Harry Potter fans “heartbroken” as author urges engagement with Israel

JK Rowling (Daniel Ogren/Wikimedia Commons)

The author of the Harry Potter series of novels, JK Rowling, has disappointed many of her fans by signing a letter that opposes a boycott of Israel.

The letter, which was also signed by radio and TV presenter Melvyn Bragg, writer Linda Grant, popular historian Tom Holland, author Hilary Mantel and historian Simon Schama, proclaims its support for what it called “an independent UK network” called Culture for Coexistence.

Published in The Guardian, the letter is disingenuous. It claims that “cultural boycotts singling out Israel are divisive and discriminatory and will not further peace,” and that “cultural engagement builds bridges, nurtures freedom and positive movement for change.”

As such, it ignores how many Palestinian artists are barred from taking part in any such engagements by Israeli military closures, illegal walls and checkpoints, and travel restrictions. And it fails to acknowledge the long history of “dialogues” and “cultural engagement” which ignore the huge differences in power and freedom between Israelis and the Palestinians whose land they occupy.

Who was behind the letter?

What the letter doesn’t make clear, however, is that one of the driving forces behind Culture for Coexistence is Neil Blair, JK Rowling’s literary agent.

Blair is also on the board of the UK branch of the Abraham Fund. That “coexistence” group is sponsored by Hapoalim, an Israeli bank that finances the construction of Jewish-only settlements in the occupied West Bank. 

On 21 October, the UK Friends of the Abraham Fund announced as its new chairperson Alex Brummer, an editor and columnist at the rightwing British tabloid newspaper The Daily Mail, notable for its pro-Israel editorial stance and notorious for its racist and Islamophobic stereotypes.

Brummer is also a regular contributor to The Jewish Chronicle, a British newspaper with pronounced Zionist leanings.

A recent statement on the Abraham Fund’s Facebook page on what it called “ongoing tensions” claims that “Arab society in Israel must unite against the attacks and stabbings of Jews and prevent the incitement which is encouraging these acts.”

The statement makes no mention of the deadly violence perpetrated by the Israeli army and settlers against Palestinians.

Violence is clearly, according to the Abraham Fund, something perpetrated only by Palestinians.

One Family?

Culture for Coexistence also lists Loraine da Costa among its committee members. Da Costa’s other board memberships include One Family, a group which called itself “the leading support organization that deals with victims of terror in Israel.”

Patrons of the international One Family organization include notorious Israel apologist Alan Dershowitz.

Needless to say, those supported by One Family do not include Palestinian victims of Israeli terror.

Another of da Costa’s board memberships was, until 2014, Conservative Friends of Israel, a lobby group inside Britain’s ruling Conservative Party.

The current chairperson of Conservative Friends of Israel, member of Parliament Eric Pickles, is also a signatory of The Guardian letter.

In an article commenting on the letter, Da Costa is quoted as rejecting criticism of how no Palestinians had signed the letter: ”This is essentially a British initiative – we haven’t reached out to Israelis or Palestinians. If there are Palestinians who’d like to be part of our initiative, we’d love to reach out to them.”

Her response elides the fact that plenty of the letter’s signatories have close links to Israel.


JK Rowling, usually credited with progressive social and political views, has disappointed many of her fans by putting her name to such a dubious project as Culture for Coexistence.

One young woman of Palestinian origin wrote movingly of how she was “heartbroken” at hearing of Rowling’s support for the Zionist apologist initiative, having grown up reading the Harry Potter books, with their message of anti-racism and the struggle for justice, as the story of her own people.

Unlike Rowling, many other British writers and artists have pledged to boycott Israel. 

A spokesperson for the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) stated that “Some British cultural figures, including known Israel apologists, seem intent to revive [Margaret] Thatcher’s ‘constructive engagement’ [with 1980s South Africa], equating the colonizers with the colonized, which in the struggle to end apartheid in South Africa proved to be downright unethical and complicit.”

PACBI also pointed to a spring 2015 statement signed, to date, by more than 1,000 British cultural figures, pledging to boycott Israel until it “respects international law.”

They include musicians Jarvis Cocker and Richard Ashcroft, actors Miriam Margolyes, Julie Christie and Maxine Peake, writers William Dalrymple, Hari Kunzru, Gillian Slovo and Aminatta Forna, director Mike Leigh and visual artists John Berger, Jeremy Deller and Mona Hatoum.




Do you know what this means, don't you? Next semester I am pulling my kids out of Hogwarts.

Who cares.

Zionism is still racist and wrong. There is nothing to discuss, nothing to dialogue. The only thing one expects from them is the end of Zionism.

No equality, no peace!


I love ur books, i have grown up watching and reading harry potter, im just really disppointed! U are against being rasist and even thos u stood for israel, haven't u seen the new? Saw the lil kids dieing, shooted eith cold blood?, men , womens and young children, im still a fan just , i hope u know where u should be and who u should stand up for , for real!
Palestinian people do need help and support against these monster, why u always see one part of the story? Know the full truth then judge, im sorry :( im speechless now , i was hopeing more from u ....


I agree, as someone who loves her books, it's very disappointing. I'm going to do an open letter to her and suggest others might do so and then we can make this in itself a news story.

