JK Rowling, “Gender Ideology” and Antisemitism

Getting to grips with the fuzzy coalition of scapegoating

It occurred to me today that JK Rowling really has still not apologised at any point for spreading age old blatantly antisemitic stereotypes of greedy hook nosed bankers to children. At least I certainly can’t find it if she has apologised publicly for this.

In the Trump Era, there seems to be an endless array of instances in public life of the powerful just refusing to recognise harm they’ve done to minority groups at all. Sometimes they will play act as if they care (as Rowling has at points over Labour antisemitism), while nevertheless also refusing to acknowledge or make any sort of amends or enter into accountability for their own behaviour and actions.

JK Rowling’s work is littered with antisemitic and racist tropes, and the reactionary anti-LGBTQ movement she has aligned herself with have a big track record of trafficking in similar, from the American conservatives and their previous poster-girl Maggie Berns baiting around George Soros, to virtually identical rhetoric and propaganda from East European Christian Nationalists.

The late Magdalen Berns posting an article featuring a hook nosed caricature of George Soros in front of a rainbow flag

The late Magdalen Berns tweeting an article featuring a hook nosed caricature of George Soros with paintbrush in hand in front of a rainbow flag, entitled “George Soros: The money behind the transgender movement”

I’ve tried to raise awareness of this seminal talk by Jewish Polish Feminist Agnieszka Graff before, but for various reasons I suspect many who follow my research work will not have watched it. It’s very long and the audio isn’t fantastic and it is hard to read the slides. But I think it is really important as an early canary in the coal mine from another locale dealing with the same reactionary panic over “Gender Ideology” as we are presently in the UK. It’s an important part, I think, of both of recognising the shapes of the issues that are appearing and understanding them adequately to organise against them. One of the important characteristics raised in in point two of the slide from where the link provided above jumps into the talk: The threat to the child, and the idea of child sacrifice. Agnieszka Graff says

“This has a history, and this is the history of ethnic cleansing campaigns”.

I should add at this point, Agnieszka Graff at this point had had explosives thrown in her lectures. She’s not exagerrating, the reactionary violence had already reached an elevated level.

It’s important for me to say, this goes beyond JK Rowling because this isn’t just about one rich woman. This talk happened long before JK Rowling even stepped into this arena. What I’m trying to draw attention to is instead a matter of conservative forces coalescing around and behind a movement which is founded on tropes heavily rooted in antisemitism and fascist activity.

One of the ideas put forward by Agnieszka Graff (quoting Zuzanna Radzik) is that “Gender has replaced the Jews” — that “Gender Ideology” itself is the latest reincarnation of antisemitic conspiracy theories — a “Cultural Bolshevism” scare for the present day.

In her chapter with Elżbieta Korolczuk in the book “Anti Gender Campaigns in Europe: Mobilising Against Equality”, Graff argues anti-genderism is a “new version of an old polarization … at the root of the present trend: ‘gender’, claims Radzik, has simply replaced Jews and homosexuals in their role of the demonized enemy of the illiberal wing of the Polish Catholic Church.”

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She further notes: “This analysis is useful also in pointing attention to the anti-Semitic residues of the Polish anti-gender campaign. They are not central but nonetheless present”. [emphasis mine]

I think “Not central but nonetheless present” is an extremely useful description of the sort of rarely exlicit but constantly tangible form of public commentary and anti-LGBT critique wrapped up in previous antisemitic tropes. Take for example Janice Turner’s article in The Times from 2017 entitled “Children sacrificed to appease the trans lobby”, which many immediately recognised as having blatant echoes, leading to protests later on of her being given an award for journalism.

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It’s worth noting also the confluence of this messaging is ever present from almost a decade ago in Poland to present day Britain (as it is also present in numerous other parts of the world where the reactionary campaigns against the never-properly-defined “Gender Ideology” have spread). There are of course national differences based on the dominant powers where it has spread — in the UK for instance the Catholic and Evangelical nationalist church movements hold far less sway, so instead we see collaborations between so-called “Gender Critical Feminists” and hard-line anti-abortion activists in the name of anti-trans and anti-LGBT campaigning, with several rape crisis shelters inundated with smears where they provide any support to trans women, Christian anti-abortion lawyers running court cases on behalf of gender critical figures against Gender Identity Clinics and allied Gender Critical “women’s” groups like Women Make Glasgow scapegoating Gay men and HIV healthcare — it’s been necessary for the movement to put on a progressive gloss here where perhaps that was less necessary in Poland.

In any case, a timeline may be of interest so some readers so I’ll provide it here.

Radzik wrote her article in 2013. Graff gave her talk raising the alarm on the spectre of gender ideology in 2014. By 2017 academic feminists across Europe had woken up to this backlash sufficiently to produce Anti-Gender Campaigns in Europe: Mobilizing against Equality (a collaboration between scholars all the way from Ireland to Romania tracking concurrent “anti-Genderist” mobilisations happening simultaneously). Gillian Kane’s article in the Guardian warning about the coming “gender ideology” campaign was 2018.

And yet because of a lack of wider understanding of the patterns of this formation, even still there appears to be relatively little wider media recognition of any of this, at least in the UK.

It is often noted that the most common “Nazi book burning” image shared as a symbol of early fascist ravages against free speech is in fact the burning of the library from Magnus Hirschfeld’s Sexual Research Institute where he catalogued data on transgender and homosexual life and organised a very early civil rights movement for the freedom of LGBT people. And it is not noted often enough that this book burning was also due to the fact that Magnus Hirschfeld was Jewish, and this was not just an attack on the records of the early LGBT movement but on what was demonised as “Jewish science”.

We need to never forget that these things, our struggles, are not separate but integrally related to each other.

is a trans woman, sometime activist and researcher of cis studies.

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