In the nearly two weeks since director Yariv Horowitz claimed he was beaten unconscious by a group of young Arabs during the 2013 Aubagne International Film Festival in France, there has been a maelstrom of accusations and responses regarding the alleged incident, but according to Horowitz, the furor over the event is due to an atmosphere of vulnerability in France’s Jewish community.
“There’s a lot of sensitivity there,” said Horowitz, speaking on the phone after returning home from a second trip last weekend to attend the Israel Film Festival in Paris. “There’s great fear after Toulouse, you can’t blame them for that. You can’t blame the Jewish community for the fears they have of anti-Semitism.”
In March 2012, a 23-year-old Frenchman of Algerian origin shot dead four Jews, three of them children, in front of the Otzar Hatorah school in Toulouse.
“Everyone knows what happened in Toulouse, which is unforgivable, and when they heard that I’m Israeli and was beaten unconscious near Marseille, they added one and one and said, ‘lynch, anti-Semitism,’ but they didn’t hear the details from me,” he said. “It’s all very sensitive. And now with all the articles about Yom Hashoah, and how there’s a 30% rise in anti-Semitism, especially in France, it’s just not surprising.”
The “Rock the Casbah” director was referring to an incident that took place during the festival, when he was attacked by a group of teenage boys after leaving the theater where his film had been screened during the Aubagne Festival. According to Horowitz, it appeared the attackers were not native French speakers, which led him to assume they may have been of Arab or North African descent.
Horowitz lost consciousness for a short while following the attack, but chose not to go to the hospital or press charges at the time. It was only the next day, when he met a festival staff member at a party, “a nice guy” of Arab descent, according to Horowitz, that the identity of the attackers was confirmed. The festival official told the Israeli director that he’d heard about the incident from his daughter, who told him the boys had been at the screening, which she’d heard from text messages being circulated by a group of local teenagers. At that point, Horowitz wondered if his attackers had actually been at the screening, and were targeting him as an Israeli and a Jew.
“No one really knows,” he said. “Was it drunk kids trying to impress their girlfriends, or because they knew it was the director from Israel? I never said it was anti-Semitism or a lynching.”
When Horowitz returned home to Israel and was interviewed by Haaretz in an article that appeared on March 29, he identified the attackers as Arabs, stating “it was clear they were Arabs and drunks.”
In an article published by the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions (CRIF) in France on March 29, the attack was called a “lynch,” a term that was soon being being used by French blog Desinfos.com, and discussed at length on blog JewPop, Twitter and Facebook.
Yet the CRIF, the Aubagne Festival and other French Jewish organizations soon changed their minds about the possible anti-Semitic angle of the incident, affirming that they were shamed and shocked that an Israeli director would make accusations about an “anti-Semitic attack” when the motives and details of the incident were, at best, not completely clear.
According to Horowitz, the French reactions to his side of the story shifted when Gaëlle Milbeau-Rhodeville, the General Delegate of the International Film Festival of Aubagne, as well as the mayor of Aubagne, shifted their message to the press, trying to “lessen” the direction of Horowitz’s accusations, he said, and asking him to retract his story.
“They said, ‘We know it wasn’t anti-Semites or Arabs,’” said Horowitz. “But how do they know?”
The president of the CRIF, Richard Prasquier, last Wednesday called Horowitz’s account of the assault “false news,” and suggested that the accusations “can only generate anti-Semitism in return.”
Judaicine, a French agency that promotes Jewish and Israeli films in France, wrote on its website that it believes “the aggression suffered by Yariv Horowitz, as reprehensible as it is, has nothing to do with the fact that he is Jewish or Israeli director.”
The Bureau of Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism stated it had verified the reports from the local police and the festival organizers and declared that no anti-Semitic act had taken place.
“I never even spoke with the CRIF,” said Horowitz. “The over-sensitivity of the Jewish situation in France made everyone nervous, and I understand it. But because everyone rushed to respond, and then no one really knows what happened, now there’s no choice, they have to know the truth.”
Horowitz said he’s planning on making a report to the French police, “who should know the full story,” and he also knows that the Aubagne Festival is planning on releasing a new response. “They were shocked,” he said, referring to the festival organizers, “and had to say it wasn’t anti-Semitism or Arabs.”
The filmmaker said he returned to Paris last weekend for the Israel Film Festival in order to clear the air, particularly with the Jewish community, but found he was accepted without qualifications, he said, and the viewers “loved the movie.”
“The French media didn’t ask about the incident at all,” added Horowitz, who was interviewed by 10 news agencies and television stations during the Israeli Film Festival. “They didn’t ask a word about it, it doesn’t interest them. I waited for them to ask me, but there was zero interest. The only ones who asked about Aubagne were from a Jewish newspaper.”