Your statement that 'Brummer is also a regular contributor to The Jewish Chronicle, a British newspaper with pronounced Zionist leanings.' qualifies for understatement of the year. The JC is a Zionist rag these days.


I haven't read any of Rowling's book so I am wondering if there are any inner linkages between her support for this anti-BDS initiative and the (philosophical?) thrust of her Harry Potter novels? Or, is her mind simply deeply compartmentalized?


It's simple, her literary agent says he'll never publish another of her books if she doesn't comply.


No I don't think it is because of her philosophical outlook. She was a single mother who before she became famous understood what the cuts to benefits etc. were like. She supported the Labour Party and was fairly left wing but in a fairly non-confrontational comfortable sort of way as befits someone as rich as her. But her books were always anti-racist and there is an anti-racist theme going through her magic books of pure bloods v mud bloods i.e. true magicians vs those who had non-magical backgrounds. Her main wizard, Dumbledore is gay so she is quite progressive in that sense but of course concepts such as imperialism don't feature.

That is why I think people should shame her into rethinking her stance, not least because she's got into bed with some very reactionary people.


Dumbledore is gay? Where on earth did that come from?


JK Rowling is siding with the wrong side of history and time will prove it. The tide is turning. Unfortunately for her, no matter how elevated of an author she is actions will always trump words, and she has explicitly chosen the side of oppression and tyranny.


Some, like me for instance, would say she has chosen the side of enlightenment and openness in the face of closed-minded fanatacism.


I expect that Ms Rowling will change her mind on this when she has thought about it for about 3 seconds. Hoping for the best from, who I hope, is a good person.


As a zionist myself I'm right behind her courageous position. Her position *is* progressive. Support for Israel and a 2 state solution is progressive and focused on a peaceful resolution.


You write "peace", you mean: "surrender". Real peace is based on restoring justice. You steal my bike, give me a physical handicap, and want peace by giving me the bikebell (who turns out ot be broken...)


Continual killings of children women and men by both the IDF and settlers, as well as the unlawful (under International law) building of settlements as well hardly conducive to cultural coexistence.
JK Rowling definitely needs a new agent and a little less naivete or is it disingenuity?
Hard to tell but she certainly needs to research the company she is keeping and their motives


Perhaps naively she's basically normalising a whole lot of pain for Palestine. A kick start to #Deatheaterslivesmatter


I'm not taking a stance in this comment either way; too many headaches and misunderstandings result in sharing such opinions on the internet, regardless of context.

But I'm always curious about WHY people say what they do, why they support causes or don't, so I went to her twitter page.

She posted an explanation for her views and expresses her acknowledgment that "The Palestinian community has suffered untold injustice and brutality." I'm not suggesting anyone will change opinions or philosophies. I just don't think people should pass judgement without reading/hearing the WHY.


p.s. I will not be responding, not out of some cowardice or any other perceived flaw in my character (you don't even know me), but because I just don't want a discussion; I just want to share her explanation for the reason I stated above.


Thumps up to Ms Rowling and the other who signed "The Letter". They can see that the issues in the Middle East are not one sided and CAN NOT be solved by isolating one of the parties. By boycotting Israel you only make sure your ideas and views are not their to change minds.

You choose to see only one side of the conflict with out regard for that of the others sides views. Neither side is blameless in the troubles.

But it is okay for you to attack someone who chooses to follow a different course.

Real dialogue requires both parties to listen and talk. Have any of you ever tried to imagine what it is like to be surrounded by people who have sworn to wipe you and your family from the face of the earth? A pledge that pre-dates any action by Israel.


Robert, your last sentence is nonsence. The problems started when it became clear that Israel would accept the "gift" of a state in Palestine, but didn't respect the conditions: the people who allready lived there should not be harmed...


I'm very dissapoint nd i pray that "harry potter nd the curse child" gone be flop,nd i'm not gona buy any harry potter book any more


So, when are we going to read a similar letter that urges engagement with ISIL, Qaida, and other terrorist groups? or is the only terrorist group that people are urged to engage with is Israel?


Disappointed! Expected more from a woman who has experienced a sense of vulnerability and isolation in her own life. The children of Palestine could do with some magic whilst they get bombed daily!


In my opinion this confirms that the signing by Rowling of the letter to the Guardian was a double edged sword, since she is not an Israel Firster or an outright racist like Eric Pickles MP and his Tory fellows. She has taken a position on a tactic, wrongly in my opinion, but one of the points of the tactic is to get the issue of Israeli repression out into the open. Very few, if any, of her fellow signatories would sign up to what she has said. Of course she is naive but I don't think the Zionists come out of this smelling of roses.


Well said and I agree. While her stance on tactis is debatable, as are tactics in and of themselves, her heart's still in the right place, as she's sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and criticizes Israel's brutal policies.

Sarah Irving

Sarah Irving's picture

Sarah is a freelance writer and editor, author of a biography of Leila Khaled and of the Bradt Guide to Palestine, co-editor of A Bird is Not a Stone (a volume of Palestinian poetry translated into the languages of Scotland), and a PhD candidate at the University of Edinburgh. She has worked and traveled in Palestine since 2001.