TEL AVIV — Hours after furious mobs descended on the U.S. embassies in both Egypt and Libya in response to an anti-Muslim film by an obscure California helmer, Israel — where the filmmaker claims to maintain citizenship — sought to distance itself from the issue.
Sam Bacile, an unknown director believed to have gone into hiding near Norwalk, Calif., is said to have completed his film “Innocence of Muslims” last year. He claims both to be an Israeli Jew and also to have financed the film, supposedly budgeted at $5 million, with donations from Jewish donors.
His claims, say the Israeli Foreign Ministry, don’t yet add up.
“We don’t know who this Bacile guy is. There’s no trace of him in official registries,” said Yigal Palmor, spokesman for the Foreign Ministry. “No one has heard of him, either in the film industry or elsewhere, but the search continues.”
Depictions of the prophet Muhammed are forbidden in Islam, but the trailer for Bacile’s movie, which was only recently publicized in Egypt, not only shows the prophet but includes scenes where he has sex, abuses children and insults those who believe in Islam.
News of the 14-minute trailer, which had been dubbed in Arabic, lit a powder keg across the Middle East, and in the riots in Benghazi, Libya, four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, were killed.
“This film has nothing to do with us, and we clearly reject any manifestation of crude intolerance such as this piece, just as we condemn the unwarranted outburst of bloody violence that takes this film as its pretext,” Palmor added.
A phone number for Bacile in Norwalk, Calif., had been disconnected on Wednesday evening, and messages for Bacile’s so-called consultant, Steve Klein, went unanswered.
In Israel, a country all too familiar with both terrorism and religious sensitivities, the reaction was muted. Many newspapers led with the story but focused not on Bacile’s allegations of citizenship but on the potential ripple effects the deaths could have on President Barack Obama’s closely watched re-election campaign. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Obama are at loggerheads over Iran’s nascent nuclear program, and some media outlets seized the opportunity to lash back at the U.S. president.
Israel Hayom, the nation’s most-circulated daily paper, led its website with a story detailing Obama’s “weak response” to the attacks.
Israel Hayom is owned by billionaire American casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who has poured tens of millions of dollars of his own money into Republican campaigns this election season, first supporting Newt Gingrich and then Mitt Romney after Gingrich dropped out of the race.