January 6, 2022 Update:

Despite his previous comments regarding the anti-Semitic nature of the goblin bankers in Harry Potter, Jon Stewart would know like you to know he does not think J.K. Rowling is anti-Semitic.

In a Twitter video, he said,

“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.”

He said that the conversation was merely a light-hearted chat between colleagues and that he finds it hard to believe that “any reasonable person” could listen to the conversation and not realize it was just that: light-hearted.

He specifically called out Newsweek for making a mountain out of a molehill and told everyone to “get a fucking grip.”

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Original article posted on January 5, 2022:

It’s no secret that, over the last few years, J.K. Rowling has said some extremely problematic and disturbing things. But the public seems to have largely been able to separate her from her work because of a collective deep love for the Harry Potter franchise. But, this begs the question: how can someone with such strong, toxic opinions keep them out of her stories?

Well, she didn’t. And Jon Stewart recently called her and Hollywood out on the anti-Semitic way they chose to portray the goblin bankers in the movies.

While recording an episode of his show, The Problem with Jon Stewart, he said,

“Here’s how you know Jews are still where they are. Talking to people I’ve said, ‘Have you ever seen a Harry Potter movie?’ and people are all like, ‘I love the Harry Potter movies!’ ‘You ever seen the scenes in Gringotts Bank?’ and they’re like ‘I love the scenes in Gringotts Bank!’ ‘Do you know what those folks who run the bank are?’ they’re like, ‘what?’ and I’m like, ‘Jews.'”

Stewart then explains that he’s shown some of these people a picture of a caricature from the anti-Semitic text, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and he asks them what the picture of. Of course, Harry Potter fans simply see the banker goblins in these pictures, not knowing where the picture truly came from.

harry potter anti-semitism
Left: A goblin banker in Harry Potter; Right: An illustration from The Protocols of Elders of Zion

The image was not lost on him the first time he saw the goblins appear on screen, though, and he was disappointed that it went right over the heads of so many people watching the film. He said,

“It was one of those things where I saw it on the screen and I was expecting the crowd to be like ‘Holy shit. She did not in a wizarding world just throw Jews in there to run the fucking underground bank!’ and everyone was just like ‘wizards!’.”

Since the middle ages, in one way or another, there has been a cultural association between Jews and finances. Today, the narrative tends to be that Jewish people are stingy, greedy, and are cheats who will do whatever it takes to hoard the wealth. In fact, many right-wing conspiracy theorists believe that Jews are working to take control of all of the world’s financial systems — a theory that can be traced back to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which was first published in 1903.

On one hand, you could argue that the fact that the anti-Semitic depiction of these characters went over so many people’s heads is a good thing because it’s evidence that the “greedy Jew” stereotype isn’t as widespread as it once was. However, just because a lot of Harry Potter fans were oblivious to the problem, that doesn’t mean everyone was, or that some particularly awful people didn’t get a sick sense of satisfaction from it.

Even if this stereotype were completely eliminated from society (which, it isn’t), making the decision to depict the banker goblins in this way would still be incredibly insensitive to the Jewish community.

jk rowling anti-semitism
credit: The WB

On Twitter, political activist Rafael Shimunov shared a clip of the podcast’s recording and even took things a step further, pointing out that in the movie the goblin-led bank was “adorned with Jewish Stars” (however, they were removed from the bank in later movies) and that the goblins had “sidelocks” (peyos), a traditional hairstyle worn by Hasidic men and boys.

J.K. Rowling was heavily involved in the making of the Harry Potter movies, so it’s safe to assume that she was given the opportunity to collaborate with animators on what these goblins should look like. And, as Stewart points out in his podcast, despite having the freedom to create any kind of goblin she could dream up (it is a wizard world, after all), she chose to stick to the Jewish banker trope.

harry potter antisemitism
credit: The WB

While Stewart may be among the few famous people to really speak out against the franchise, non-celebrities have long pointed out other problems in the Harry Potter books and movies. People have discussed themes of abuse, sexism, and racism, which is especially obvious with character names like Cho Chang and Kingsley Shacklebolt.

Because so many people grew up reading the Harry Potter books and watching the movies, the public seems to have chosen to ignore the influence that J.K. Rowling’s toxic opinions have had on the franchise in favor of the warm and fuzzy feelings of nostalgia they’ve associated with the wizarding world. But, as Stewart points out, this is exactly why underrepresented groups continue to face discrimination. At some point, we have to accept that separating the problematic author from her writing doesn’t work, and we’re going to have to choose sides.

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Categories: Movies