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The Schmooze

J.K. Rowling And The Jews: A Complicated Love Story

Joanne Rowling, a woman whose stories shaped the psyche of a generation, has taken to Twitter to defend Jews against anti-Semitism. In several tweets on Wednesday (the writer of the brick-like Potter tomes has been a prolific tweeter for a long time,) Rowling rejected the idea that Jews can’t experience racism, and then went on to define anti-Semitism, employing GIFs in response to critics.

Having JK Rowling come to your people’s defense feels rather like having Tolkien’s giant eagles wing in to fight by your side, or the giant lion Aslan reanimating and sweeping you up on his back. She is a moral authority steeped in myth. And Jews are a part of that myth.

Judeo Witchcraft and Christian Wizardry

Rowling’s history with Jews is surprisingly long, for a Scottish woman who is a practicing Anglican and credits Christianity for many of the prevailing themes of her books. Christian overtones in “Harry Potter” are abundant — it’s the story a pure-hearted child born to oppose evil performs sacrifice after sacrifice, ultimately saving the world and achieving a kind of resurrection. But the action that supports this storyline is that of a world where a fascist ruler comes to power, promising glory and recognition for his followers and a better life for all. The ruler insists that this future can only arise if the people cleanse their world of the racially inferior and the racially impure. The fascist infiltrates the school system. The minority groups are rounded up, robbed, harassed, and killed. They go into hiding, where they are sometimes protected by righteous friends who are members of the majority. In short, from the first book when Harry’s parents go into hiding to protect his muggle-born mother, till the last book when Harry, Ron and Hermione subsist and plot the overthrow of evil from a forest like Bielski partisans, Rowling’s books borrow tremendously from the experience of Jews and other targeted groups in the Holocaust.

Magical Bankers In Rowling’s first book, orphaned, abused Harry discovers that he is the inheritor not just of a great magical tradition but also of a sizable fortune. The keepers of the keys to that fortune are a race of bankers — goblins. Goblins have hook noses, olive skin, bald heads, and small, beady eyes. They are exceptionally intelligent but obsessed with gold and ownership. They are a persecuted minority with a history of rebellions, though there are many suggestions throughout the books that goblins are somehow meant to be subservient, that their race has some inherent violence that needs to be kept at bay. They speak a language called “Gobbledegook.” This did not sit well with many Jews. The goblins rendered for the “Harry Potter” movies, when placed next to anti-Semitic cartoons, many observed, were rather shocking-looking. Other Jews said that to see a comparison between Jews and Rowling’s goblins was in itself anti-Semitic or self-hating. Accusations that Rowling traffics in anti-Semitic tropes reappeared in responses to her recent anti-Semitism tweets many times, always along these same lines:

Jews Are Wizards, Too By 2009, two years had passed since the final “Harry Potter” book’s release, and the second installment of the series’ final movie was about to wrap. That was when JK Rowling, an author who had always maintained firm boundaries between herself and her fans, and avoided monumental pressure to reveal spoilers about her stories, created a Twitter account. Rowling on Twitter was her own phenomenon — she seemed unable to control herself to respond to even the least appealing contact by fans. This was shortly after Rowling announced, pensively while on stage at Carnegie Hall, that she had always thought of Dumbledore as gay.

Then one day in 2014, while millions of Jews were unsuspectedly going about their days, Rowling announced that there were Jews at Hogwarts. Anthony Goldstein, a minor (but heroic!) character who said little but always did the right thing, was proclaimed to be Jewish. Then Rowling announced Hogwarts students of every other religion. Still, world Jewry was changed.

Rowling Goes To The Hilltop

In 2015, JK Rowling was asked to join other artists and influencers in signing a letter calling for a cultural boycott of Israel. On her refusal to join, she wrote:

The sharing of art and literature across borders constitutes an immense power for good in this world. The true human cost of the Palestinian conflict was seared upon my consciousness, as upon many others’, by the heart-splitting poetry of Mahmoud Darwish. In its highest incarnation, as exemplified by Darwish, art civilises, challenges and reminds us of our common humanity. At a time when the stigmatisation of religions and ethnicities seems to be on the rise, I believe strongly that cultural dialogue and collaboration is more important than ever before and that cultural boycotts are divisive, discriminatory and counter-productive.

Enduring tremendous amounts of criticism for taking this stand, Rowling took to the web with a painful, compassionate response that is worth a read. She explained that a nuance many readers missed in her books is that seeing the humanity in others, no matter how far-gone you may feel they are, is vital. “Boycotting Israel on every possible front has its allure,” she wrote. “It satisfies the human urge to do something, anything, in the face of horrific human suffering.” But, as she said, “Some channels of communication must remain open.”

Fantastic Jews And Where To Find Them

Unsurprisingly, the wildly profitable “Harry Potter” franchise has spawned a spinoff series. The five “Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them” are scheduled to haunt us for the next decade at least, for better or for worse. The first movie featured two sisters — Tina and Queenie Goldstein — in starring roles. That these women are the forerunners of Anthony Goldstein is clear. That the movie chooses to focus on the Goldstein lives in 1920s New York is likewise promising for Rowling’s Jewish fans. `

JK Rowling, Social Jew-stice Warrior

On Thursday afternoon, Rowling shared some of the anti-Semitic responses she had received in response to her post about anti-Semitism, by posters explaining that they were not anti-Semitic.

We live in a world of dark arts, of fascism, of never enough magic. So it’s nice to have a magical ally.

Jenny Singer is a writer for the Forward. You can reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter @jeanvaljenny


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