Jewish novelist Richard Zimler says he has been blocked from attending two UK literary events because organisers feared a backlash from anti-Israel protesters.
In a column for the Observer, Zimler said his personal publicist was turned down by two unnamed cultural institutions when trying to set up events promoting his new book The Gospel According to Lazarus (Peter Owen), set in the Holy Land 2,000 years before the creation of the Israeli state.
Despite previously showing “enthusiasm” for an event with Zimler, both organisations “lost interest” after asking if Zimler was Jewish.
He wrote: “The final conversations he had with the two event co-ordinators convinced him that they weren’t antisemitic themselves but they feared a backlash – protests by their members and others – if they extended an invitation to a Jewish writer.”
Zimler, famed for 1996 bestseller The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon (Corsair), went on: “After our phone conversation, I was deeply shocked and upset. 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.”
The writer, who has no connection with Israel and has dual American and Portuguese nationality, warned British society appeared to be suffering from a “chilling effect” caused by a climate of anti-Israel and antisemitic feeling.
He wrote: “Happily for me, my particular case is unimportant – I’ll be able to write novels and make a living even if no one ever invites me to speak in the UK again. And in Portugal, where I live, I almost never have to deal with virulent antisemites because they represent only a tiny fraction of the population. But what about artists, writers, dancers and singers whose careers in Britain are hindered or blocked by a fear of repercussions and who are unable to continue to make a decent living there?”
Nick Owen, m.d. at Peter Owen, told The Bookseller: "Whilst we had no direct involvement in the reports, as a former journalist I assumed the Observer and the Guardian would have checked out the story. I have now had confirmation that the papers had established its veracity beyond doubt."