On Friday morning Apple Computer dropped the new and controversial “Jew or Not Jew” app from its French market. The iPhone and iPad app draws on a database to ask users to guess whether or not a given French celebrity or other public figure is Jewish.
French law does not permit databasing based on certain defining traits, such as religion. But the app is still online in other markets and is available in the United States for $1.99.
In an interview with Le Parisien, software developer Johann Levy — who himself is Jewish — noted his concern with the backlash caused by his app.
“I’m not a spokesman for all Jews,” Levy said, “but as a Jew myself I know that in our community we often ask whether a such-and-such celebrity is Jewish or not.” Regarding the controversy, he said, “For me, there’s nothing pejorative about saying that someone is Jewish. … On the contrary, it’s about being proud.”
According to David M. Myers, chair of the History Department and former chair of Jewish Studies at UCLA, the law banning such a database is rooted in the French secularism from the 18th century Revolution. That mindset disavows all recognition of religion in public life, extending into every French-run state institution. “In the public square ,” Myers explained, “you are a Frenchman, shorn of all ethnic identification.”
Myers says this sentiment, originally conceived to prevent religious interference in government, has now extended into some of France’s more controversial mandates. One case involved a law banning headscarves in French public schools, including those favored by devout Muslims.
“[It] seems to me to be stale and outdated, to prohibit that kind of manifestation of ethnic identification,” Myers added. (ALSO IN TECH: Newly discovered planet has twin sunsets, but no one to see them)
While removing the “Jew or Not Jew” app from the French marketplace was required by local French laws, some in France see it os symbolic of the stigma of being catalogued as a Jew.
Antisemitism in France has a long history, and The Israel Project, a pro-Israel polling and advocacy agency, says more than a quarter of France’s Jews have considered emigrating because of worsening conditions there.
In a separate interview with “The Jewish iPhone Magazine,” an online community for Jewish app developers and iPhone enthusiasts, Levy addressed the negativity.
“It made me realise most French Jews prefer to stay hidden, trying very hard to avoid any attention,” he said
“Unfortunately the word ‘Juif’ [Jew] has still a negative connotation in France. People usually are a bit embarrassed to pronounce it. Yes, there is a lot of anti-Semitism which can explain some paranoia, but let’s be honest; haters don’t need my app as an excuse for spreading their hate.”