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Apple bids adieu to 'Jew or not Jew?' iPhone app in France
iPhone app "Jew or not Jew?" allows the user to scour a database of famous Jewish personalities.
September 15th, 2011
07:08 PM ET

Apple bids adieu to 'Jew or not Jew?' iPhone app in France

By Jessica Ravitz and Saskya Vandoorne, CNN

“Jew or not Jew?”: That is just part of the question.

An iPhone app bearing this name has been yanked from Apple’s App Store in France amid threats of a lawsuit and demands for its removal.

The app, still available elsewhere, pulls together a database of thousands of famous Jews – including movie stars, musicians, Nobel Prize winners and more – and offers insights into their backgrounds. Jewish mother? Jewish father? A convert? For $1.99 in the United States, app owners can know.

In an iTunes store description, it says: “Hey, did you know that Bob Dylan is Jewish? Of course I did! But was Marilyn Monroe really Jewish? And what about Harrison Ford? How many times have we had this conversation without being able to know for sure? You can now find the answer.”

The intention was all in fun, app creator Johann Lévy told Le Parisien. The 35-year-old research and development engineer, who is British, French and Jewish, said he doesn’t understand the outcry.

“I’m not a spokesman for all Jews, but, being Jewish myself, I know that in our community we ask ourselves often if this or that celebrity is Jewish or not,” he told the French newspaper. “For me, there’s nothing pejorative in saying publicly that this person or that person is Jewish. Instead, it’s something to be proud of.”

But no matter Lévy’s personal background or motivation, compiling details about peoples’ identities without their consent is against the law in France. And that was all Apple needed to know to swipe “Jew or not Jew?” from France’s App Store shelf.

France’s secular nature and adamant separation between state and religion is something that’s “very difficult for American people to understand,” said Richard Prasquier, president of CRIF, an umbrella organization for French Jewish institutions.

If an individual shares with someone his or her religion, that’s fine, he said. But if that person’s faith is recorded in a public file, that crosses a legal line.

“What is public is public, and religion is private,” Prasquier said, and by its very virtue this app makes people’s religion public. “In France, it is absolutely impossible for a president to give any kind of religious speech. Swearing on the Bible would be absolutely inappropriate.”

Another concern is how to determine who, in fact, is a Jew.

“The issue of Judaism and ‘who is Jewish’ and ‘who is not’ is particularly complex. Nobody has the authority to decide on the Jewishness of others,” Marc Eisenberg, president of Alliance Israelite Universelle, said in written statement. “The fact that (the app) was created by someone who is of Jewish faith does not excuse a thing.”

Part of the French Jewish community’s discomfort is rooted in the country’s history, suggested Rabbi Michel Serfaty of Paris.

“This census of Jews resembles France’s time under Vichy,” he said, referring to the government established during World War II, which collaborated with Nazi occupiers to identify and deport Jews to death camps.

Le Parisien prodded app creator Lévy along these lines.

“The idea of selling information on Jews never appeared shocking to you?” the paper asked.

“Anti-Semites don’t need my app to determine who is Jewish,” he answered. “As for the question of a file – it recalls the Second World War, but that was 65 years ago! … This information was already public record.”

For app shoppers elsewhere, they can continue this Jew or not Jew exploration. They can peer into award-winning actress Jennifer Connelly’s life and learn that she was born to a Jewish mother. They can explore stats, facts and the most viewed Jews. They can click a “Random Jew” button to discover celebrities they never knew were in the club.

Indeed, in the United States, where the First Amendment reigns, it doesn't look like this app is going anywhere.

The whole business, while slightly odd and “somewhat distasteful” to him, just isn’t something the Anti-Defamation League will complain about, said Ken Jacobson, the agency’s deputy national director.

“Maybe it reflects my age,” Jacobson, who’s been with the ADL for 40 years, said with a laugh. Reality TV, the obsession with online social networking – it’s just a different world.

“Everyone is sharing their whole lives with everyone else,” he said. “That’s not the way things used to be.”

CNN’s Alanne Orjoux contributed to this report.

