Much of the publicity surrounding the recently released film “Casino Royale,” the 21st in the 007 franchise, has dwelt on the new, blond-haired James Bond, Daniel Craig. The actor is no stranger to the spy world; he played a Mossad agent in Steven Spielberg’s “Munich.” The notion of a Jew with a license to kill, however, most likely would have aroused little enthusiasm in either Bond or his maker, Ian Fleming. Most of the 13 original Bond books made a point of disparaging Jews, a feature that was purged from the film versions.
“Casino Royale,” published in 1953, kicked off the Bond series, establishing most of Fleming’s trademark devices, among them a grotesque criminal nemesis for 007. In “Casino Royale,” the monster is Le Chiffre, a major Soviet operative. Like all Fleming villains, he is a racial hybrid, “a mixture of Mediterranean with Prussian or Polish strains,” and has “large lobes, indicating some Jewish blood.” Goldfinger, possibly Fleming’s most famous villain, is only suspected of having Jewish ancestry, but his fierce obsession with gold pretty much erases any doubt. Ernst Stavro Blofeld (“On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”) was supposedly baptized, but he has a Semitic-sounding name and a set of those telltale “enlarged lobes.”
Even when Fleming’s Jews are not sinister or demonic, they are confined to only a few avarice-driven professions, like banking and diamond dealing. Except for kindly Dr. Stengel (“Thunderball”), a German Jewish refugee, they are barred from medicine, science, law and journalism, to say nothing of the fraternity of valiant, selfless civil servants like Bond (though, ironically, Sidney Reilly, aka Salomon Rosenblum, “ace of spies,” was a major prototype for James Bond). Physically, Fleming’s Jewish men are always repellent, fat creatures with “black hairy bodies.” Jewish women are almost completely omitted.
In “Dr. No,” a character who clearly speaks for Fleming sums up Jamaica’s 450-year-old Portuguese-Jewish community as an enclave of rich, frivolous snobs who “spend too much of their fortune on… fine houses” and “fill the social column in the Gleaner,” which is Jamaica’s leading newspaper.
Surprisingly, Fleming’s slurs provoked little complaint during his lifetime, and he was able to report on Jamaican Jews as confidently as he did because he was on such good terms with them. Morris Cargill, a columnist for the Gleaner, was one of his closest friends, and Blanche Blackwell, a doyenne of Jamaican society, was his longtime mistress. Handsome, gracious and witty, Fleming was, in Cargill’s words, “delightful company.”