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. NonZionist

    I'm a conspiracy-monger. Intelligence is not my game.

    September 16, 2011 at 1:49 am |
    • ConfucianScholar

      You didn't need to tell us that, we can see it in your numerous and INANE postings.

      September 16, 2011 at 1:51 am |
  2. Gannt

    News flash- Jews moved into the Levant long before it was referred to as Palestine. Go steal yourself some intelligence.

    September 16, 2011 at 1:45 am |
  3. Cyberkick


    September 16, 2011 at 1:45 am |
  4. ConfucianScholar

    Jesus was a Jew too, don't forget that. And to the "anti Zionism" crowd: Why do you come here to spew your hysterical hatred? The article is just about an app for the iphone, nothing more.

    September 16, 2011 at 1:33 am |
    • Laughing

      Maybe I should buy the app and see if Jesus made the list?

      September 16, 2011 at 10:58 am |
  5. Marcia

    OK, where does everyone forget that Jews stress learning, this is step one, step two is success from being better educated than the average Joe, step three is that there are a lot of Jews that are poor and disabled and these people are taken care off by their fellow Jews. As a person who lived in Skokie Ill , I saw this often as well as having people come into the store that I worked at with numbers on their arms. Now most of these people have passed but a few still linger, and the old ways of learning and taking care of their own are still there also.

    September 16, 2011 at 1:26 am |
    • MarkinFL

      But education and a sense of community is such an obvious front for the conspiracy!

      September 16, 2011 at 6:10 am |
  6. Whatever

    Alex, none of the 9/11 terrorists were Palestinian, nor were they Jordanian or Syrian. This information is readily available. Try to be more honest in the future.

    Calling anyone who shows anything but total obedience to Israel a "terrorist" is very childish, and it totally discredits you as a fool.

    September 16, 2011 at 1:21 am |
  7. Oi

    Being PC gone bananas once again. Restricting our rights of free speech and free expression. Scourge of our society.

    September 16, 2011 at 1:14 am |
    • Russ

      You realize this article is talking about France, not the U.S., right?

      September 16, 2011 at 1:51 am |
    • Fernt

      read, then write.

      September 16, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
  8. Leslie Garrett

    I once took the full Ulpan program for immigrants to Israel, in Jerusalem at the Bait Ha'am. Out of the twenty or so students in the class all but about five of us would have agreed with this statement, and many times I heard people say precisely this, and others would shake their heads in agreement: "I am not religious. I do not believe in God at all. Judaism is my ethnicity. Judaism is my race." Most of my classmates were immigrants from Russia. Since Marx thought up Communism, Lenin led the revolution, and secular Jews were so numerous in Communist parties in Europe and America, it is understandable that they might want to flee when Communism fell. This was 1989. Being Jewish for those people had zero to do with faith, and everywhere you go in Israel everybody kept telling me, unasked: "I am a secular Jew." Why is it ok for these people to be out and out racists, and for everybody else it is wrong?

    September 16, 2011 at 1:11 am |
  9. Krish Talwar

    I'm a bit disgusted by the views a lot of people have against jews on this post. People are people, whether or not a person is good or bad has nothing to do with religion. Using political ideologies and history to judge people is just as bad. So stop with the "I have an excuse to make fun of them because they invaded Palestine" idiocy; that's their government that's being stupid, not every or even most of the Jewish population. I'm a Hindu, the Muslims invaded my lands up north and killed off over a million of us, while imposing taxes on us if we were Hindu. I also know colleagues who died on 9/11 and such. Do I keep grudges against all Muslims then? Better yet, will this make me any less of a coward than some Muslims who are doing these bad deeds? It won't.

    September 16, 2011 at 1:02 am |
  10. A Non Jew Sings

    And now it's
    Springtime for Hitler and Germany
    Deutschland is happy and gay
    We're marching to a faster pace
    Look out, here comes the master race

    Springtime for Hitler and Germany
    Winter for Poland and France
    Springtime for Hitler and Germany
    Come on, Germans, go into your dance

    I was born in Dusseldorf
    And that is why they call me Rolf
    Don't be stupid, be a smarty
    Come and join the Nazi party

    Springtime for Hitler and Germany
    Goosestep's the new step today
    Bombs falling from the skies again
    Deutschland is on the rise again

    Springtime for Hitler and Germany
    U-boats are sailing once more

    September 16, 2011 at 12:54 am |
  11. alexlittle

    To answer your question – its easy to know – 9-11 Terrorist are Palestinians (actually they were born in Jordan & Syria). People who murder bus loads of Children are Palestinians – People who support them – that would be YOU are therefore 9-11 terrorist in spirit. GOT IT A..H...

    September 16, 2011 at 12:41 am |
  12. mike in nv

    I hope they only HIRE those that can actually spell HIRE.