- CNN Writer/Producer

Filed under: Culture wars • France • Judaism • Technology

soundoff (312 Responses)
  1. barbara

    Just glad that the creator was Jewish, or there would be lawsuits to boot. What many people fail to understand is that famous jewish people want you to know they're jewish... and other jewish people like to know who else is jewish... i t's like a little club. And finally, no , I'm not jewish.

    September 16, 2011 at 8:09 am |
    • mpls

      how trite to say it's a "club." every think that maybe when there are only 12 million left in a group they're may be an interest to stick together and seek out familiarity?

      September 16, 2011 at 11:38 am |
    • Laughing

      It basically is a club though, I mean you can obtain membership if you want (granted you can't be born into a lot of clubs, but there are some), you have to pay on a pretty consistant basis and to go to the clubhouse (synagogue) you have to be a member.

      I see no difference.

      September 16, 2011 at 11:42 am |
    • Dr. Jeff

      Thank goodness!

      September 16, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • the critic

      Barbara, laughin,....and the others. You may call it a club, clubhouse,.....but, here is the BUT. But, there is a set of rules in that club that although everyone is welcome to "attend" but "attendance" alone would not give you the right to membership. It has taken over 5000 years to form such club with so few numbers and such elite members. Do not knock it down. That club has served humanity far and beyond it's share and yet has suffered even further and harsher atrocities that it is incomprehensible beyond any imagination. The "club" will survive and will continue to serve. Let it be..........

      September 16, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
  2. Mark

    The whole Jew thing is just...well...overrated. I don't think Christians promote Christianity like the Jews can Judaism. You hear Joan Rivers, Kathy Griffin and Joy Behar to name just a few say "I'm a Jew". Well so what? I don't see Christian actors spouting off their Christian. Being Jewish isn't the best faith nor the only one...give it a break!

    September 16, 2011 at 8:00 am |
    • SmarterthanU

      YOu must be joking. Christians promote their religion more than anybody on earth. First off you have more crosses dangling from necks than any other piece of jewelry. Secondly the ichthys, or jesus fish, is the most popular bumper sticker in the world followed by other Christian symbols and beliefs. A flip thru the yellow pages finds many ichthys logos but no Stars of David or Crescent moon logos. YOu missed this by a mile.

      September 16, 2011 at 8:20 am |
    • SmarterthanU

      OOps, I forgot to mention. Neither Joy Behar nor Kathy Griffin are Jewish. Joy is 100% Italian and Kathy is 100% Irish. You are a most misinformed poster.

      September 16, 2011 at 8:22 am |
    • MO on MO

      That's because Joan IS Jewish, Kathy was raised Catholic / is an Aetheist & Joy is Catholic (?) and I frankly don't care about her one way or the other.

      September 16, 2011 at 11:56 am |
    • Jmh

      Joy Behar is Italian

      September 16, 2011 at 11:59 am |
    • Got2BKidding

      You're kidding ,,, right? "christian actors" AKA Republicans are the biggest bible pounders on the planet.

      September 16, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
    • Mark

      SmarterthanU:
      You can see how it would be an honest mistake me thinking Joan Rivers (got that one right) Joy Behar, Kathy Griffin were all Jewish. They're all loud, obnoxious women with New York accents.....my bad.

      September 21, 2011 at 1:16 am |
  3. Joe

    Why does France not have free speech?

    September 16, 2011 at 7:55 am |
    • Alex Dumont

      Because they had a Revolution about it? Want some cake?

      September 16, 2011 at 8:12 am |
  4. hippypoet

    OJ SIMPSON....NOT A JEW!

    September 16, 2011 at 7:50 am |
    • hippypoet

      But guess who is...hall of famer¡ºrod carew
      We got ann landers and her sister dear abby,
      Harrison fords a quarter jewish–not too shabby!

      Some people think that ebeneezer scrooge is,
      Well, he's not, but guess who is:all three stooges.
      So many jews are in show biz–
      Tom cruise isn¹t, but I heard his agent is.

      September 16, 2011 at 7:54 am |
    • Druscilla

      🙂

      September 16, 2011 at 8:11 am |
    • Nobody you know

      Oddly enough Hall of Famer Rod Carew is NOT jewish, he never converted.

