In a recent episode of the podcast The Problem with Jon Stewart, the veteran comedian joked about anti-Semitic tropes in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, pointing out similarities between the goblins who work at the wizard bank Gringotts and historically racist depictions of Jewish people.
“Here’s how you know Jews are still where they are,” Stewart said in a December 16th episode. “Talking to people, what I say is: Have you ever seen a Harry Potter movie? … Have you ever seen the scenes in Gringotts Bank? … Do you know what those folks who run the bank are? … Jews!”
To demonstrate his point, he referenced the 1903 text The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a piece of propaganda which helped popularize the idea of an international Jewish conspiracy. Speaking to an imaginary Harry Potter fan, he said, “Let me show you this from The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, 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?’ It’s a wizarding world… We can ride dragons, you can have a pet owl, but who should run the bank? Jews,” he said. “Yeah, they look like Jews, but what if the teeth were sharper?”
In racist literature of the past and present, Jewish people are often presented as having long noses and clawed hands that are often grasping at gold coins. “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,” Stewart added. “And everybody was just like, ‘Wizards.’ It was so weird.” Referencing the house elf slaves, he added, “Even [the character] Dobby, it was like, ‘That’s fucked up.'”
Update: In response to news stories about the podcast, Stewart has released a new video clarifying his position. He called it a “light-hearted conversation,” about how “some tropes are so embedded in society that they’re basically invisible even in a considered process like moviemaking.” He added, “I do not think J.K. Rowling is anti-Semitic. I did not accuse her of being anti-Semitic. I do not think that the Harry Potter movies are anti-Semitic. I really love the Harry Potter movies — probably too much for a gentleman of my considerable age.”
Stewart also slammed Newsweek and other publications for suggesting that he was calling out Rowling. This is perhaps a bit strong, since he named a video clip of the original conversation “The Problem with Goblins: J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter, & Jews,” and even gave it the subtitle, “‘Antisemitic’ Tropes.” Check out “The Problem with Goblins,” as well as Stewart’s follow-up, below.