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‘Out of context nonsense’: Jon Stewart says he never accused Rowling of antisemitism

Comedian says media entirely misrepresented his point on portrayal of goblins in ‘Harry Potter’; adds: ‘I really love the Harry Potter movies. Probably too much for my age’

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

Entertainer and activist Jon Stewart speaks during a press conference at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, May 26, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Entertainer and activist Jon Stewart speaks during a press conference at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, May 26, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Comedian Jon Stewart said Wednesday that he was clearly joking during a recent podcast conversation about “Harry Potter,” and said he does not consider author J.K. Rowling to be antisemitic in any way.

Comments made by Stewart, the former host of “The Daily Show,” were widely reported this week as indicating that the comic had accused Rowling of using antisemitic tropes in her portrayal of goblins in the Harry Potter — as described in the books and carried over to and films.

But in a video he posted to social media on Wednesday, Stewart said the reports completely misrepresented his intention.

“There is no reasonable person that could have watched it and not seen it as a light-hearted conversation amongst colleagues and chums, having a laugh, enjoying ourselves,” said Stewart. He said the conversation was “about Harry Potter, and my experience watching it for the first time in a theater as a Jewish guy, and how some tropes are so embedded in society that they’re basically invisible even in a considered process like movie making.”

In the original podcast, posted in mid-December, Stewart said the portrayal of the goblins in the films is a good example of “how you know Jews are still where they are.”

Stewart joked that Rowling saw a classic antisemitic caricature from the infamous antisemitic tract “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” and said: “‘Can we get these guys to run our bank?’”

“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.

The comedian said Wednesday that, a month after recording the podcast, he woke up to headlines saying that he had accused Rowling of antisemitism — and was shocked.

“Let me just say this, super clearly, as clearly as I can: Hello, my name is Jon Stewart, I do not think J.K. Rowling is antisemitic, I did not accuse her of being antisemitic, I do not think that the ‘Harry Potter’ movies are antisemitic,” he said. “I really love the Harry Potter movies. Probably too much for a gentleman of my considerable age.

“So I would just like to say that none of that is true, and not a reasonable person could not have looked at that conversation and not found it lighthearted.”

Stewart also accused Newsweek and other media outlets of using “arson” as a business model, and peddling “out of context nonsense” to get clicks.

Animatronic bank tellers at Gringotts Bank, part of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando, Florida, are seen on June 19, 2014. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

“I don’t want the ‘Harry Potter’ movies censored in any way, it was a lighthearted conversation, get a fucking grip,” Stewart concluded.

The comedian’s explanation of his words, noting that “some tropes are so embedded in society that they’re basically invisible,” echoed many of the comments made earlier in the day defending Rowling amid the controversy.

David Baddiel, a British Jewish comedian and prominent voice against antisemitism, tweeted Wednesday that the goblins in “Harry Potter” should be seen through the lens of “a many-centuries long, deeply subconsciously embedded cultural context.”

And the UK-based Campaign Against Antisemitism said that the goblins in the books and films 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.”

Rowling herself has not weighed in on the controversy.

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