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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. svann

    Distasteful as the app is, if a person's religious affiliation is already public knowledge then the app isnt revealing private information.

    September 16, 2011 at 12:42 pm |
  2. hijack28

    These people are out of their minds. If it is a public record, it's a public record. So let me get this straight. If someone post something that is already a public record, he/she can get sued over this in France ! Solution: just do something like Napster did at first. Have the app take the name and question, then just let it point or direct a user to where the answer may be. Wallah, call it a search engine. I wonder if the app was, "Human or Not Human", "Human or Cyborg", "Earthling or Alien", be careful here, El Presidente might have an issue with this, Would these be something someone would get sued over too? And lastly, what if there was an app for a person like the singer, Seal; "Black or Not Black", would they want to bring you to court for this as well?

    The way I see it, this is just someone's opinion, maybe with some docs to support it. But at the end, I still look at it as just someone's opinion. Ask yourself, do you think it could be used and viewed as a matter of fact in a court of law. I don't think so.

    This whole thing is ridiculous.

    September 16, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
    • Sarah

      So if a "Gay or Not Gay" app was created, I'm sure you'd have no problem with your name being outed on the gay list then.

      September 16, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
    • Keith

      Hey idiot ... it's "voila", not "wallah". Classic American moron butchering the french language.

      September 16, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
  3. frank

    So, does that mean Apple will pull Adam Sandler's 'Chanukah Song' from iTunes now????

    September 16, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
    • Jesus

      OJ Simpson – not a jew.

      September 16, 2011 at 12:47 pm |
  4. MohamedInAComicStrip

    Idiot DAS – no Jew tells AIPAC what to do. Its a private organization. If you're a Catholic, can I tell you what to tell some parish priest who keeps advocating something in Washington? Of course not. Many Jews have never given a penny to AIPAC. Its funded by a select group of both Jews and Christians. Stop blaming the entire Jewish community because you don't like AIPAC! Why not rant about all farmers in the world because you don't like the Ethanol lobby – and stop using AIPAC as a cover for your disdain of Jewish people.

    September 16, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
  5. BW

    As a Jew I do find this obnoxious and I find the developer simply another self-hater. My religion is no one's business and there is no test that a Jewish man or woman needs to pass in French or Italian or American society. The proof is simply this: where are the apps that answer who is Christian or Gay or has Cancer? Social media or not, Millennial anti-Semites are no different than pre-WWII anti-Semites. Keep your hands off of my religion.

    September 16, 2011 at 12:26 pm |
    • DAS

      Then please tell your AIPAC to keeps its damn hands out of my government. Then, we have a deal.

      September 16, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
    • hawaiiduude

      u are right. It's a religion not a race.

      September 16, 2011 at 12:37 pm |
    • Arnold

      Typical JEW.....Whiny & PC. The JEWS were the first politically correct police !!!!!!!!!

      September 16, 2011 at 12:41 pm |
    • Kennedy

      I'm not Jewish and I completely agree with you.

      September 16, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
  6. Stevelb1

    Dead or Canadian.

    September 16, 2011 at 12:25 pm |
  7. 357

    apple needs to use their technology to educate individuals... here is a suggestion let's create a app who tells the truth about who are the original jews where their from and where they are today.

    September 16, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
  8. Bubba

    Now lets subdivide the Jews to Jews with fake boobs, Jews with real boobs.

    September 16, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
    • Stevelb1

      Then subdivide into the ones built for comfort and the ones built for speed.

      September 16, 2011 at 12:26 pm |
    • DAS

      Fake noses & real noses?

      September 16, 2011 at 12:27 pm |
  9. Jack Tors

    Oy Vey....

    September 16, 2011 at 12:22 pm |
    • AlbanyMike

      Zollst immer bleybn a Yid vi ikh!

      September 16, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
  10. Stryker

    I don't have any particular feeling about this app. It isn't one that I would have any interest in. However, the French government has it right. The French are actually practicing what the US should be. The French actually defend and individuals right to privacy. Too bad the US doesn't.

