Royal Mint rejected Roald Dahl coin over antisemitic views

Exclusive: company dropped proposals to mark centenary of author’s birth, papers show

Plans to celebrate the life of Roald Dahl with a commemorative coin were rejected because of concerns about the author’s antisemitic views, it can be revealed.

Official papers obtained by the Guardian using freedom of information laws also disclose that the Royal Mint dropped proposals to issue a coin to mark the centenary of Dahl’s birth because he was “not regarded as an author of the highest reputation”.

The decision is set out in the minutes of a Royal Mint sub-committee meeting held in 2014, where the company instead opted for coins commemorating William Shakespeare and Beatrix Potter.

The decision was made despite the Royal Mail honouring the children’s author with a set of commemorative stamps celebrating his books, many of which have been adapted into films. These include Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the BFG.

The minutes state: “The themes set out below were considered but not recommended. 100th anniversary of the birth of Roald Dahl. Associated with antisemitism and not regarded as an author of the highest reputation.”

While Dahl’s children’s books remain beloved, his history of antisemitic remarks – which had previously largely been overlooked – clouded celebrations of his centenary.

In 1983, against a backdrop of widespread criticism over Israel’s invasion of Lebanon a year earlier, Dahl 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’s always a reason why anti-anything crops up anywhere; even a stinker like Hitler didn’t just pick on them for no reason.”

In an interview with the Independent in 1990, months before his death, he described himself as antisemitic and railed against the “Jewish-owned” media.

He told the publication: “It began in 1982 when the Israelis invaded Lebanon. They killed 22,000 civilians when they bombed Beirut. It was very much hushed up in the newspapers because they are primarily Jewish-owned …

“I’m certainly anti-Israeli and I’ve become antisemitic 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 … ”

Amanda Bowman, the vice-president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, praised the Royal Mint’s decision. “The Royal Mint was absolutely correct to reject the idea of a commemorative coin for Roald Dahl,” she said. “Many of his utterances were unambiguously antisemitic. He may have been a great children’s writer but he was also a racist and this should be remembered.”

Meanwhile, Wes Streeting, Labour MP and co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on British Jews, added: “Roald Dahl’s children’s stories were my favourite books growing up and they will always occupy a special place in my heart. There’s certainly no reason why future generations of children shouldn’t continue to enjoy those stories.

“But I think it’s absolutely clear that the Royal Mint made the right decision because there is just no excusing or explaining away Roald Dahl’s comments and his views, which were antisemitic. It is as simple as that.

“This isn’t borderline antisemitism. 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.”

Last year, Jewish comedian David Baddiel said he was refusing to celebrate Roald Dahl day because of the author’s views. He tweeted Dahl’s New Statesmen quote, adding: “Though a massive fan of his work, I won’t be celebrating #RoaldDahlDay”.

A Royal Mint spokeswoman said: “Themes submitted for consideration to feature on Royal Mint coins go through a rigorous planning and design selection process governed by an independent panel known as The Royal Mint Advisory Committee (RMAC).

“Members of this committee include independent experts in the fields of art, history and design, as well as technical specialists from The Royal Mint.

“There are usually a large number of subjects nominated and it is therefore not possible to feature them all. So the aim is to create a shortlist of themes that reflect the most significant and appropriate events for national commemoration.

“On this occasion, the committee selected other themes to feature on coins for that particular year.”

The Roald Dahl Story Company did not respond to a request for comment.

Contributor

Simon Murphy

The GuardianTramp

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