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France cannes { May 9 2002 }

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"I'm sick and tired of these stupid Jewish accusations that France is a country of anti-Semitism"

Jewish Group Urges Hollywood to Shun Cannes Film Fest

By Sharon Waxman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 9, 2002; Page C01

LOS ANGELES, May 8 -- A leading Jewish organization is urging Hollywood figures to reconsider their plans to attend the Cannes Film Festival this month, citing a recent series of anti-Semitic attacks in France.

In full-page ads in trade newspapers this week, the West Coast chapter of the American Jewish Congress compared the situation in contemporary France to the climate 60 years ago, when the anti-Semitic Vichy government was in power and Hitler stalked the rest of Europe.

"France, 1942: Synagogues and Jewish schools set on fire, Jews beaten on the streets, Jewish cemeteries vandalized," the ad reads, next to a similar list under the heading "France, 2002." It cites comments by France's ambassador to England insulting Israel and referring to Jews as "those people."

The French reacted angrily to the advertisement, calling it a distortion of the situation in their country.

"I'm sick and tired of these alleged accusations that France is a country of anti-Semitism," said Jean-Luc Sibiude, the consul general for France in Los Angeles. "I'm especially sick and tired with the analogy to the Vichy situation." He called the campaign "totally unjustified."

But Gary Ratner, executive director of the AJC, asserted, "There has been a disgusting display of anti-Semitism in France, with over 440 incidents in April alone." The purpose of the ad, he said, is to make Hollywood -- where Jews constitute a large segment of the industry -- think twice before heading to the festival, which runs May 15-26.

If they do go, Ratner added, "maybe they'll raise the issue of anti-Semitism in France while they're there. People in the entertainment industry who have been advocates on other world causes, like Tibet, haven't said a word about anti-Semitism."

Sibiude accused American Jewish organizations of "real aggressiveness" compared with French Jewish organizations which, he said, put episodes of violence in context. "The leaders of the French community all agree that the situation of violence in France has nothing to do with the situation in the Vichy regime, or before the Second World War," he said. "It's a spillover of the Israeli-Palestinian unrest in Israel and the occupied territories."

There have been dozens of incidents of synagogue bombings and scrawling of anti-Semitic slogans on Jewish cemeteries and monuments in recent months, as unrest has escalated in the Middle East. The violence has mostly stemmed from poorer neighborhoods inhabited by Muslim immigrants to France.

And there is some evidence that people in Hollywood are, in fact, thinking hard about Cannes this year. A leading agent, David Lonner, whose client Alexander Payne directed a film that is in competition, hosted a breakfast at an L.A. country club last week with the American Jewish Committee on the subject of European anti-Semitism. Lonner could not be reached for comment about his plans, but his assistant acknowledged that the agent had read the AJC ad and noted: "It's a tough question."

Donna Bojarsky, a political consultant whose Hollywood clients include Richard Dreyfuss, who is Jewish, said the topic of whether to go to Cannes had come up in recent discussions. "I haven't heard someone say, 'I'm not going to Cannes,' but I have heard people express consternation about it," she said. "Two or three producers have mentioned to me that they don't necessarily want to go to France and spend money there now."

Another prominent insider mentioned that an e-mail has been circulating among Hollywood Jews suggesting a boycott of travel to France.

The AJC is a nonprofit advocacy group that is usually active on liberal-oriented issues such as the separation of church and state, civil rights and women's rights.

One prominent Jewish Hollywood figure said a boycott was the wrong way to go. Former Fox Family Channel mogul Haim Saban, who has dual American and Israeli citizenship and also lived in France, said that approach would be counterproductive.

"I'm not suggesting that French people are Jewish-lovers or Jewish-haters. I am suggesting neither," he said. "But I am suggesting that this is not a governmental direction, it's by a minority . . . To escalate and give this issue so much credence is a mistake."

2002 The Washington Post Company

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