    September 16, 2011 at 12:30 am |
  13. mike in nv

    Too bad here in the US we can't have the same separation of church and state. If anyone running for office higher than dog catcher dared to say they didn't believe in god, the religious right would be foaming at the mouth denouncing the person.

    September 16, 2011 at 12:26 am |
    • Russ

      Amen. I don't care what you believe. I care what you do all day.

      September 16, 2011 at 1:53 am |
  14. Samb499

    Why are so many businesses owned by Jews? Because no one would hire a jew years ago, so the jew had to do it himself.. Why is there a disproportionate rate of success? Because Jews stress learning not just earning.

    September 15, 2011 at 11:49 pm |
    • So What

      Absolutely, and going back centuries, Jews were forbidden to work in certain trades or live in certain areas. So they earned a living as traders and money handlers. They also were educated and often spoke several languages which made them even better traders. It sure would be good if all these bigots read a little history before spouting their anti-semetic nonsense.

      September 16, 2011 at 1:13 am |
    • MrsTinashy

      So where does the guilt come from, Moshe? All that learning and you're still missing something. If you were perfect there would be no question, yet you are only human like the rest of us. You are not the Chosen People, you are just remnants of old tribes.
      What are you doing with this learning? Look at the world, Moshe. See where you have failed to guide us with your learning.

      September 16, 2011 at 1:57 am |
  15. TravelSheryl

    TMZ has done this exact same thing. And Harvey Levin, the head of TMZ, is Jewish. I'm also Jewish and I think this is just fine since the guy who created the app is Jewish so it's not anti-semitic.

    September 15, 2011 at 11:37 pm |
    • Publius

      How absurd. So if a Jew calls for the murder of other Jews is isn't anti-Semitic? If a black person starts spouting hatred about the black race, it isn't racist?

      How would this app be different for you if the creator was not a Jew? How can you possibly glean his true intentions merely from his religious background?

      September 16, 2011 at 12:18 am |
    • Jack Tors

      Now that logic gets a big OY VEY!

      September 16, 2011 at 12:26 pm |
  16. George

    Remember the Alamo !! It was Jews that attacked and slaughtered all the people in the Alamo.

    September 15, 2011 at 11:30 pm |
    • Namu

      Only a Mormon would even consider that to be possibly true.

      September 16, 2011 at 12:37 am |
    • Bluto

      Yeah! And when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor and sank the Maine, it was the Tea Party that surrendered to them!

      September 16, 2011 at 1:26 am |
  17. Carl

    The only problem I have is that the stereotyping of Jews is not even considered when naming a chairman of the FED. Always Jewish. Why?

    Is that not the worst form of discrimination against non Jews who may be good with money? If you think about it, the Jews have a lot of explaining to do as to why wecare all in this mess, except them.

    September 15, 2011 at 11:06 pm |
    • Tea Party Enemy

      I did some research, and it turns out, everyone is Jewish. All the Christians are Jewish. Muslims are Jewish. Buddhists are Jewish. Black and all Asian people are ALL Jewish. And Jews, of course, are Jewish. Kinda makes all the Anti-Semitism look stupid, doesn't it?

      September 15, 2011 at 11:25 pm |
    • ben

      Hey Carl, ever think that maybe the most qualified people were selected to those positions, and they happen to be jewish? Do you really think it a huge global conspiracy? LOL

      September 15, 2011 at 11:52 pm |
    • Darkwalker22

      You are so full of crap I can smell it from here. There have been more Christians as fed chairman and more Christians In the total of government then Jews....so I guess this mess we are in is all jesus's fault.

      September 16, 2011 at 12:27 am |
  18. Oliver

    Jews are wealthy and smart because they help and support each other only. I had a Jewish teacher, and there were 2 Jewish students. Despite the students not showing to class and do their work – they still got an A while other students doing much better work either failed or got poor grade. The teacher were anwering the Jewish kid's question all the time.

    September 15, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
    • *frank*

      Stop lying.

      September 15, 2011 at 10:55 pm |
    • jacob

      How would you even know what anyone else's grades were?

      September 15, 2011 at 10:56 pm |
    • The real john

      This is true but its of all races looking out for their own. Blacks help blacks, whites whites, etc. Its always been a major problem. But that life, and it will always be this way. In fact, when left alone, races nwturally start to segregate. It happens on the playground and in jails.

      September 15, 2011 at 10:57 pm |
    • Tea Party Enemy

      Actually, Blacks tend NOT to help each other. Have you been to the Inner City lately? ANY Inner City?

      September 15, 2011 at 11:23 pm |
    • ted

      happened to me also but in the workplace

      September 16, 2011 at 1:14 pm |
  19. salman

    lol who cares if you're jew or not jew? as long as you're a good person, that's all that counts.

    September 15, 2011 at 10:35 pm |
  20. Bill

    Wow, an actual level headed response from the ADL? Did they run short on outrage today?

    September 15, 2011 at 10:26 pm |
    • Sharon

      They were using the app, I think.

      September 16, 2011 at 12:40 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.