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Jewish groups defend J.K. Rowling over claim ‘Harry Potter’ goblins antisemitic

After comedian Jon Stewart says the books’ portrayal of goblins clearly based on Jew hatred, groups suggest Rowling was merely tapping into centuries of cultural context

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel.

Author J.K. Rowling attends the HBO Documentary Films premiere of 'Finding the Way Home' at 30 Hudson Yards on Wednesday, December 11, 2019, in New York. (Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
Author J.K. Rowling attends the HBO Documentary Films premiere of 'Finding the Way Home' at 30 Hudson Yards on Wednesday, December 11, 2019, in New York. (Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

Jewish figures and groups defended “Harry Potter” author J.K. Rowling after comedian Jon Stewart alleged that the author’s goblin characters were clearly antisemitic.

Dave Rich, the director of policy for the UK-based Jewish nonprofit Community Security Trust, tweeted that “sometimes a goblin is just a goblin.”

Rich told the Hollywood Reporter that he does not believe Rowling “is an antisemite or is responsible for creating antisemitic caricatures. There is nothing in her record to suggest that she holds antisemitic views: quite the opposite in fact as she has spoken out consistently and repeatedly in support of the Jewish community and against antisemitism.”

David Baddiel, a British Jewish comedian and prominent voice against antisemitism, also weighed in.

“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,” he tweeted.

Baddiel cited a portion of his recent book, “Jews Don’t Count,” noting that for centuries “Jews were routinely painted and sculpted as gargoyles and devils. Our artistic tradition — look at Punch & Judy, look at witches, look at pantomime, look at Bond villians — depicts evil as swarthy and hook-nosed.”

A goblin at the Gringotts bank, part of Warner Bros’ ‘The Making of Harry Potter Tour in London (courtesy/ www.wbstudiotour.co.uk)

His comments were echoed by a statement from the UK-based Campaign Against Antisemitism. The organization said that the “Harry Potter” goblins are “of piece with their portrayal in Western literature as a whole. It is the product of centuries of association of Jews with grotesque and malevolent creatures in folklore.” The group suggested that Rowling was “not thinking of Jews at all” with her portrayal, and said the author has “proven herself over recent years to be a tireless defender of the Jewish community.”

On a recent episode of his podcast, Stewart, the former host of “The Daily Show,” said the goblins appeared to him to be clear antisemitic caricatures.

“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,’” Stewart said.

He also compared the goblins to the portrayal of Jews in “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” an infamous antisemitic tract. “[People think] ‘Oh that’s a character 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?’” Stewart said.

Rowling herself has not weighed in on the controversy.

JTA contributed to this report.

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