Author Richard Zimler describes 'shock' at rejection by UK organisations because of being Jewish

Publicist told him two cultural organisations had asked if the author was Jewish, and 'the moment I said you were, they lost all interest'


A best-selling Jewish writer has expressed “deep shock” after he was rejected by two different UK organisations which had previously expressed interest in hosting him to speak about his new book once they found out he was Jewish.

Richard Zimler, author of books including The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon and The Warsaw Anagram, told the JC that he decided to speak out after  “the warning of the German government to Jews not to wear a kippah (yarmulke) in public. To me, that meant that being identified as a Jew is now dangerous in Europe.   How crazy and dispiriting is that?

Writing for  The Observer he described how he had “never expected that my career in the UK would be prejudiced by my being Jewish.”

A friend who worked as book publicist called him regarding his new bookThe Gospel of Lazarus, and speaking “in a distressed tone I’d never heard before” told him that two cultural organisations who had shown interest in an event had “asked if you were Jewish,, and the moment I said you were, they lost all interest…stopped replying to my e-mails and returning my phone messages.”

Although Mr Zimler made it clear that he had “no connection with Israel…neither investments or family there”, the conversation with his publicist had taught him that “the current climate of anti-Israel and antisemitic sentiment in the UK seems to have created this chilling effect throughout British society.”

Although the plot of his latest book is based in the Holy Land (albeit 2,000 years ago), Mr Zimler told the JC he did not believe that his publicist was asked if he was Jewish because of the book.

“Lazarus is a New Testament figure…not associated with Judaism,” he said.

“My publicist did not come away from his conversations believing that they were asking because of the specific themes of the book.  Quite the contrary, he believed they wanted to know if I was Jewish for other reasons, for their worries about protests.”

Mr Zimler did not reveal his publicist’s real name (John, also used in his Observer article, is a pseudonym) or the identity of the organisations themselves. He said his publicist had asked him not to and that “if the organisations were named, they'd deny it and might avenge themselves on him”. He said that prior to publishing the editorial, the Observer, which was given John’s real name, had called the publicist to verify the story.

Although the conversation with his publicist happened in early March, Mr Zimler only spoke out about the issue now, describing a number of reasons why he had previously kept quiet.

He said that he did “not have a confrontational personality” and worried about “negative criticism. There are a lot of crazy and angry people on Facebook and Twitter and I don't enjoy being insulted by them.” Additionally, he described how all writers “get used to disappointment and irritation”, saying that he had been turned down by venues before, usually either because “I won’t attract a big enough audience…[or] the timing is wrong.”

The author also said that, as a dual American-Portuguese national, if it had happened in either of those countries, he “might have spoken up right away… I know it may seem silly, but I figured that this is a British problem and maybe I should just keep quiet.” 

He decided to speak out, he told the JC, for a number of reasons.

“I came across current statistics about antisemitism in the UK.  For instance, 1 in twenty British people - according to polls - is a Holocaust denier.  Hate crimes against Jews are more common (per capita) than hate crimes against all other ethnic groups in the UK.”

He also said that friends of his “kept sending me articles about the problems in the Labour Party with regard to antisemitic discourse.  These articles convinced me that this may be a problem very difficult to tackle in British society.”

But what finally made him decide to write the piece, he said, was

“I decided to write the piece not so much for myself but for others who face far greater discrimination (of all kinds) and whose options will be severely limited because of it. 

“As I say in the piece, I will not suffer greatly because of what happened.  I will be fine.  I will be able to continue writing my novels and publishing them.  But what about others in a more fragile position?”
British author Linda Grant said on Twitter: "I’m baffled by this. I’m Jewish and have done every major literary festival and dozens of small ones. Without knowing which festivals it’s really hard to understand what is going on."


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