      September 16, 2011 at 11:47 am |
    • Bob from VA

      Hall of Famer Rod Carew,
      Turns out he never became a Jew
      But Hall of Famer Lou Boudreau,
      Turns out he loves Gefilte Fish and kugel too!

      September 16, 2011 at 12:32 pm |
  5. prophet

    Anyone who is against The Jewish People is against their Salvation and God and its sad that people are behaving the way they do.

    September 16, 2011 at 6:45 am |
    • Bill

      I love how it is perpetually politically correct to be invading countries in the middle east with armies. We're all O.K. with that... Yet people think they still have a shred of moral high-ground to condemn others' insensitivity over trivial things like 'Apps'.
      Do you realize how insane that is?

      Oh well.. It is the people's duty to regurgitate whatever complaints the media instructs them to. And to shut-up about anything else.

      September 16, 2011 at 7:16 am |
    • MikeHuntEsq

      ahahhahahahhahahaha! Good one.

      September 16, 2011 at 7:32 am |
  6. prophet

    Our Saviour of Humanity was and Is Jewish

    September 16, 2011 at 6:42 am |
    • Julie

      Go see a psychiatrist you whack-job!

      September 16, 2011 at 6:44 am |
    • mpouxesas

      @Julie: his psychatrist is...jewish!!!

      September 16, 2011 at 7:39 am |
    • SmarterthanU

      This carpenter you speak of, what did he scream when he accidentally hit this thumb with a hammer?

      September 16, 2011 at 8:24 am |
  7. prophet

    Our Saviour of Humanity was and Is Jewish and that is a Fact and more and more Jews and Gentiles are Accepting this.

    September 16, 2011 at 6:39 am |
    • Mark

      As long as that makes you sleep better at night...then go ahead and keep believin'.

      September 16, 2011 at 8:09 am |
    • len

      no, we do not jesus never existed.

      September 16, 2011 at 11:43 am |
    • Oh

      You are correct. Jesus was a Jew; every informed Christian knows that. How rediculous

      September 16, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
  8. ColoredMountains

    Haha, France really wants to annoy Muslims. Only if the nation wasn't so immoral...

    September 16, 2011 at 6:38 am |
    • J

      Huh? Who are you to judge?

      September 16, 2011 at 11:50 am |
  9. Gabor47

    Before and during WW II Nazis identified Jews based on the fact that in most European countries the birth certificate, registered data included the religion. If they didn't, the mass murder of Jews wouldn't have been possible at all. As we are all well aware of it, anti-antisemitism is well and alive. Perhaps not on the same level as before WW II, perhaps not in the so called civilized hemisphere, but it still exists. Needless to say it definitely exists in predominantly Muslim countries.

    Why would mankind have to make a similar mistake in our days and ages, especially based on some non-official data collection (opposed to birth certificate based registration)?

    September 16, 2011 at 6:29 am |
  10. MarkinFL

    What a grand mixture of paranoia and boring reality. You even turn common knowledge into secret knowledge with a single phrase. Amazing!

    September 16, 2011 at 6:08 am |
  11. Glenn

    Why are there NO Jewish mothers in the Dept. of Corrections?

    They would never let anyone finish their sentence.

    Maybe I should develop an app. to generate Jew Jokes. LOL

    September 16, 2011 at 5:44 am |
    • lol

      lol

      September 16, 2011 at 6:42 am |
    • Shaddup

      I doubt you'd have the technical skills.

      September 16, 2011 at 11:50 am |
  12. Brian W.

    Use an app to get a “Random Jew” ....Mel Brooks should be loving this....sounds like one of his jokes....touch a button and "BAM" a random Jew shows up on the screen....Like Spaceballs in real life...Wish we had it for all religions...would be fun...random Hindu... random Buddhist... random Muslim... yup even random Mormons to... then everyone could compare to see who is the most viewed of each religion and they could have the "best of" face offs.....think Pokemon but with famous people of different religions.....

    September 16, 2011 at 5:13 am |
    • Anderson Pooper

      I understand opinions from all sides but let's be honest this could be favorite Hitler's app.

      September 16, 2011 at 6:31 am |
    • Brian W.

      Yeah if Hitler was not dead and buried for the last 60+ years....

      September 16, 2011 at 1:09 pm |
    • Anderson Pooper

      Buried? Where?

