Thursday, February 11, 2016

France: Film on Famed French Fraudster Living Free In Israel Stirs Unease

Via JTA:
An authoritative voice and phone credit was all Gilbert Chikli needed to steal millions of euros from seasoned bankers and businessmen in his native France.

One of France’s most famous criminals, the 50-year-old Chikli was sentenced in May by a Paris court to seven years in jail for defrauding dozens of telephone victims out of more than $8 million in 2005-06 while he was living in Israel.

But Chikli is living as a free man in Israel — the country has no extradition treaty with France.

Now his story is getting a fresh look because of a new and controversial French film starring President Francois Hollande’s girlfriend, Julie Gayet, based loosely on the Chikli saga. Coming at a time of rising Jewish emigration from France to Israel, the French-language feature “Thank You for Calling” (known in France as “Je Compte sur Vous,” French for “I’m counting on you”) is drawing attention in both countries to a criminal fringe of French Jews for whom aliyah, or immigration to Israel, serves as a get-out-of-jail card.


Elbe’s film has led the French media, including the TF1 and France 2 television channels, to devote extensive coverage in recent months to what they call the “Franco-Israeli mafia.”

This attention is troubling to many French Jews, including Avi Zana, director of the nonprofit Ami Israel, which helps French immigrants in Israel integrate into their new society.

Calling the coverage “disproportionate,” Zana said the apparent presence of a few dozen French criminals in Israel is a “normal result of an increase in French aliyah and diversification in the spectrum of newcomers. It does not suggest any proclivity to criminality” among French immigrants to Israel.

The crooks among the newcomers, Zana said, “are detested by the rest of us, who feel they give us and Israel a bad name.”

Elbe’s film, he said, “is regrettably blowing things out of context at a time when French Jews have already enough trouble from anti-Semitic stereotypes this film risks augmenting.”

Elbe, who is Jewish, said he anticipated the film “would be a divisive” among French Jews, but decided to make it anyway because “the subject is fascinating and anti-Semites can’t be allowed to intimidate us into self-censorship.”

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