Did Israeli filmmaker Yariv Horowitz fabricate story of brutal attack by “Arab youths” in France?
by Ali Abunimah
Yariv Horowitz, an Israeli filmmaker, has claimed that he was brutally beaten and knocked unconscious by a group of “Arab youths” just after a screening of his film at the Aubagne Film Festival in southern France a few days ago. Aubagne is 11 km east of the city of Marseille.
Horowitz’s film Rock the Casbah won a jury prize at the festival.
Elements of the story, including inconsistencies in various versions, cast doubt on Horowitz’s claims. French police have also given The Electronic Intifada additional details about what allegedly happened that cast further doubt on Horowitz’s accounts.
Why I’m suspicious
My doubts about Horowitz’s story were first raised by the fact that he appears to be the only source for it and there is no mention of it whatsoever in French media. It is reported only in Israeli media (and some US Jewish community publications have picked it up), based – apparently – on his claims.
It seemed unlikely that a horrifying attack serious enough to knock a film director unconscious would pass completely unnoticed and unremarked by the festival hosting him and at which he won a prize, or by local or national French media.
Yet I could find no reports about the incident in French media and no statement from the film festival. I spoke today with Manon Ouellette, the official press contact for the Aubagne Film Festival, which was held from 19-23 March, and she told me she had heard nothing about an attack on Horowitz.
Horowitz, whose film will be featured at the Israeli-government sponsored Festival of Israeli Cinema in Paris, has not responded to a message sent to him via Facebook seeking comment.
What Horowitz and Israeli media reports claim
- On 28 March, Israel’s Nana10 news website reported (in Hebrew):
The director Yariv Horowitz was attacked by a group of Arab youths after the screening of his film Rock the Casbah at the Aubagne Film Festival in France.
Horowitz lost consciousness, was treated on the spot, and then returned to the festival where he won the special jury prize for the best film. The prize was awarded to Yariv Horowitz for the film and to Assaf Amdurksy for the music.
“I presented the film at the festival and in the evening, after we presented, I went out into the street with Assaf Amdursky and a group of Arab youths attacked us,” Horowitz said in a conversation with Nana10 Culture and Arts. “They beat me. I didn’t know why it happened. I still don’t know. Someone from the city said one of them saw the film before the incident and we still don’t know if it was because they were drunk or because of something else.”
- Horowitz gave a different version of events to Haaretz, also in Hebrew, which reported today, 29 March:
Yariv Horowitz, director of the film Rock the Casbah, was attacked three days ago in a street in Marseille, France, by a group of youths and badly beaten. The attack occurred immediately after the screening of Rock the Casbah at the Aubagne Film Festival in the city. As a result of the blows he received, Horowitz lost consciousness. According to him it was clear that they were Arabs and some of them had watched his film before the attack.
Horowitz told Haaretz this evening that after the screening of his film at the French festival he went out into the street outside the festival venue along with the musician Assaf Amdurksy, who wrote the film’s score. “We wanted to withdraw money, and then we were confronted by a group of youths,” Horowitz said. “They started to shout ‘fuck you’ at me in an Arabic accent. Assaf told me to ignore them, but I shouted back at them ‘Fuck you too’ and then they jumped on me. They knocked me down and kicked me, and as a result of a blow to the head I lost consciousness. It was clear that they were Arabs and drunk.”
A day after that, in a party organized by the festival, Horowitz says, he was approached one of the drivers who works with the festival who told him that he heard about the attack from his daughter. “He was an Arab, and he told me that his daughter’s friends were sending text messages about the attack. According to him, at least one or two of the attackers were earlier at the screening of my film and saw me up there on stage.”
- A report this morning on the English-language Israeli website Ynet gives the following account in which Horowitz now claims that he “refused medical care and did not file a complaint with local police.”
After the screening we went to get some money from an ATM machine when a group of Arab teens started yelling and cursing at me. I cursed right back and then they beat me up. They threw me on the floor and kicked me. I lost consciousness and only woke up a few minutes later.”
Horowitz refused medical care and did not file a complaint with local police. “I didn’t want to spend all night at the (police) station. I don’t know if the attack was racially motivated, but wither way [sic] it’s annoying: In Israel I was criticized by the right and in France the Arabs beat me up.”
