JK Rowling uses Harry Potter characters to argue against cultural boycott of Israel

The author reframed her argument in terms of Snape and Dumbledore

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Harry Potter author JK Rowling has used the characters from her books to a make a point about the Israel/Palestine conflict. Since signing an open letter opposed to a cultural boycott of the country, the writer has faced harsh criticism from some quarters on social media. Many have used Harry Potter characters in their messages, essentially asking ‘What Would Harry Do?’

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“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,” the author said in a statement, “this isn’t a complaint: those characters belong to the readers as well as to me.”

But Rowling has responded in kind, comparing her support of open cultural dialogue between Israel and the rest of the world with the decisions made by the characters she created.

In the statement, titled ‘Why Dumbledore Went to the Hilltop’, she rejects direct comparisons between the book’s ‘Death Eaters’ and Israel. Nevertheless, she points to a moment when Dumbledore agrees to meet with Severus Snape on “a windy hilltop”, back when the wizard was still in thrall to Voldemort. In other words, a sworn enemy.

“Why did Dumbledore go when Snape asked him to go,” Rowling asks “and why didn’t he kill him on sight when he got there?”

She explains: “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.”

Calling the Hogwarts headmaster the “moral heart of the books” she argues that as “an academic 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.” It was this conversation with Dumbledore that turned Snape away from Voldemort, and ultimately led to peace.

The author provided a less metaphorical explanation of her position yesterday. “The sharing of art and literature across borders constitutes an immense power for good in this world,” she said. While she had “deplored” most of current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s actions in office, Rowling dismissed the idea of a “cultural boycott ending a bloody and prolonged conflict.” 

Rowling’s statements follow a split in the international artistic community. In February hundreds of artists issued an open letter, declaring an end to “business-as-usual cultural relations with Israel” in response to Israel’s “unrelenting attacks” on Palestine. Drawing parallels with the cultural boycott of apartheid South Africa, the artists vowed they “will accept neither professional invitations to Israel, nor funding, from any institutions linked to its government.”

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It’s not the first time the Harry Potter author – whose sequel to Harry Potter is expected on stage next July – has been at the centre of a political row. After coming out against Scottish Independence in 2014, the author was subjected to abuse on Twitter.