Last week, J.K. Rowling joined 150 British artists, actors and politicians in signing a petition opposing a cultural boycott of Israel, published in The Guardian. The network, which calls itself Culture for Coexistence, argued that continued engagement with Israel is the only way to end the cycle of violence in the region.”Cultural engagement builds bridges, nurtures freedom and positive movement for change,” the group wrote. “We wholly endorse encouraging such a powerful tool for change rather than boycotting its use.”
Many readers took to social media to criticize the “Harry Potter” author for lending her name to the document — some of those fans apparently saw a link between the conflict in the Middle East and Voldemort’s quest for supreme power in the Wizarding World.
In a piece called “Dumbledore Went to the Hilltop,” posted from her official Twitter account, the author set some facts straight, using “Harry Potter” to explain why she doesn’t support BDS. And since no one can out-magic J.K., I’ll let her speak for herself.
Read her arguments below:
I’ve received a lot of messages over the past few days that use my fictional characters to make points about the Israeli cultural boycott. This isn’t a complaint: those characters belong to the readers as well as to me, and each has their own life in the heads of those who have read them. Sometimes the inner lives of characters as imagined by readers are not what I imagined for them, but the joy of books is that we all make our own mental cast. I’ve always enjoyed hearing about versions of Potter characters that exist in heads other than mine.
Many of the messages I’ve received in the last few days have included variations on the theme ‘talking wouldn’t stop the Wizarding War’ and as far as that goes, it’s true. Talking alone would not have stopped the Wizarding War and talking alone didn’t. Voldemort believed that non-wizards were subhuman, so it’s valid to draw comparisons between Voldemort and any real human being who regards other races, religions or sexualities as inferior. It would indeed have been a fool’s errand to try and talk Voldemort or Bellatrix Lestrange into laying down their wands for love of their fellow humans. They have no love of humanity and they wanted domination, not peace.
I said above, and I stand by it, that every reader has the right to his or her own version of my characters. However, there is one central point about the Potter stories that is not negotiable: we can’t pretend that it isn’t there, or that it doesn’t matter, when it is the crux of the books and in many ways the key to the story. It is also a point that to my knowledge (I get a lot of messages, so I cannot swear to it) has been lost in the many comparisons of Israel to Death Eaters.
In the final book, Deathly Hallows, when many hidden things come to the surface, there is a scene on a windy hilltop. Dumbledore has been summoned by a Death Eater, Severus Snape. At that point, Snape is a subscriber to the inhuman philosophy of Voldemort. He is probably a killer, certainly a betrayer of two of the people Dumbledore loved most, and the man who had sent Voldemort after an innocent child in the knowledge that Voldemort would kill him.
Again, to my knowledge (my memory isn’t infallible, so forgive me if you did), nobody has ever asked me: why did Dumbledore go when Snape asked him to go, and why didn’t he kill him on sight when he got there?
I think readers assume that Dumbledore is wise enough, knowledgeable enough and compassionate enough to sense that Snape, though he has led a despicable adult life, has something human left inside him, something that can be redeemed. Nevertheless, wise and prescient as Dumbledore is, he is not a Seer. At the moment when he answers Snape’s call, he cannot know that Snape isn’t going to try and kill him. He can’t know that Snape will have the moral or physical courage to change course, let alone help defeat Voldemort. Yet still, Dumbledore goes to the hilltop.
I’m going to digress very slightly here, but there is a related point that bears making. Among the messages drawing parallels between the Potter books and Israel have been quite a few saying that ‘Harry would be disappointed’ or ‘Harry wouldn’t understand’ my position. Those people are right, but only up to a clearly defined point. The Harry of six and a half books might not understand. Harry is reckless and angry for a considerable portion of those six and a half books and he has my whole-hearted sympathy. He has lost his family, he has had burdens put upon him that he never wanted, and he has been stigmatised all through his adolescence for carrying a scar left on him by a killer.
There comes a moment in the final book, though, when Harry, whose natural inclination is to fight, to rush to action, to lead from the front, is forced to stop and consider the cryptic message the dead Dumbledore has left him. Unfortunately, this message runs against counter to everything that Harry believes is necessary to win the war. He wants to race Voldemort to a deadly weapon, but Dumbledore has arranged things so that, while Harry will know that the weapon exists, he will also suspect that taking the weapon is the wrong thing to do. Harry cannot understand why using that weapon would be harmful, yet – grudgingly - he decides to act against his own instinct, and according to what he believes are Dumbledore’s wishes. The decision sits uncomfortably with him. He remains doubtful about it almost up to the point where he comes face-to-face with Voldemort for their final encounter. _ _Unlike Harry, Dumbledore was not acting against his own nature when he chose to meet Snape on the hilltop. Dumbledore, remember, is not a politician; the Ministry is weak and corrupt, it enabled Voldemort’s rise and is now doing a poor job of fighting him. Dumbledore is an academic and he believes that certain channels of communication should always remain open. It was true in the Potter books and it is true in life that talking will not change wilfully closed minds. However, the course of my fictional war was forever changed when Snape chose to abandon the course on which he was set, and Dumbledore helped him do it. Theirs was a partnership without which Harry’s willingness to fight would have been pointless.
The Palestinian community has suffered untold injustice and brutality. I want to see the Israeli government held to account for that injustice and brutality. Boycotting Israel on every possible front has its allure. It satisfies the human urge to do something, anything, in the face of horrific human suffering.
What sits uncomfortably with me is that severing contact with Israel’s cultural and academic community means refusing to engage with some of the Israelis who are most pro-Palestinian, and most critical of Israel’s government. Those are voices I’d like to hear amplified, not silenced. A cultural boycott places immovable barriers between artists and academics who want to talk to each other, understand each other and work side-by-side for peace. I believe in the power of projects like this and this and this. I think it is a tragedy when medical research like this is prevented.
I genuinely don’t take it in ill part when you send me counterarguments framed in terms of the Potter books. All books dealing with morality can be picked apart for those lines and themes that best suit the arguer’s perspective. I can only say that a full discussion of morality within the series is impossible without examining Dumbledore’s actions, because he is the moral heart of the books. He did not consider all weapons equal and he was prepared, always, to go to the hilltop.