    September 16, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
  11. IamaMuslim

    @Pliny... I am working on an app called "Oil hungry Invader, but not a western nation"

    September 16, 2011 at 12:20 pm |
  12. PGee3

    Oh come on! Well, I guess I can understand WHY it was pulled. I mean, i wouldn't want someone compiling information about me in an app without my permission, but this is a different generation where the younger crowd seems to think ALL information is free to share. Oh well: c'est la vie.

    September 16, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
  13. Pliny

    I'm working on two new apps that are very similar.

    "Terrorist, But Not A Muslim".

    "Muslim, But Not Secretly A Terrorist Supporter"

    Basically, I can fit both lists into one, 140-byte, tweet...and still have 140-bytes left.

    September 16, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
    • DAS

      LMAO

      September 16, 2011 at 12:26 pm |
    • ZXC

      hahaha you are funny. Also make a list of constipated jews and not constipated jews. Then see which one is empty, later I'm sure.

      September 16, 2011 at 12:49 pm |
  14. MO on MO

    Jmh

    Judaism is a religion not a race or country of origin..

    Italy is a country not a religion.

    There are ITALIAN JEWS.

    So regarding your comment that "Joy Behar is Italian" I really don't understand your comments and I'm not sure if you do either.

    PS I sitll don't like or care about Joy Behar she's obnoxious / annoying (which can apply to all religions, races / peeople from any country).

    September 16, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
    • Stevelb1

      People don't realize there are African Jews. When the tribes split back in the day, many went to countries like Ethiopia.

      September 16, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
  15. ColoredMountains

    France should listen to the Pope and be moral.

    September 16, 2011 at 12:11 pm |
  16. nimitta

    “In France, it is absolutely impossible for a president to give any kind of religious speech. Swearing on the Bible would be absolutely inappropriate.”

    If only the United States and its citizens were as wise! Today, no US presidential candidate could succeed without frequent allusions to "my faith" and "God", and the Bible. If you're a Republican, just look at how your party has been torn apart by religious fundamentalists who are trying to press creationism/'intelligent design' on the rest of us, who deny humans have played a role in climate change, who have blocked lifesaving embryo research based on bizarre notions about a few cells having a 'soul', and who have historically denied civil rights to blacks, women, and gays based on the antiquated rules of ancient desert nomads.

    The removal of the app may seem extreme, since it was intended in fun, but the impulse underlying it is a kind of tribal solidarity – an identification with a group that eventually will collide with the achievements of a wider, progressive society as it advances toward tolerance. As the app shows, that 'us vs them' mentality isn't just the province of fundamentalists, however amiably.

    September 16, 2011 at 12:07 pm |
  17. MO on MO

    So the line should have been>

    OJ Simpson
    Now a Jew
    Rod Carew didn't convert
    But his 3 daughters are Jewish too.

    Just doesn't flow......the song will NEVER make it!

    September 16, 2011 at 12:06 pm |
  18. Ben

    Hitler really needed this app back in WWII

    September 16, 2011 at 11:58 am |
  19. wearejustparticles

    So France is basically outlawing the Internet? F-ing dweebs

    September 16, 2011 at 11:52 am |
  20. Les

    It's an amazing thing how a person's entire series of posts just seem to disappear from this forum for no good reason. How do I make a person posts magically disappear? Inquiring minds need to know.

    September 16, 2011 at 11:13 am |
    • Laughing

      It used to get put into purgetory a.k.a. awaiting moderation because it would have a "bad word" in it. This could be anything from the word as.sume that has the word as.s in it. or consti.tution because it has t.it in it. if you separate it with a period, comma, space or whatever it'll get by the filter, however CNN still has to figure out how to perfect the filter so that it'll actually recognize when someone isn't using bad words

      September 16, 2011 at 11:25 am |
    • Peter

      Hitler would have loved that app.

      September 16, 2011 at 11:40 am |
    • Nah

      Every so often the article creates a new page for comments. If you look at the bottom of the comments you'll see page numbers you can click on.

      🙂

      September 16, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
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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.