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Jewish Journal

A Cannes Boycott?

Ads call on Hollywood celebrities to reconsider before going to Cannes.

by Tom Tugend

May 16, 2002 | 8:00 pm

Jewish ire over a recent spate of anti-Semitic attacks in France may spread to a new battleground -- the film industry.

Concerned by the attacks, the American Jewish Congress (AJCongress) is urging Hollywood stars and studios to consider France's current and past anti-Semitism before attending the upcoming Cannes Film Festival, scheduled to run May 15-26.

The full-page ads, placed in Variety, the Hollywood Reporter and this newspaper, draw parallels between the collaborationist Vichy regime of 1942 and the France of 2002. The ad states, both in 1942 and 2002, "Synagogues and Schools [are] Firebombed" and "Jews [are] Attacked on the Streets," while 1942's "Chants of 'Heil Hitler' and 'Death to the Jews' heard on the streets" are replaced in 2002 with "Chants of 'Vive Bin Laden' and 'Death to the Jews' heard on the streets."

Gary Ratner, executive director of the Pacific Southwest Region of the AJCongress, who placed the ads, told The Journal that he wants Hollywood figures to rethink their plans to go to Cannes or, if they go, to raise the issue of French anti-Semitism with their hosts. Ratner said that since the ads appeared, he has received some 50 supportive phone calls and e-mails, and two or three negative responses.

He also heard reports that some personalities in the entertainment industry were indeed reconsidering plans to go to Cannes. Though he did not mean to equate the Nazi-friendly Vichy regime with today's France, Ratner noted that anti-Semitic incidents have risen sharply this year.

He also emphasized that he did not call for a boycott of the Cannes festival or tourism to France, although the ad refers readers to the AJCongress' Web site, www.boycottfrance.com.

An indignant Jean-Luc Sibiude, the recently arrived French consul general in Los Angeles, said he was shocked and outraged by the "sick analogy" between wartime Vichy France and his country today. While he did not contest the sharp rise in anti-Semitic incidents, Sibiude argued that "99 percent" were perpetrated by Arab immigrants from the former French colonies in North Africa, or their descendants, who number around 4 million.

"The anti-Semitic incidents represent almost entirely a spillover from what is happening between the Israelis and the Palestinians," he said.

If there is prejudice in France, it is directed more against Muslim immigrants than Jews, Sibiude maintained, and he urged American Jews to listen to the leaders of French Jewry, who have opposed any economic or tourism boycott of France.

Woody Allen also rejected the ad, telling a press conference in Cannes, "I think any boycott is wrong. Boycotts were exactly what ther Germans were doing against the Jews."

The AJCongress has traditionally been a liberal organization, with emphasis on such issues as civil rights and separation of church and state. However, in recent years, some say the AJCongress leadership has moved to the right, and in 1999, the Los Angeles-based regional chapter split from the national organization, claiming that it had forsaken its founders' liberalism. Since then, a new regional chapter representing the AJCongress was established -- and it was this new chapter that placed the controversial ad.

In another development, the Cannes Film Festival committee chose "Kedema," by Israeli director Amos Gitai, as one of 21 features in competition for top honors.

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