The real lesson in the Roald Dahl apology? Anti-Zionists hate Jews.
This weekend, it was reported that the official Roald Dahl website was updated with an apology for “the lasting and understandable hurt caused by some of Roald Dahl’s statements.” Although Dahl is best known for his delightful children’s stories of giant peaches and chocolate factories, the author’s own head was filled with visions of misanthropic Jews controlling society.
“There is a trait in the Jewish character that does provoke animosity,” Dahl once said. “Maybe it’s a kind of lack of generosity towards non-Jews.” Elsewhere he spoke of “powerful American Jewish bankers” and a U.S. government that is “utterly dominated by the great Jewish financial institutions.” Newspapers withheld news, he said, “because they are primarily Jewish-owned.”
Dahl was not ashamed of his antisemitism; the opposite, in fact. He was proud of it, for a very specific reason: He openly linked his Jew hatred to a hostile view of the Jewish state. “I’m certainly anti-Israeli,” he said in 1990, “and I’ve become antisemitic in as much as that you get a Jewish person in another country like England strongly supporting Zionism.”
And it’s here that Dahl’s confession offers a lesson for us today, who frequently encounter Israel’s most fervent opponents insisting that their anti-Zionism is so unrelated to antisemitism. Those who suggest otherwise, we’re always told, act in bad faith to silence criticism of Israel.
It’s this ugly victim blaming that the ghost of Roald Dahl’s antisemitism outs the lie to, like one of the grumbling antagonists of his own books. For Dahl exposed the truth, that anti-Zionism today is tightly entangled with antisemitism, with the former increasingly used to mainstream the latter.
It’s something that civil rights leaders knew back in 1968. That was the year Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. rebuked a student who attacked Zionists. “When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews,” Dr. King said.
Countless examples support his contention. Consider David Duke’s stumble during a 2006 appearance on CNN. Duke, a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, was making his pitch about the malign influence of a certain demographic when he caught himself midway through the word “Jew” and changed course.
“I know one thing,” Duke said in response to a question about the Arab-Israeli conflict. “You can’t impose a solution from the Je– the– from the Zionist domination of American foreign policy.” And then he gave up. “Pearl and people like Wolfowitz, Feith, Wurmser, Kristol, Abrams — we can go on and on,” he said. “It sounds like a Jewish wedding. They have set American policy.”
Then, as now, Zionist meant Jew.
Consider, too, the man distributing anti-Israel pamphlets in Amsterdam who told a passing tourist, “They lie, the whole world knows what the Jew is doing – uh, what the Zionist [is] doing.”
And the student who posted on social media “God curse the Jews” in Arabic, only to later insist it was a comment about Zionists. And the Twitter user who wrote, “Fkn Jews … They’re parasites,” but upon learning that his interlocutor was Jewish insisted, “I meant Zionist Jews. Slip of the tongue.”
Call it “Jew — er, Zionist” hatred.
But as some fail in their herculean struggle to substitute “Zionist” for “Jew,” others take a more relaxed approach, swinging freely between the two terms. The founder of the American Nazi Party, for example, called for the execution of “treasonous Jews” while simultaneously railing against the “Zionist conspiracy.”
The oldest hatred crosses political and geographical borders, often accompanied by its newer euphemism. In Paris, for example, a Yellow Vest protester accosted philosopher Alain Finkielkraut, shouting both “Damn Zionist!” and, tellingly, “Dirty race!”
Des #GiletsJaunes croisent Alain Finkielkraut, philosophe français, académicien et juif.
Enchaînement des insultes et du raisonnement :
– Palestine !
– La France est à nous (donc pas aux juifs)
– Sale sioniste (juif)
– Sale race (…)
– Le peuple va te punir
Paris, 2019. pic.twitter.com/nqFipHuNnV
— Julien Bahloul (@julienbahloul) February 16, 2019
To a supporter of Jeremy Corbyn, the former leader of the British Labour Party, Zionists aren’t a race but rather a religion. “Zionists do believe that they’re chosen people” and have a “sense of superiority over every non-Jewish person,” she wrote in a pro-Palestinian Facebook group. “They also believe, just like other two monotheistic religions, in life after death.” A year earlier, the activist posted to the same group an article entitled, unironically, “Why the Jews Are the Unrepentant Destroyers of All That’s Decent on the Planet.”
Just as the slur about “chosen” Zionists who look down their (large) noses at non-Jews refreshes an old antisemitic trope with anti-Zionist veneer, so too have other staples of antisemitism been modernized. In simpler times, Jews controlled the money and the news. Now, boxing star Tyson Fury points to “the Zionist, Jewish people who own all the banks, all the papers all the TV stations.” The Jews killed Jesus? French comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala insists instead that “Zionism killed Christ.” While the old guard may still insist Jewish puppetmasters control global affairs, a Labour Party member claims “Rothschilds Zionists” (sic) runs world governments.
When you understand what Martin Luther King did about Zionist meaning Jew, it all starts to make sense. The administrator of a Facebook group who praised Hitler for having “famously identified the evil of Zionism” and showing the world “how to eradicate it” isn’t confused about the Nazis. She’s one of them. (Her Facebook group, of course, was named “Anti-Zionist.”)
It is not hard to understand why those who dislike Jews disguise antisemitism as anti-Zionism. People aren’t sensitized to the latter prejudice. To speak in terms of Zionism instead of Judaism gives bigotry plausible deniability, spares the speaker potential rebuke, and ensures more people are receptive to their message. It’s basic public relations.
The problem is not just that anti-Zionism is antisemitic in its hostility to the ideas that Jews should be safe. Anti-Zionism has been wielded as a cudgel against Jews living in the Diaspora. In 1968, over 10,000 Jews were driven from Poland under the flimsy pretext of anti-Zionism. And the Soviet Union was infamous for using anti-Zionism as a pretext to further oppress Jews.
It may be possible to promote anti-Zionism without engaging in antisemitism. Some Haredi Jews believe a Jewish state should only be ushered in by the Messiah. Utopian anti-nationalists might imagine a world with no countries, applying this dream equally to all states. Palestinians may understandably feel wronged by the Jewish state.
But those tempted to absolve such anti-Zionists for the harm they advocate should ask themselves whether they believe dogma, grievance, or self-interest also frees someone of responsibility for policies that are in effect anti-Black, anti-Muslim, or anti-gay.
Those concerned with Jewish well-being should, like Dr. King, be on alert to attacks against Zionists and Zionism. After all, it’s not only Dahl, Duke, and Dieudonné who use the Z word to conceal bigotry. The New York Times recently characterized Amin al-Husseini, a Palestinian leader who worked intimately with the Third Reich to “kill the Jews wherever you find them,” as having collaborated with the Nazis “against Zionism.”
Gilead Ini is a senior research analyst at CAMERA.