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Previously, the former Daily Show host made headlines by calling out the fantasy franchise’s goblin banker characters as resembling Jewish caricatures and specifically made it sound as though Rowling deliberately based the characters on anti-Semitic tropes.
On Wednesday, he took to social media to declare, “I do not think J.K. Rowling is anti-Semitic. I did not accuse her of being anti-Semitic. I do not think the Harry Potter movies are anti-Semitic. I really love the Harry Potter movies, probably too much for a gentleman of my considerable age … I cannot stress this enough. I am not accusing J.K. Rowling of being anti-Semitic. She need not answer to any of it. I don’t want the Harry Potter movies censored in any way. It was a lighthearted conversation. Get a fucking grip!”
Stewart’s comments date back to a Dec. 16 episode of his podcast, The Problem With Jon Stewart. His show had released his comments in a promo clip on YouTube (below) titled “The Problem with Goblins: J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter & Jews” that was labeled “Anti-Semitic Tropes.”
“Here’s how you know Jews are still where they are,” Stewart said in the clip. “Talking to people, here’s what I say: Have you ever seen a Harry Potter movie? … Have you ever seen the scenes in Gringotts Bank? … Do you know what those folks who run the bank are? … Jews!”
He pointed out how the goblins resemble an illustration in the 1903 anti-Semitic book The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
“And they’re like, ‘Oh, [that illustration is] from Harry Potter!’ And you’re like, ‘No, that’s a caricature of a Jew from an anti-Semitic 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, you can have a pet owl … but who should run the bank? Jews, … but what if the teeth were sharper?”
Stewart continued: “It was one of those things where I saw it on the screen and I was expecting the crowd to be like, ‘Holy shit, [Rowling] did not, in a wizarding world, just throw Jews in there to run the fucking underground bank. And everybody was just like, ‘Wizards.’ It was so weird.”
Previously, Dave Rich, director of policy at Jewish charity the Community Security Trust, told The Hollywood Reporter: “I don’t believe J.K. Rowling is an anti-Semite or is responsible for creating anti-Semitic caricatures. There is nothing in her record to suggest that she holds anti-Semitic views: quite the opposite in fact, as she has spoken out consistently and repeatedly in support of the Jewish community and against anti-Semitism, when there was no need for her to do so. Consequently, I think in this case, her goblins are just goblins. Now, we could have a fascinating discussion about whether the traditional depictions of goblins in European culture have been subliminally influenced by anti-Semitic depictions of Jews (you could do the same for vampires), but that doesn’t make every goblin an anti-Semitic caricature.”
“The Gringotts goblins are totally coded as anti-Semitic Jewish stereotypes,” similarly opined Dan Kahan in PopDust in 2019. “[But] J.K. Rowling almost definitely didn’t do this intentionally. … Rowling also borrowed and pastiched from all sorts of fantasy and folklore while writing Harry Potter, so it’s likely that a lot of the goblins’ more anti-Semitic features are actually related to older fantasy fare surrounding bankers. It just so happens that those were probably inspired by anti-Jewish propaganda.”
Others have pointed out that the Wizarding World’s pureblood-obsessed fascist villains were clearly inspired by the Nazis.
Stewart is hardly the first to point out the resemblance between the goblins and anti-Semitic drawings, however.
“It is not often that I am stopped in my tracks,” wrote children’s author Marianne Levy for The Jewish Chronicle in 2019. “But the press photography from the new Gringotts wing of Warner Bros.’ Harry Potter Studio tour positively shrieked with anti-Semitic tropes; the long-nosed goblin, his natty suit, clawed fingers caressing a pile of gold coins. When I positioned a Gringotts shot alongside a series of cartoons from Nazi Germany’s Der Stürmer, it did not seem out of place.”
Warner Bros. and Rowling had no comment.
Rowling has recently faced backlash due to controversial social media comments, including ones about the transgender community. She also recently made headlines for not appearing in any of the new footage in HBO Max’s newly released Harry Potter reunion special, Return to Hogwarts, as well fans pointing out her name was largely absent from the first trailer for the upcoming third Fantastic Beasts movie, The Secrets of Dumbledore, which she produced and co-wrote.
Warner Bros. responded to stories speculating about a rift between the studio and the author with a statement in December reiterating their strong relationship with Rowling: “For 20 years, Warner Bros., J.K. Rowling and her team have worked together to delight fans around the world with spectacular storytelling and the magic of the Wizarding World. That relationship continues today and is more collaborative than ever. News reports to the contrary are completely untrue, and we are disappointed that these inaccurate stories only serve to hurt the Harry Potter fans we hope to entertain.”
This story was originally published on Jan. 4 at 2:29 p.m.
Jan. 5, 11:25 a.m. This story has been updated to include comments from Dave Rich, director of policy at Jewish charity the Community Security Trust, as well as Stewart’s remarks clarifying his earlier comments.
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