare to say this, but there is a trait in the Jewish character that generates hostility, perhaps a kind of lack of generosity towards non-Jews. I mean Hitler, I mean there is always a reason why anti-something arises anywhere; even such a scoundrel as Hitler did not pester them just like that … “

Literary review Owner Nairn Attala is in a quandary over the article. The Palestinian Attala is a supporter of the homeland for his people, but even the most rude Zionist could not accuse him of anti-Semitism. “Mr. Dahl romanticized his military experience in Palestine to me and, after the first refusal, agreed to write a review,” Attala said. “I wanted someone fresh, not one of the ordinary Arabist writers. I cannot comment on any of my members … I would say that, in my opinion, the best way to convince people is through moderation. “

The Jewish community is outraged by this case, but does not believe that the article has legal force. Henry Morris, chairman of the Defense Committee of the Jewish Council of Deputies, said: “I find this article deeply offensive and insulting to Jews. This could be added to his “Tales of the Unexpected” with the same confidence. “

More details in the NS archive here, and subscribe to the weekly newsletter “From the Archive” here… A selection of works covering the history of the New Statesman was recently published as State Wisdom (Weidenfeld and Nicholson)

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