It’s Roald Dahl Day, Britain’s annual celebration of one of its most venerated children’s authors.
No family bookshelf is complete without a volume or two from the Welsh-born conjuror of juvenile joy and nightmares. Dahl understood the youthful imagination — its fierce moralism and rage against hypocrisy; the half-wonder, half-terror at these towering masses of contradiction and caprice called grown-ups.
And he helped expand that imagination, often to deliciously gruesome ends, in fiction such as James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Danny, the Champion of the World, and in a stark account of his often unhappy childhood, Boy.
He was also, facts are facts, a filthy, rancid Jew-hater of a lunatic bent. Dahl was no mere Home Counties anti-Semite, ‘He Jewed me out of money, Vicar’ and ‘Aren’t those Israelis a ghastly lot’. He was the full salute: Not only did he anathematise Jews, he sought mitigation for Hitler in the character of his victims.
In a 1983 interview Dahl, who died in 1990, 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 is always a reason why anti-anything crops up anywhere; even a stinker like Hitler didn’t just pick on them for no reason.
A dotty outburst by an old man? No, this was Dahl at his most lucid. The same year he contributed an article to the Literary Review in which he claimed the US government was ‘utterly dominated by the great Jewish financial institutions over there’ and complained about the influence of ‘powerful American Jewish bankers’. The Lebanon War was ‘like the good old Hitler and Himmler times all over again’ and Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon were ‘almost the exact carbon copies in miniature of Mr Hitler and Mr Goering’.
Like a literary Basil Fawlty, he goose-stepped all over the memory of the Holocaust, contending that Israeli politicians should be subjected to revived Nuremberg Trials:
Begin and Sharon and a number of other Israeli leaders should themselves be qualifying for the same treatment. Try them all, I say. Shove them all in the dock with handcuffs on and let us hear what they have to say in their defence
The establishment of the modern State of Israel was not the return of an ancient people to its homeland or the refuge-seeking of the survivors of the gas chambers. To Dahl, 1948 was a Jewish-American exercise in colonialism:
The Jews came pouring in with American money and American guns and created the State of Israel and out went the Palestinians.
In the immoral maze of Dahl’s imaginings, it was the Jews who refused to share the land, the Jews who declared war on their neighbours. Jews are the first casualty of anti-Semitism but historical truth is never far behind.
He predicted it was ‘only a matter of time’ before the Arabs ‘rise up and annihilate the State of Israel’ and he urged ‘Jews of the world’ to ‘follow the example of the Germans and become anti-Israeli’.
Needless to say, the Jews controlled the news and Dahl explained that Israel’s military activities were ‘hushed up in the newspapers because they are primarily Jewish-owned’. In a revelation that may have prompted Rupert Murdoch to seek out a rabbi, Dahl proclaimed: ‘There aren’t any non-Jewish publishers anywhere.’
Dahl was at least consistent and went to his grave inveighing against Klal Yisrael. In an interview with the Independent eight months before his death, he declared:
I’m certainly anti-Israel and I’ve become anti-Semitic inasmuch as that you get a Jewish person in another country like England strongly supporting Zionism.
Even by today’s standards, Dahl’s anti-Semitism sounds deranged — openly racist, flirting with fascism, easily eliding prejudice and the wan justifications of politics. The historian Paul Johnson observed in the wake of the Literary Review furore:
As a rule, in a civilised country like Britain, those who hate the Israelis, or the Jews in general, are careful to mask their views behind a screen of anti-Zionism, thus in theory giving their collective condemnation a political rather than a racial rationale. Dahl is a different case. He is too reckless, or too angry, or too confident in getting away with it, to take such precautions.
As a young fan, I remember my dismay — no, it was closer to devastation — on learning one of my most beloved writers was a bigot. Only in recent years has Dahl’s anti-Semitism been rediscovered — admitted? — by the literary industry and while the acknowledgement is welcome there seems to be general agreement to let it pass and wait for everyone to forget again.
This is what makes Roald Dahl Day a blot on the fulsome calendar of ersatz festivities. Most of us can separate the moral character of an artist from their creations. It’s what allows us to watch Chinatown and read Lord of the Flies. The problem comes when we celebrate the man, on his birthday no less. Roald Dahl was a gifted writer and another miserable defamer of the Jewish people. Read his books but don’t celebrate the dismal man who wrote them. Roald Dahl Day 2017 should be the last.
Feature image © Hardwick4 by Creative Commons 4.0.