UPDATED Jan. 5: Jon Stewart has forcefully responded to the social media firestorm that his comments about antisemitic caricatures in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter franchise set off. In a video posted earlier today on the YouTube channel for his Apple TV+ series, The Problem With Jon Stewart, the host revisited the conversation he originally had on a Dec. 1 podcast with staff writers Jay Jurden and Henrik Blix, which went newly viral after it was reposted on Twitter on Jan. 2 by activist Rafael Shimunov.
“There is no reasonable person who could have watched it and not seen it as a lighthearted conversation amongst colleagues and chums,” Stewart says in the new video. “I do not think that J.K. Rowling is antisemitic. I did not accuse her of being antisemitic. I do not think the Harry Potter movies are antisemitic. I really love the Harry Potter movies, probably too much for a gentleman of my considerable age.”
Stewart also chastises media organizations — most notably Newsweek — for turning that lighthearted conversation into something more serious. “Get a f****** grip,” he remarks, later adding: “The internet economy is f*****. You have no idea how this thing has taken off. … I thought [the conversation] was f****** hilarious. It makes you want to not say anything.”
Original story continues below:
Leave it to Jon Stewart to point out another problem with the increasingly problematic legacy of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter franchise. On a Dec. 1 episode of The Problem With Jon Stewart podcast — an audio companion to his Apple TV+ current affairs series — the former Daily Show host called attention to what he considers to be antisemitic caricatures in both the Potter novels and their feature film adaptations.
That portion of the podcast was posted on the show’s YouTube channel on Dec. 16, and is now going viral after being shared by activist Rafael Shimunov in a lengthy Twitter thread that comments on the “antisemitic tropes” in Rowling’s work.
Speaking with The Problem staff writers, Jay Jurden and Henrik Blix, on the Dec. 1 podcast, Stewart called their attention to the appearance of the goblins who run the Wizarding World’s leading financial institution, the Gringotts Wizarding Bank. “Talking to people, I was like … ‘Do you know what those folks that run the bank are? Jews!’ … That’s a caricature of a Jew from an antisemitic piece of literature and J.K. Rowling looked at that and went, ‘Can we get these guys to run our bank?'”
Stewart was specifically referring to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a notorious antisemitic text that dates back to the early 20th century, and features flagrantly offensive Jewish caricatures that are still glimpsed in racist propaganda today. Remembering his experience watching the Harry Potter films in theaters, Stewart says he was shocked to recognize similar imagery in a major studio blockbuster.
“It was one of those things where I saw it on the screen, and I was expecting the crowd to be like ‘Holy s***, she did not — in a wizarding world — just throw Jews in there to run the f****** underground bank,'” Stewart said. “And everybody was just like: ‘Wizards!'”
In his Twitter thread, Shimunov shared the scene that Stewart may have been referencing, which appeared in the film franchise’s first installment, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, directed by Chris Columbus. He also called attention to the “Jewish stars” that allegedly appear at the bank in the first film and were left out of future installments.
While Rowling has yet to respond to Stewart’s newly viral comments, her agent, Neil Blair, called the charges “Total and utter bs” in his own Twitter post.
Stewart’s Dec. 1 comments and Shimunov’s Jan. 2 Twitter thread have further stirred a social media pot that’s already boiling over with controversy about Rowling. The author — who notably wasn’t invited to participate in HBO Max’s recent 20th anniversary special, Return to Hogwarts — has been under fire for her “anti-trans positions,” as well as other stereotypes some feel appear in the Potter novels. Comedian Sarah Silverman was among the many who weighed in on Stewart’s charges of antisemitism.
The Problem With Jon Stewart is currently streaming on Apple TV+.
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