After recovering from the blows he received, he returned to the festival area in “good condition.”
After the violent incident, Horowitz’s day saw a marked improvement as Rock the Casbah won the Special Prize of the Jury for Best Picture.
Reports of the alleged “attack” have been picked up and uncritically repeated by Israel army radio, JTA, Tablet magazine, a pro-Israel website called “The Commentator” and Times of Israel among others.
It has now also been picked up by the Italian news agency ANSA and is beginning to appear on Italian language websites.
Israeli official propaganda, such as the twitter account of the Jewish Agency’s social media director Avi Mayer, was quick to seize on the alleged incident:
Notable inconsistencies and questions:
Horowitz claims to have suffered kicks and a blow to the head severe enough to have caused him to lose consciousness for several minutes. Such an injury is potentially life-threatening, especially since severe effects or even death may not occur until hours or even days after an initial blow. Why would any responsible person refuse medical treatment for a serious head injury? Why would Assaf Amdursky, who was allegedly a witness, not insist that Horowitz be treated?
What was Amdurksy doing during the attack on Horowitz? Was he also attacked? Did he fight back? Did he defend Horowitz? Horowitz’s accounts and the media reports are silent on this. According to his most recent Facebook status, Amdursky is already back in Tel Aviv, but has not commented on or been quoted on the alleged incident.
In one account Horowitz suggests he saw his attackers at the screening of the film prior to the attack. In two other accounts he claims that other people told him the attackers had been seen at the screening. Which was it? But more importantly, if other persons told him this how could they possibly know what the attackers looked like if they did not witness the attack?
In one account Horowitz appears to describe a sudden attack. In others he describes an angry exchange of words preceding the attack.
Horowitz claims that others, including even a driver, were aware of the attack. Why has the Aubagne Film Festival not issued a statement of solidarity condemning an attack on one of its prize-winning directors? Why are there no reports on this incident in French media?
According to the official program of the film festival, Horowitz’s film was screened on 21 March at 3:15pm. Prizes were not awarded until the award ceremony on the evening of 23 March. Media accounts which started appearing on 28 March describe the attack as occurring “three days ago.” If it indeed occurred on the day of the screening then it was a week ago. This makes it even more strange that reports of the incident took so long to emerge.
What the police say
I spoke with Karine Paravisini, the police commissioner of Aubagne by telephone today.
Paravisini confirmed that police and emergency medical services (pompiers) had been called to attend the scene of an incident. She did not know who had called them.
Paravisini said that when police arrived on the scene Mr. Horowitz appeared to be fine and refused medical assistance. “He was not unconscious, and if he had been he would have been taken to the hospital. We would not leave a person who was seriously injured in the street just like that.”
Paravisini said that Horowitz refused to make a police report and police had no reports from any third parties or witnesses regarding an attack and no suspects since no complaint had been made.
“Mr. Horowitz has the right not to make a police complaint,” Paravisini said. “But if you were knocked unconscious why wouldn’t you go to the hospital with the fire brigade to get checked out?”
Asked if attacks of the kind that Horowitz had alleged had happened before in Aubagne, a picturesque town of 50,000 in France’s Provence region, Paravisini answered, “Non, non, non.”
Why it’s important to know the truth
As this incident shows, reports about alleged anti-Semitic attacks spread rapidly through the media, especially when they concern France. One year ago, a horrifying shooting attack on the Ozar Hatorah Jewish school in the southern city of Toulouse by Muhammad Merah, a mentally disturbed individual, killed one teacher and three children.
Also last summer, Zach Tennen, a student at Michigan State University, claimed he was the victim of a horrifying anti-Semitic hate crime in which his mouth was stapled shut. This was widely and unquestioningly reported by media, including the JTA, before it was debunked.
Hate crimes of any kind must be taken seriously. False or exaggerated claims of hate crimes should be exposed because they make it harder for victims of real hate crimes to be heard and believed.
If indeed Horowitz’s account is fabricated or exaggerated, then the victims in this case are Arab youths in general whom he has defamed as violent racists, playing into already strong prejudices.
Horowitz should now be asked to give a proper accounting of what happened by the media who have uncritically reported his claims.