Britain’s Royal Mint nixed proposals to honor celebrated children’s author Roald Dahl with a commemorative coin due to his anti-Semitic views, The Guardian reported on Tuesday.
A 2014 committee meeting rejected a motion to issue a coin for the 2016 centenary of the “Charlie and the Choclate Factory” author’s birth, stating he was “associated with antisemitism and not regarded as an author of the highest reputation,” according to minutes obtained by The Guardian through Freedom of Information requests.
In 2014, while the Royal Mail issued a set of stamps depicting Dahl books, including “Matilda” and “The BFG,” the Royal Mint instead struck William Shakespeare and Beatrix Potter commemorative coins.
The debate over Dahl’s anti-Semitic legacy hit mainstream Hollywood in 2016 upon the release of the Steven Spielberg version of “The BFG.” At a Cannes Film Festival press conference, the Jewish director said he “wasn’t aware of any of Roald Dahl’s personal stories” before shooting “The BFG” for Walt Disney Pictures. (For an in-depth report on Dahl’s bigotry, see Matt Lebovic’s 2016 “Was beloved children’s author Roald Dahl a raging bigot?“)
“I was focused on the story [Dahl] wrote,” said Spielberg, the creator of “Schindler’s List” and founder of the Shoah Foundation. “I had no idea of anything that was purportedly assigned to him, that he might have said,” Spielberg told journalists in Cannes.
The Guardian report cites several instances in which Dahl describes himself as anti-Semitic, including a 1990 interview in UK’s The Independent a few months prior to his death.
“I’m certainly anti-Israeli and I’ve become anti-Semitic in as much as that you get a Jewish person in another country like England strongly supporting Zionism. I think they should see both sides. It’s the same old thing: we all know about Jews and the rest of it.
“There aren’t any non-Jewish publishers anywhere, they control the media – jolly clever thing to do – that’s why the president of the United States has to sell all this stuff to Israel,” said Dahl in 1990 in response to the Lebanon War.
The publication of this interview did not pass unremarked. After Dahl’s death and a flurry of complimentary obituaries, then Anti-Defamation League head Abe Foxman took The New York Times to task: “Praise for Mr. Dahl as a writer must not obscure the fact that he was also a bigot,” wrote Foxman in his December 7, 1990, letter to the editor.
However, for many younger Britons who grew up on Dahl’s now classic tales, the recent reiteration of the author’s anti-Semitic views has come as a shock.
“This isn’t borderline anti-Semitism. This is classic, undeniable, blatant antisemitism. I think when it comes to celebrating individuals, these factors ought to be taken into account… In some ways, for those of us who have never really known this side of Roald’s character, it’s quite upsetting actually,” Wes Streeting, Labour MP and co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on British Jews, told The Guardian.
A spokeswoman from the Royal Mint did not clearly rule out a future Dahl coin in her statement to The Guardian. She said proposals “go through a rigorous planning and design selection process governed by an independent panel known as The Royal Mint Advisory Committee (RMAC)… On this occasion, the committee selected other themes to feature on coins for that particular year.”
Matt Lebovic contributed to this report.