The Campaign Against Antisemitism has defended J.K. Rowling against accusations levied by Jon Stewart that the bank goblins in her Harry Potter series are caricatures of Jews. Stewart subsequently called his remarks Wednesday “a joke.”
In a recent podcast tied to Stewart’s AppleTV+ series The Problem, Stewart compared the goblins in Rowling’s books to the anti-semitic illustrations featured in the 1903 book The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Variety reports.
“Have you ever seen a Harry Potter movie? Have you ever seen the scenes in Gringotts Bank? Do you know what those folks that run the bank are? Jews!.. 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,’” Stewart said. “J.K. Rowling was like, ‘Can we get these guys to run our bank?’ You’re like, ‘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.”
However, in a tweet Wednesday, the Campaign Against Antisemitism defended Rowling over the sudden two-decade-old uproar, noting in a statement that “the portrayal of the goblins in the Harry Potter series is of a piece with their portrayal in Western literature as a whole.”
“It is the product of centuries of association with 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 U.K. organization added, noting that any similarity between Rowling’s goblins and anti-Semitic illustrations “is a testament more to centuries of Christendom’s antisemitism than it is to malice by contemporary artists.”
Our statement on suggestions that JK Rowling’s portrayal of the goblins in the Harry Potter series is antisemitic pic.twitter.com/v9twpzkxM4
— Campaign Against Antisemitism (@antisemitism) January 5, 2022
The organization also said that the author “has proven herself over recent years to be a tireless defender of the Jewish community in its fight against antisemitism, for which we are immensely grateful.”
On Wednesday, as Stewart’s goblins claim went viral, the former Daily Show host turned to Twitter to state that he was just joking about the anti-Semitism claims, saying his previous conversation was “light-hearted.”
Newsweek et al, may eat my ass. pic.twitter.com/eRoYYeNRi1
— Jon Stewart (@jonstewart) January 5, 2022
“I do not think J.K. Rowling is antisemitic. I did not accuse her of being antisemitic,” Stewart said. “I do not think the Harry Potter movies are antisemitic. I really love the Harry Potter movies, probably too much for a gentleman of my considerable age.”
Stewart added, “I cannot stress this enough. I am not accusing J.K. Rowling of being antisemitic. 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.”
Whether the goblins in Harry Potter were intentionally anti-Semitic or not — Rowling has not yet commented on the claim, and Stewart said his own comments weren’t worthy of her response — Stewart’s resurfacing of the 20-year-old accusations are just the latest controversy to follow Rowling in recent years, including the author’s continued confrontations with the trans community over her stance on gender. That controversy most recently resulted in Rowling’s near-erasure from HBO Max’s 20th anniversary special about the Potter films.