Jon Stewart Accuses J.K. Rowling of Antisemitism in 'Harry Potter'

Jon Stewart pointed out what he described as an antisemitic trope in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, and questioned why there is not more outrage over the goblins in the franchise.

In response to coverage of his remarks going viral (in Newsweek, as well as Variety and Times of Israel), Stewart tweeted a video in which he states he is not accusing Rowling of being an antisemite.

He said his remarks were a lighthearted take on his experience as a Jewish man watching Harry Potter for the first time and how certain antisemitic tropes are seemingly deeply embedded in society.

Stewart said: "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."

Stewart said that a reasonable person would have found his podcast conversation to be lighthearted.

Speaking on a recent episode of his podcast The Problem with Jon Stewart, the former host of The Daily Show shared his frustration at the apparent antisemitic tropes in the films and books.

Stewart, who is Jewish, said that the banker goblin characters who run the Gringotts Wizarding Bank in the beloved franchise resemble caricatures of Jewish people from The Protocols of the Elders of Zion—a notoriously antisemitic piece of literature.

"Here's how you know Jews are still where they are," Stewart said in the episode before explaining that he has discussed how the goblins' resemblance to antisemitic caricatures is obvious but most people don't acknowledge it.

"I just want to show you a caricature. And they're like, 'Oh, look at that, that's 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?' And everybody was just like, 'Wizards.' 'It was so weird," he said.

Stewart said that in the fantasy world of Harry Potter, people "can ride dragons and have pet owls," yet he asked: "Who should run the bank? Jews."

Stewart said: "It was one of those things where I saw it on the screen and I was expecting the crowd to be like 'Holy s***.' She did not in a wizarding world just throw Jews in there to run the f**king underground bank."

The goblins in the movie can be seen here:

On the Harry Potter wiki, this is how they are described: "Goblins are a highly intelligent race of small magical humanoid beings with long fingers and feet that coexist with the wizarding world. Their diet consists of meat, roots, and fungi. Goblins converse in a language known as Gobbledegook, and are adept metalsmiths notable for their silverwork; they even mint coins for wizarding currency. Due to their skills with money and finances, they control the wizarding economy to a large extent and run Gringotts Wizarding Bank."

Rowling's representatives declined a request for comment.

Addressing the suggestion that J.K. Rowling's portrayal of goblins was antisemitic, Campaign Against Antisemitism said Rowling "has proven herself over recent years to be a tireless defender of the Jewish community in its fight against antisemitism."

Campaign Against Antisemitism's statement read: "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 of 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.

"Those who continue to use such representations are often not thinking of Jews at all, but simply of how readers or viewers will imagine goblins to look, which is a testament more to centuries of Christendom's antisemitism than it is to malice by contemporary artists. So it is with J.K. Rowling, who 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."

Rowling's supposed use of antisemitic tropes in her portrayal of these characters has long been pointed out, with the author often receiving comments about it on Twitter.

One tweet, for example, reads: "Why did you give the money goblins hooked noses, Joanne?"

And another: "if you liked grateful slaves & hooknosed banking goblins you'll love harry potter and the biological essentialism of gender."

Activist Rafael Shimunov shared Stewart's comments on Twitter and said that "goblin mythology as antisemitic tropes predates all of us, including J.K. Rowling. But across Harry Potter novels, J.K. uses her freedom to reinvent almost anything. But as Jon Stewart points out, the antisemitic tropes maintained."

In 2020, Saturday Night Live comedian Pete Davidson called out Rowling over the goblins.

He said that in the books and movies "the woods are controlled by centaurs, the schools are run by wizards and ghosts, but who controls the banks... Jews obviously—little giant-nosed Jew Goblins."

Rowling has herself spoken out against antisemitism in the past.

In 2018, she tweeted: "Most UK Jews in my timeline are currently having to field this kind of crap, so perhaps some of us non-Jews should start shouldering the burden. Antisemites thinks this is a clever argument, so tell us, do: were atheist Jews exempted from wearing the yellow star? #antisemitism."

JK Rowling, Jon Stewart
J.K. Rowling, Jon Stewart Getty Images

Update 1/5/2022, 3:40 p.m. ET: This article was updated to include Jon Stewart's response to coverage of his remarks.