Can Harry Potter Explain Divisive Global Issues?

by Emma Oulton

J.K. Rowling is no stranger to political battles conducted over social media, but never before have her characters been involved. For the first time, however, Rowling has claimed that Harry Potter would not support the Israel boycott. These claims come in response to backlash against a letter calling for cultural bridges between Israel and Palestine, which Rowling co-signed with 150 other authors. While Harry Potter fans generally admire Rowling’s politics, not everyone is happy with her stance on this extremely divisive issue.

Many of those in favor of the Israel boycott felt let down by Rowling’s actions in this instance, writing to tell her that they felt her beloved character Harry Potter would be disappointed. One post in particular has received viral attention: a Facebook post from a Palestinian Potter fan Mia Oudeh. In her post, Oudeh expresses her discouragement, having always found the Harry Potter books to be “the very source of all [her] hope … for peace and justice in [her] homeland someday.” Oudeh says that she has always reimagined Zionists as Death Eaters, and Harry’s supporters as Palestinians — and that their eventual victory helped her believe that one day Palestine, too, could be free.

Rowling has taken these arguments very seriously. As her characters have resonated so deeply with so many, it makes sense that they are being used to illustrate people’s strongest personal beliefs. So when she responded, Rowling made her counter-argument in the same language, with an extended post entitled "Why Dumbledore went to the hilltop".

In her explanation, Rowling sympathizes with the Palestinians, comparing their plight to that of Harry, who had lost his family, and been forced to bear a terrible, unwanted burden. She agrees that for much of the series, Harry wanted to fight back — and so would have been in favor of the Israel boycott. However, she claims, in the final book, he learns to understand Dumbledore as the “moral heart of the book” — and it is Dumbledore’s belief that “certain channels should always remain open” enabled the eventual victory over Voldemort. It is for this reason that Rowling supports a culture of coexistence with Israel. In her words:

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.

Of course, this explanation may not pacify everyone — and it is important for us to keep listening to Palestinians like Oudeh who are speaking up about their own, very personal, understanding of the situation. However, using Harry Potter characters to explain Rowling’s stance on Israel is a great way for Rowling to respect the profound impact they have had on her readers, and to engage with others like Oudeh — to whom these characters have felt far more real than fiction.

Image: ClevverTV/YouTube