Apple Inc. has removed from its French online store an application called “Jew or Not Jew” that says it allows users to identify whether a politician or celebrity is Jewish, amid pressure from French social activists.
Several social and Jewish groups had urged Apple to withdraw the application, saying it breaches French laws that ban disclosing people’s religion without their consent as well as compiling data about people’s religions. Groups that objected to the app included a council representing French Jewish institutions known as Crif, France’s Jewish student union, and an anti-racism group called SOS Racisme.
“This app violates local law and is no longer available on the app store in France,” said Apple spokesman Tom Neumayr.
The iPhone application, which was launched in early August, is still available in app stores outside of France, including the U.S. While the U.S. has laws regulating hate speech, it doesn’t have anything approaching France’s laws barring disclosing and compiling religious affiliations.
More broadly, France has a strict tradition of secularism which commands a separation between religion and state and holds that religion is a private matter that shouldn’t encroach on the public realm.
The “Jew or Not Jew” application was developed by a Franco-British software engineer, Johann Lévy, who says he is a Jew himself and sought to propose a “recreational” tool for users curious about the religious background of famous people. He said he wasn’t aware that he was doing anything illegal, and says he didn’t have racist or anti-Semitic intentions.
“I often ask myself whether this or that celebrity is Jewish or not,” Mr. Lévy, 35, said in a telephone interview. “I believe that it’s a question that many Jews ask themselves too.”
App users enter a person’s name, and the app says whether the person is believed to be Jewish. Mr. Lévy said he compiled information found mainly on the Internet.
Apple requires that applications comply with local laws, but generally leaves it up to the developer to ensure such legal compliance. Apple itself has little legal obligation for the content in its app store, say legal experts.
Some Jewish associations had criticized the app. “The fact is that this [app] could be used by others, whose intentions are not as good,” said Richard Prasquier, president of Crif, the French Jewish association. “It is unacceptable and stigmatizes the Jewish people.”
Mr. Lévy said that he was disappointed by the reactions to his application.
“It’s sad to see that freedom of speech is still restricted here,” he said.
Photo credit: Shalom Life