Roald Dahl’s family urged to engage with community after antisemitism apology

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Roald Dahl’s family urged to engage with community after antisemitism apology

Communal groups including JCORE, CST and the Holocaust Educational Trust welcome the apology but ask why it was hidden online and not sent to Jewish groups

Tali is a reporter at Jewish News

A family photograph of the children's author Roald Dahl, with his wife Patricia Neal, and children Olivia (right) Tessa, and Theo (in pram).
A family photograph of the children's author Roald Dahl, with his wife Patricia Neal, and children Olivia (right) Tessa, and Theo (in pram).

The family of Roald Dahl has been urged to engage with the Jewish community following an apology over the author’s antisemitism.

The family issued an unannounced apology for the acclaimed author’s racism on a sub-section of the Roald Dahl organisation’s website. In an interview with the New Statesmanin 1983, the author infamously said: “There is a trait in the Jewish character that does provoke animosity, maybe it’s a kind of lack of generosity towards non-Jews. 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.”

The Jewish Council for Racial Equality (JCORE) has now called on the Roald Dahl organisation to actively promote children’s books that portray positive images of all communities and engage in activities that promote good race relations, following the apology.

“The apology for, and the recognition of the hurt caused by, Roald Dahl’s own statements is to be welcomed. Roald Dahl’s literature has featured in classrooms across the world for decades without his racist views being questioned”, JCORE said.

The charity, which works to tackle racism, urged the author’s organisation to use the opportunity to connect with organisations combatting antisemitism. 

The Holocaust Educational Trust’s chief executive, Karen Pollock, criticised the organisation for publishing its apology discreetly on its website, without being sent to the media or Jewish organisations.

Roald Dahl

Questioning the timing of the statement, Pollock told the Jewish News: “It may be unpalatable to highlight the antisemitic views expressed by one of the world’s most popular and beloved children’s authors but the facts speak for themselves, so whilst this apology from Roald Dahl’s estate is welcome, why is it hidden away in the backend of a website and why now?”

The apology didn’t come under the news or press sections of the Roald Dahl organisation’s website. Instead, to find it from the home page, you had to click ‘About us’ and go through to the Roald Dahl Story Company area of the website, under which you would be able to find the apology, titled “Apology for antisemitic comments made by Roald Dahl” in the ‘RDSC and family notice’ section.

The apology reads: “The Dahl family and the Roald Dahl Story Company deeply apologise for the lasting and understandable hurt caused by some of Roald Dahl’s statements.

“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.

“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.”

Hinting that the Roald Dahl organisation should be doing more to work alongside the Jewish community, CST told the Jewish News: “It is for his family to decide whether they wish to follow up this statement with any direct engagement with the Jewish community.”

But CST added that: “Roald Dahl’s antisemitic views have been well known for decades. They have not prevented him from becoming a much-loved children’s author, which makes it all the more important that his family have taken this step and formally acknowledged, and apologised for, his antisemitism.

Every year, Roald Dahl’s estate gives a percentage of its profits to charity, equal to 8 percent of revenue in 2018. Might it now consider donating this to charities combating antisemitism?

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