“You knew that [French actor] Patrick Timsitt was Jewish? Of course! But Marilyn Monroe? And [French comedian] Dany Boon?” asks the app’s promotional statement. “How many times have we had that conversation without being able to come up with the answer?”
Thanks to the application Jewish or not Jewish?, iPhone users will be able to reply, it boasts, promising to name thousands of personalities in about 50 countries who are “Jewish (by their mother) or converted”.
The statement reassures non-Jews that its aim is not to demonstrate “the superiority or […] dominance of one or other ethnic group” but to show that the people mentioned, who often came from immigrant families, have succeeded through hard work.
But anti-racist and Jewish groups have slammed a “method of designation and stigmatisation always used by radical far-right milieux and racists”.
The Socialist Party-linked campaign SOS Racisme has pledged to take the designer, Johann Levy, to court and threatened to take action against Apple France. And the Jewish Students’ Union says it will ask to drop it but sue the multinational if it does not do so.
The company is legally responsible for the app, they insist, and could be fined 300,000 euros, while its representatives could face five years in jail for storing digital information on racial origin without permission.
Frantic Twitter activity and subsequent media attention have led to a dramatic increase in interest in the app.
Although it was available on Wednesday afternoon, Levy has promised to withdraw it if it proves to be illegal, while insisting that he designed it to build Jewish pride in the achievements of Jewish businessmen or celebrities.
The French state does not compile statistics on racial or religious appartenance and French law places tough restrictions on the use of such information. But that has not prevented Google’s most-searched subjects in French often showing the name of someone famous along with the word “Jew”.