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The Normalization of Anti-Semitic Attitudes

Updated: Mar 26, 2021

by Katie Compagnone

Anti-Semitic phrases, images, and propaganda are usually associated with Nazi Germany. However, blatant anti-Semitism, as well as more subtle forms, still exist today.

In December 2020, the website of the Long Island Hebrew High School in New York was hacked by neo-Nazis who changed the school’s logo to a swastika, posted pictures of concentration camps, leaked student and teacher personal information, and repeatedly wrote anti-Semitic slurs that were often used in Nazi Germany. This horrific act forced the school to completely shut down their entire website. The racist changes to the website were discovered by students, many of who were the grandchildren of Holocaust survivors.

What happened to the Long Island Hebrew School was not an isolated act of anti-Semitism. In addition to overt acts, more subtle messages can also easily be found in the media, including in some surprising examples of beloved children’s entertainment.

One example is Barbie of Swan Lake, where the villains are a man and his daughter, Rothbart and Odile. These characters portray several negative Jewish stereotypes. Not only is Rothbart a name of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, the character has a long, hooked nose, a common trope. In the story, Rothbart and Odile are hungry for money and power, another stereotype. In Nazi Germany, birds were used in anti-Semitic propaganda as a method of dehumanization. So, what could Rothbart and Odile shapeshift into? You guessed it - birds. All of this evidence points in the direction that Rothbart and Odile are supposed to be Jewish. As the typical audience of Barbie of Swan Lake is young children, it can help to enforce anti-Semitic attitudes from an early age; adolescence is a period of growth that is influenced by what kids watch and hear.

In the multi-billion dollar book and film franchise, Harry Potter, several anti-Semitic undertones also appear. In the story, the wizarding bank, Gringotts, is run by goblins. According to one of the characters, Hagrid, they’re “clever as they come, goblins, but not the most friendly of beasts.” Hagrid has a sense of undeniable love towards every creature he comes across, yet has a certain distaste towards the goblins. They have large, hooked noses and once again, an obsession with power and things of monetary value. Again, characters that portray negative Jewish stereotypes are entirely motivated by wealth. Some may

suggest that this evidence is overblown or taken out of context; however, it is difficult to ignore the large Star of David, a prominent symbol in Judaism, on the floor of Gringotts.

The use of anti-Semitic stereotypes is so normalized in our society, that we are often oblivious to characters like the Harry Potter goblins. This isn't to suggest that you should stop watching your favorite movies and T.V. shows , but it is important to be aware of problematic images and messages.


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