      September 16, 2011 at 6:56 pm |
  13. No gods

    Hey download this great app before it is gone here in the states! Because it really matters what denomination of insanity people subscribe to, not the mere fact that they subscribe to the insanity itself, oh no *obvious sarcasm in case you are dim*

    September 16, 2011 at 3:31 am |
    • MarkinFL

      This app is not about faith, it is about race. Many of these Jews are non-practicing and never were.

      September 16, 2011 at 6:03 am |
    • Jacob

      You can be Jewish and atheist. "Jew" is as much a cultural marker as a religious one. I would hesitate to quantify, but many, many of the Jews in that app haven't set foot in a synagogue since Hebrew school.

      September 16, 2011 at 6:06 am |
    • Jims Save

      Thank you MarkinFL. As a Jew who prides himself on his heritage but does not follow the faith, it is important to note the difference.

      September 16, 2011 at 7:37 am |
    • Bob from VA

      To MarkinFL and the astonishlngly ignorant Jim Save, there is no Jewish race.

      September 16, 2011 at 12:35 pm |
  14. skip2myloo

    Living in the Midwest they are easy to spot. They fortify their homes with Christmas lights, which they never take down so they can occupy the Christian holiday at all times of the year.

    September 16, 2011 at 3:21 am |
    • mpls

      I too live in the midwest and am embarrassed by your racism...."they are easy to spot?" That is a bigoted, uninformed, prejudiced thing to say.

      September 16, 2011 at 11:44 am |
  15. VampireJack

    Of course I meant "useful" not "usual".
    Damn those who are talking to me as I type!

    🙂

    Perhaps Allah was punishing me by making me type the wrong word.......

    September 16, 2011 at 3:00 am |
    • over&out

      uhh oh..... Off with your head.....lol

      September 16, 2011 at 4:06 am |
    • Marine5484

      Silence.....I will cut out your tongue lol.

      September 16, 2011 at 5:13 am |
    • Achmed the Dead Terrier Collie Mixed Breed

      I keel yoo!

      September 16, 2011 at 6:23 am |
  16. Jewtard

    I really don't see what the uproar is about.

    It doesn't seem to be done in a slanderous or demeaning way.

    People are Jewish.

    Some are famous.

    Deal with it, France.

    September 16, 2011 at 2:54 am |
    • over&out

      Well Said!

      September 16, 2011 at 4:08 am |
    • over&out

      Well Said Jewtard!

      September 16, 2011 at 4:09 am |
  17. rob

    like, who needs an app to figure out who is one.

    September 16, 2011 at 2:47 am |
    • VampireJack

      Who needs an app?
      Well, as the Islamization of the West goes on, it will come in usual for the Muslims when they decide to pick up where Hitler left off.

      Dark days are around the corner.
      We can already see the storm clouds in the distance.

      September 16, 2011 at 2:57 am |
    • Abraham Goldenstien

      Bet you wish you could get that app and guess whether I'm Jewish, ya French froggies!

      September 16, 2011 at 3:18 am |
  18. John Tressel

    I have known Johann Lévy since he was an adolescant and there nothing twisted in his thinking. He is proud to be a jew so where is the problem? The world wide outcry has seriously affected him. Peoples' reactions are nuts.

    September 16, 2011 at 2:37 am |
    • Abraham Goldenstien

      As the not-so-old adage goes, "pics or it didn't happen" mein freund.

      September 16, 2011 at 3:19 am |
  19. Brian

    I'm christian and I truly believe that religion has its flaws, I really do wish for world peace and for all religions to co-exist but when Islam is included in the subject I just don't see a way.

    September 16, 2011 at 2:10 am |
    • Sharon

      You see it too? Yet there are many who find it easy to rub elbows with anyone at all. They don't have this problem and yet they don't do much with their elbows anyway. It's often all about money or power or resources of some sort. Not peace.
      Yet some manage to practice what they preach. Pretty rare these days. Doesn't have much impact, really.

      September 16, 2011 at 2:15 am |
  20. Mel Gibsonowitz

    Sure glad I'm not Jewi.................................o, never mind.

    September 16, 2011 at 1:59 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.