An alleged tie between Jews and a film that sparked violence in the Arab world by insulting the prophet Mohammed, put Jewish activists on alert following the killing of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans during riots against the film.
Jewish activists feared a widely reported role of Jews in funding and producing the film, which contains crude attacks on Islam, could stain the community as a whole as anti-Muslim.
But a search for a person presenting himself as responsible for the film who said his name was “Sam Bacile” led to a dead end. Eventually, another man involved in making the movie admitted Bacile’s name was a pseudonym and said that the alleged producer of the film is not Israeli and is probably not Jewish.
The claim that Jewish money was behind the film also lost ground as the partner, California Christian anti-Muslim activist Steve Klein, stated the movie was a low-budget project which he himself described as a “bad fifth grade production.”
An actress who appears in the film said she was duped and never knew it was about Islam or the prophet Mohammed.
The movie, titled “The Innocence of Muslims,” was made a year ago and a 14-minute trailer was published online in July. It gained attention in the Muslim world after being translated to Arabic and uploaded to YouTube by Morris Sadek, head of the U.S.-based National Coptic Assembly, an anti-Muslim organization presenting itself as speaking on behalf of the Christian Coptic minority in Egypt. (In Egypt, Coptic leaders have denounced the film).
The release of the Arabic language YouTube trailer led to a series of protests at the U.S. embassy in Cairo during which a few protesters breached the embassy wall and hoisted a black Islamic flag in place of the U.S. flag. More seriously, unknown individuals killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and three other Americans when they attacked the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya’s second largest city, using a rocket propelled grenade.
Initially, a person using the name of Sam Bacile assumed responsibility for producing the film. In an interview with the Associated Press, the person said he was a California real estate developer with dual U.S. and Israeli citizenship, that he was Jewish and that the film was produced at the cost of $5 million which he raised from 100 Jewish donors. Israeli officials made clear no such name exists on Israel’s population registration. The name “Sam Bacile” also showed up nowhere on California business registries. Jewish activists in California and nationwide said they had never encountered the person.
As the dust settled, it became clear that Jewish donors and activists are not involved in the project. Steve Klein, who heads a small California organization known as Citizens for the First Amendment came out as a consultant to the film and confirmed there was no Jewish connection.
According to Adina Holzman, assistant director of research at the Anti Defamation League, “Klein was involved in the past in anti-Muslim efforts” that included passing out flyers warning against Islamic teaching in public schools. In an interview with Israel’s Channel 10 TV, Klein acknowledged the movie was meant to be a provocation, aimed at Muslims living in California.
Klein, with partners he did not name, wanted to have area Muslims come watch the movie, thinking it was praising Islam, and then watch two hours of a hateful attack on prophet Mohammed. “We needed to get the truth to them about Mohammed,” he said.
For the filmmaker provocateurs, presenting the film as a Jewish-Israeli endeavor “served to set up the dichotomy between good and evil, between Israel, on the one hand, and the Islam on the other,” said the ADL’s Holzman.
Meanwhile, actress Cindy Garcia, who says she appears in the movie, posted a bitter denounciation of the film’s creators in an online post.
“When the movie was… there was no mention of Mohammad,” Garcia wrote in a YouTube user profile. “There was nothing evil in my role. I have not even seen the whole movie, so i was deceived.”
Seth Berkman also contributed reporting to this story.
Nathan Guttman, staff writer, is the Forward’s Washington bureau chief. He joined the staff in 2006 after serving for five years as Washington correspondent for the Israeli dailies Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. In Israel, he was the features editor for Ha’aretz and chief editor of Channel 1 TV evening news. He was born in Canada and grew up in Israel. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.