UPDATED 1/6, 9:43 a.m. ET: Jon Stewart issued a video statement offering some clarity on his widely excerpted comments while also criticizing what the business model behind what he says amounts to “ridiculously out-of-context nonsense.”
Per Stewart, he and his team were simply “bullshitting about all kinds of stuff” when the Harry Potter topic came up. The ensuing comments about antisemitism within the Potter franchise, Stewart added, was more largely about how “some tropes are so embedded in society that they’re basically invisible,” even in film.
“I do not think J.K. Rowling is antisemitic,” Stewart said. “I did not accuse her of being antisemitic. I do not think that the Harry Potter movies are antisemitic. I really love the Harry Potter movies, probably too much for a gentleman of my considerable age.”
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In a recent episode of his The Problem podcast, comedian Jon Stewart broached the topic of antisemitic tropes in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.
Amid his comments, which stem from a December 2021 episode but have since gone viral thanks to the tweet below, the former Daily Show host and current Apple TV+ personality spoke with his co-hosts about conversations he’s had with people regarding the Gringotts Wizarding Bank goblins.
“Can I tell you something about Harry Potter?” Stewart said around the 53-second mark in the video above. “Here’s how you know, and this is the whole thing and you don’t have to use this but this is true. Here’s how you know that Jews are still where they are. Talking to people, what I say is, ‘Have you ever seen the Harry Potter movies?’ And people are all like, ‘I love the Harry Potter movies!’ So I’m like, ‘You ever see the scenes in Gringotts Bank?’ And they’re like, ‘Ah, I love the scenes in Gringotts Bank.’ I’m like, ‘Do you know what those folks that run the bank are?’ And they’re like, ‘What?’ and I’m like, ‘Jews.’”
Stewart connected the characters to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an antisemitic publication that was originally released in 1903. “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,’” Stewart said. “J.K. Rowling was like, ‘Can we get these guys to run our bank?’”
Recalling the moment he first noticed this, Stewart compared the feeling to that of being in a horror film. “It reminded me of those horror movies where, like, everybody’s been taken over by the thing but you haven’t. … 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. “And everybody was just like, ‘Wizards.’”
Stewart isn’t the first person to criticize the Harry Potter series over these issues. In recent years, for example, writer Marianne Levy penned a piece for the Jewish Chronicle in which she said a Gringotts photo “did not seem out of place” when placed alongside cartoons from the Nazi Germany-era antisemitic newspaper Der Stürmer.
Rowling, whose more recent criticism has focused on her multiple transphobic remarks, has previously been defended by others regarding the Gringotts controversy. Those defending this aspect of the Potter series point out that Rowling herself has taken public stances against antisemitism in the past.