Jewish novelist examines increase of antisemitism in Britain

“If cultural organisations are afraid of hosting events for Jewish writers, then Britain has taken a big step backwards.”

U.S. writer Richard Zimler  (photo credit: REUTERS/MIGUEL VIDAL)
U.S. writer Richard Zimler
(photo credit: REUTERS/MIGUEL VIDAL)
Best-selling Portuguese-American Jewish author Richard Zimler, who recently has been dropped from two book events because of his Judaism, discussed the increase in antisemitism in Britain in an op-ed in The Guardian.
“They asked me if you were Jewish,” his publicist told him, Zimler recounted. “And the moment I said you were, they lost all interest,” he wrote in the op-ed on Saturday, adding that “They even stopped replying to my emails and returning my phone messages.”
Zimler, who published in April the novel The Gospel According to Lazarus, traditionally travels to Britain from his Portugal residence to give talks at bookshops, libraries and literary festivals about his new works. His publicist had been trying to set up events for him three months in advance.
“After our phone conversation, I was deeply shocked and upset,” Zimler wrote. “Facing discrimination is always unpleasant and infuriating and I never expected that my career in the UK would be prejudiced by my being Jewish.”
He said the unexpected turn-downs have changed his view of Britain, making seem like a place he never knew before. He wrote it was “outrageous” that people considered asking him about his religion.
Zimler wrote that discussions about the event with his publicist led him to consider the bigger issue of antisemitic and anti-Israel sentiment in the UK. He also cited the Labour party’s unwillingness to take a stand against antisemitism in Britain.
“If cultural organizations are afraid of hosting events for Jewish writers, then Britain has taken a big step backwards,” he said.
His new book is set in the Holy Land, 2,000 years before the founding of the State of Israel, and, along with his nationality, he does not see this as a direct connection to Israel. His most well-known books are set in Portugal and Poland.
Zimler says, in the long run, he is likely to be unaffected and continue writing novels even if he is never invited again to speak in the UK. He fears other artists such as writers, dancers and singers might be hindered by the sentiment he described.
He says that unlike 5 or 10 years ago where it was “highly improbable” a Jew would be denied a job, it is now “entirely possible” after what he experienced.
“I have long endeavored in my novels to give voice to people who have been systematically silenced by prejudice and bigotry,” he wrote. “Obviously, I do not believe that anyone benefits when writers are censored for their ethnicity or faith.”
Zimler has published over 10 novels. He is a recipient of several literary awards, including the 1994 National Endowment of the Arts in Fiction, as well as the Best Children’s Book of 2018 from Bissaya Barreto Foundation of Portugal.
He said that his editorial in The Guardian has led various news organizations to push their own agendas and that it is "infuriating" to him.
"I've discovered over the past few days that a number of journalists and commentators in America, England, Israel and other countries are using what I said in my editorial to push their own agenda. They are mis-representing what I said," Zimler recently wrote in an email to the Post.
He added that he is being misquoted and that people in the United Kingdom have criticized him despite not experiencing what had happened to him.
"I don't want to say any more than what I've already said in my editorial. I want to be known for my books and not much else."