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January 5, 2022 2:16 pm
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UK Jewish Groups Respond to Jon Stewart’s Claim That ‘Harry Potter’ Creator JK Rowling Used Antisemitic Stereotype for Goblins

avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

British author and “Harry Potter” creator J.K. Rowling. Photo: Reuters/Carlo Allegri.

Days after podcast host and political commentator Jon Stewart cast the depiction of goblins in the “Harry Potter” series as antisemitic, a number of Jewish groups in the UK came to defense of British author J.K. Rowling, while noting that the general character trope could be seen as problematic.

On the Dec. 16 episode of his podcast “The Problem With Jon Stewart,” the former “Daily Show” host, who is Jewish, alleged that the goblin bankers in the fantastical “Harry Potter” book series were akin to caricatures of Jews from the notorious antisemitic text, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”

When Harry Potter first encounters goblins at Gringotts Bank in “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” they are described in the book as having a “swarthy, clever face, a pointed beard and, as Harry noticed, very long fingers and feet.” In the film adaptation, a giant Star of David is seen on the main floor of Gringotts Bank. The bank scenes were filmed inside the famed Australia House in London, which is home to the diplomatic mission of Australia in the United Kingdom and indeed has a six-pointed star on its floor.

Dave Rich, director of policy at the British Jewish charity Community Security Trust, told the UK’s Daily Mail on Wednesday that Rowling had been “very supportive of the Jewish community” for years and “tweeted repeatedly against antisemitism, so it is hard to imagine that she used antisemitic caricatures in her books. Sometimes a goblin is just a goblin.”

He added on Twitter that while the late “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” author Roald Dahl “had a long record of antisemitism that would completely fit with these goblins being antisemitic caricatures. JK Rowling has the opposite record. That context does matter.”

Still, he noted that “subconscious antisemitism” in society may have resulted in fictional characters, such as goblins, taking on antisemitic appearances.

Rowling criticized former Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn when the party faced accusations of antisemitism in 2018 and refused to join a cultural boycott of Israel in 2015. She also defended Jewish comedian and actor Stephen Fry in 2019 when he came under fire by a racist Twitter user.

On his podcast, Stewart recalled having conversations with people about the resemblance between Rowling’s goblins in the “Harry Potter” series and antisemitic caricatures.

Stewart said, “[I’m] like ‘from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, I just want to show you a caricature.’ And they’re like, ‘Oh, look at that, that’s from Harry Potter!’ And you’re like, ‘No, that’s a caricature of a Jew from an antisemitic piece of literature.’ J.K. Rowling was like, ‘Can we get these guys to run our bank?’ It’s a wizarding world. We can ride dragons and you’ve got a pet owl [but] who should run the bank — Jews.”

He continued to express his frustration by saying on air: “It was one of those things where I saw it on the screen, and I was expecting the crowd to be like ’Holy s**t, she did not, in a wizarding world, just throw Jews in there to run the f**king underground bank.’ And everybody was just like, ‘Wizards.’ It was so weird.”

He then jokingly suggested the new book title “Harry Potter and the Reichstag Fire,” referencing the 1933 attack on the German parliament building after Hitler’s rise to power.

In a statement posted on Twitter, the British nonprofit Campaign Against Antisemitism noted that Rowling has “proven herself over recent years to be a tireless defender of the Jewish community in its fight against antisemitism.”

On the goblins in the “Harry Potter” series, CAA said their depiction “is of a piece with their portrayal in Western literature as a whole,” and “the product of centuries of association of Jews with grotesque and malevolent creatures in folklore, as well as money and finance.”

“The mythological associations have become so ingrained in the Western mind that their provenance no longer registers with creators or consumers,” the group added. “Those who continue to use such representations are often not thinking of Jews at all, but simply of how readers or viewers will imagine goblins to look, which is a testament more to centuries of Christendom’s antisemitism than it is to malice by contemporary artists.”

“Jews Don’t Count” author and comedian David Baddiel also voiced his opinion on the controversy, writing on Twitter, “The goblins in Harry Potter need to be seen not in a simplistic #teamRowling vs #antiteamRowling way but in a many-centuries long, deeply subconsciously embedded cultural context.”

Rowling’s agent, Neil Blair, called Stewart’s claim “total and utter bs,” and insisted that Rowling does not have “an antisemitic bone in her body. “Quite the opposite IN FACT (a concept out of fashion these days),” Blair added.

During a “Saturday Night Live” sketch in 2020, cast member Pete Davidson also railed against Rowling for adding “little, giant-nosed Jew goblins” to run the banks in the “Harry Potter” series.

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