“I never expected that my career in the UK would be prejudiced by my being Jewish,” said best-selling novelist Richard Zimler.
Best-selling novelist Richard Zimler published a disturbing letter in The Guardian on Saturday, describing the anti-Semitism he recently experienced in the United Kingdom.
Zimler, an American living in Portugal, wrote that two cultural organizations that had previously shown enthusiasm for hosting him have now declined his presence because he is Jewish.
“They asked me if you were Jewish,” Zimler quotes his publisher as saying. “And the moment I said you were, they lost all interest. They even stopped replying to my emails and returning my phone messages.”
The writer is arranging a tour to promote his latest book, The Gospel According to Lazarus. He has thus far published 11 novels that have been translated into 23 languages.
Zimler has won many literary awards and has been nominated five times for the International Dublin Literary Award.
His friends in the UK suggested that pro-Palestinian activists, including the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, along with the Labour party’s reluctance to take a firm stand against anti-Semitism, might be the catalysts for preventing the author from presenting.
“The two event co-ordinators convinced him that they weren’t anti-Semitic themselves but they feared a backlash – protests by their members and others – if they extended an invitation to a Jewish writer,” explained Zimler’s publisher.
Zimler wrote that he is “deeply shocked and upset” by the experience. He points out that he grew up in America, presently lives in Portugal, and has “no ties with Israel.”
He wrote, “Although it’s perfectly legitimate for those who oppose Netanyahu’s policies to protest against them, I have no connection with Israel. I have neither investments nor family there. And my most well-known books take place in Portugal and Poland. It’s true my new novel is set in the Holy Land, but it takes place 2,000 years before the foundation of the State of Israel.”
In his letter, Zimler implied that since his novels have given voice to people silenced by prejudice and bigotry, he did not expect to personally experience anti-Semitism.
Noting the irony of the situation, Zimler said, “Facing discrimination is always unpleasant and infuriating and I never expected that my career in the UK would be prejudiced by my being Jewish. It made Britain seem like a place I didn’t know and maybe never knew.
“Even just asking about my religious affiliation struck me as outrageous,” he continued. “The situation seemed particularly ironic because I have long endeavoured in my novels to give voice to people who have been systematically silenced by prejudice and bigotry.”
Zimler said that this experience taught him that “the current climate of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiment in the UK seems to have created this chilling effect throughout British society.”
The ‘New Normal for Britain’?
The author fears that Jewish artists, writers, dancers, singers, scientists, engineers, professors and others will be hindered or blocked from making a living in the U.K due to growing anti-Semitism.
“Five or 10 years ago, I’d have said it was highly improbable,” Zimler wrote. “After my recent experience – and after all I’ve read about the recent rise of anti-Semitism in the UK – I’d say it was entirely possible.”
Zimler concludes his letter by making a glaring statement.
“And this I know: if you fail to be welcoming to Jewish writers and artists because you fear a backlash, then your cowardice makes it possible for the haters to have their way – to spread their irrational dislike of Jews and make shunning them seem acceptable. Is that really the “new normal” you want for Great Britain?”