Jon Stewart breaks Hollywood's silence on antisemitism in Harry Potter

The TV show host and political commentator points out Rowling's use of antisemitic caricatures in the Harry Potter films.

Jon Stewart holds the Emmy award for the "The Daily Show" in 2011 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Jon Stewart holds the Emmy award for the "The Daily Show" in 2011
(photo credit: REUTERS)

Jon Stewart recently pointed out how J.K. Rowling based the banker goblin characters who run the fictional Gringotts Wizarding Bank in the Harry Potter franchise on antisemitic caricatures of Jews from "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion", an antisemitic piece of literature. 

"Here's how you know Jews are still where they are," Stewart said during his podcast for his late night TV show The Problem with Jon Stewart. 

Stewart references conversations he's had with people about Rowling's Harry Potter films, where he explains that while the goblins' resemblance to antisemitic caricatures is obvious, people can't seem to see it or rarely come to this realization.

Stewart recreates past conversations: "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."

Stewart also notes that Harry Potter is a wizard world where people "can ride dragons and have pet owls" and anything can be imagined, yet somehow Rowling chose Jews to run the bank. 

 A goblin greets guests at the entrance to Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts during a media preview of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter-Diagon Alley at the Universal Orlando Resort in Orlando, Florida June 19, 2014.  (credit: REUTERS/David Manning) A goblin greets guests at the entrance to Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts during a media preview of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter-Diagon Alley at the Universal Orlando Resort in Orlando, Florida June 19, 2014. (credit: REUTERS/David Manning)

"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 f**king underground bank."

During the podcast, staff writer Henrik Blix recalled that even as an 11-year-old Harry Potter fan, he knew the goblin thing was messed up when he saw it in the film, The Week reported. 

In 2020 on SNL's "Weekend Update" segment, Pete Davidson called out Rowling, saying that in the series "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." He addresses Rowling's use of these antisemitic caricatures as well as her transphobic comments, reported by Deadline. 

The Harry Potter 20th Anniversary: Return to Hogwarts Reunion was released on HBO this past weekend. The set of Gringotts Bank is revisited in a portion of the reunion and two Gringott goblin dummies are shown. The issue of these antisemitic tropes is not addressed in the documentary.