BBC’s Twist Anti-Semitic?

Posted by Anneli Rufus at 11:47 am, Thursday, February 19, 2009

char_lg_faginSome are calling the BBC’s new adaptation of Oliver Twist anti-Semitic because its co-star Timothy Spall portrays the thief-impresario Fagin as unmistakably, over-the-top Jewish. “I must have missed a few subtle literary points in college when I was taking a Charles Dickens seminar. I missed the spot where Fagin, in Oliver Twist, is wearing a gigondo yarmulke,” quips screenwriter Robert Avrech at Seraphic Secret. “Also, blasting right by yours truly—alas, never the best of students—is the part where Fagin abstains from eating pork chops because they’re not kosher. Who knew that Fagin was an observant Jew? And I must have skipped the part where Fagin—going all bi-polar—talks to himself in fractured Hebrew and intones: ‘Never trust the goyim.’” 

Likening PBS and the BBC to Al-Jazeera, Avrech continues: “ It was kind of scary. I mean I know the Arab world with its state controlled TV and film industries is a sewer of Jew-hatred, but this Fagin is pretty darn close to the image of the evil Jew pushed by the Nazi propaganda machine. He’s not just the Jew, he’s the devil. This Fagin is such a leering, salivating monster that I wouldn’t be surprised if, in next week’s exciting installment, he molests a few doe-eyed kids then slaughters them so he can use their blood to bake matzo.”

Dickens wrote Fagin as a Jewish character — basing him on a real-life figure: “a notorious Jewish fence called Ikey Solomons,” writes Jasper Rees in the Telegraph, “and he supplied the novel’s illustrator, George Cruikshank, with ample clues for a good likeness. He gave him red matted hair and beard, long black nails, a sizeable nose and ‘among his toothless gums a few such fangs as should have been a dog’s or rat’s’. … Dickens was as guilty as anyone of this anti-Semitic reflex. … ’Fagin is a Jew,’ Dickens later explained, ‘because it is unfortunately true, of the time to which the story refers, that that class of criminal almost invariably was Jewish.’ A complaint from a reader prompted Dickens to delete some instances of the J-word between the serial launched in Bentley’s Miscellany in 1837 and later editions. But the insignia of his cartoon Jewishness stayed: he slinks, stoops, rubs his hands. We watch him ‘creeping beneath the shelter of the walls and doorways?… like some loathsome reptile’.”

Nonetheless, Avrech notes, “You can bet your bottom dollar that no Muslim would ever appear in such a dark light in a BBC production.”



2 Responses to “BBC’s Twist Anti-Semitic?”

  1. Anna Sazie Says:


    Visit Anna Sazie

    Dickens recanted and wrote ‘Our Mutual Friend.’ You should know that.

  2. Phillip Kaylani Says:


    Visit Phillip Kaylani

    Writing to let you know BBC regularly portrays Arabs and Muslims as loathsome terrorists and mafia types especially on programs like MI-5 here in the states or Spooks over in the UK. So please spare us the poor Jew unjustly treated by the media. The Dicken’s book should not be altered no matter who protests. There is plenty of B.S. to go around. It is too bad Israel does the Arabs in the occupied territories that was done to them in Jewish ghettos throughout Europe and elsewhere.


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