09/20/2011 01:34 pm ET | Updated Nov 20, 2011

Jew Or Not Jew: French App Banned, But Anti-Semitism Remains

An Apple application that let users guess which French politicians or celebrities are Jewish was pulled from France's App Store. But its American equivalent is still available.

French activist groups said the "Jew or Not Jew?" app violated bans on compiling information on people's religion and revealing that religion without their consent, according to United Press International.

What's going on here? Is this really about protecting people? Does that even make sense given how information is shared across the Internet? Is this even new?

Saturday Night Live was ahead of Apple, having introduced this concept as a mock game show called "Jew, Not A Jew" almost 30 years ago! Those with long memories will recall that the show was hosted by Viennese leader Kurt Waldheim, then becoming infamous for having lied about his Nazi past. Frankly, I thought it was hysterical then, and the memory of it still makes me smile. But perhaps that's the point.

What's funny in America may not be so funny in France, where anti-Semitism is a much more prevalent and dangerous fact of life than it is in America. But is that really a sufficient argument for banning something?

The problem is not the app per se -- it is not in and of itself hateful or ugly. In fact, the whole thing is nothing more, or less, than a version of the informal game played by millions of Jews throughout the world: guessing who is Jewish and taking pride or pain in the acknowledgment. Perhaps it's a stupid game, perhaps a brilliant way to create social cohesion. Either way, it's not new, and banning a particular expression of the game because it's not being controlled by the "right people" is absurd.

I do appreciate that in France, far more likely than in the United States, the "Jew or Not Jew" game could be used in ugly ways. I just think that laws which prohibit such things mask very serious underlying problems, much more than they actually address them.

France has a problem with growing anti-Semitism, to be sure, and not only will this ban not solve it, it may contribute to the worsening of the problem. Dealing with a broad-based cultural hostility to any particular group -- be it religious, ethnic, racial, sexual, etc. -- requires more than rules. It requires introspection, education and time.

Having opted instead for a "shoot the messenger approach," the French will likely feel that they have done something, while actually having done nothing. By instilling a false sense of accomplishment, this approach is actually worse than doing nothing at all.

The danger with the "Jew or Not Jew" app lies in how it could be used by hateful and ugly people. Not having this app will not address the problem of their hate and ugliness. Not to mention that the app's unavailability in the French-based app store does not mean that it will not be readily available in France. That's one of the blessings and the burdens of the Internet, right?

Simply banning the availability of something in a particular geographic market does not mean that the same product will not readily penetrate that very market if there is a genuine desire for the product. Can anyone say, "Drugs"? And what is true for physical products is much truer with virtual products and ideas.

The French ban on this app seems like a well-intentioned, but totally unsophisticated response to a very real problem. And in this case, the old adage about the road to Hell and good intentions seems pretty apt.