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Is It the Beginning of the End of France’s Jewish Community?

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Sefy Hendler
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People with placards at a protest in Paris, yesterday.
People with placards at a protest in Paris, yesterday.Credit: Michel Euler,AP
New pic Hendler
Sefy Hendler

There will be no charges brought in the horrific murder of Sarah Halimi of blessed memory. That is the ruling of one of France’s highest courts. The facts of this terrible affair are actually quite clear. Halimi, 65, was beaten and thrown to her death from the balcony of her Paris home on April 4, 2017. She was the only Jew in the building where she lived, in the northern part of the city. A Muslim immigrant from Mali, Kobili Traore, broke into her third-floor apartment, and with shouts of “Allahu Akbar” (“God is great,” in Arabic) beat her and pushed her to her death.

French law enforcement authorities tried him in the end on the charge of committing an antisemitic murder. His attorneys claimed in his defense that he was incapacitated due to the drugs he had taken that evening.

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In the four years that have elapsed the mills of French justice ground, softened and in the end exonerated the accused from any criminal responsibility. France’s Cour de Cassation ruled this month that Traore would not be tried due to a psychotic attack he suffered from drugs he used that same evening. This absurd outcome has shocked many, first and foremost French President Emmanuel Macron, who has called for a change in the law.

But the president’s correct words cannot cover up the fury and sense of helplessness of many members of the Jewish community. The insult and the anger are twofold: over the unfortunate decision that allows the use of drugs as a means to escape criminal responsibility, of course, but also over the fact that quite a number of people in France see the murder as a “Jewish” story rather than a national tragedy.

The head of France’s Green Party, Julien Bayou, outdid himself when he said, after the court’s decision, that he “understands the agitation of the Jewish community on the issue.” Jews only.

Halimi’s family approached French Jewish lawyers Gilles-William Goldnadel and Francis Szpiner, asking them to file a complaint about an antisemitic crime in Israel. Of course, France won’t extradite the suspect, but perhaps in Jerusalem justice will at least be seen. In the face of this indifference, French Jews were due to demonstrate Sunday, in yet another protest, to demand of the republic that it stop standing by idly when its Jews are killed.

Many feared that it would once again be a “Jewish” demonstration with too few Frenchman who are not part of the Jewish community, as was the case after the massacre in the kosher supermarket in Paris in 2015, or following the murder of the teacher and pupils at the Ozar Hatorah school in Toulouse in 2012. The victims are French people of Jewish origin, as are many of the protesters in the street. The rest of France, with the exception of a respectable but small minority, is watching from the balcony.

How far we have come from the days of the famous Dreyfus affair in the late 19th century, when entire families were divided surrounding support for – or opposition to – the Jewish officer who was falsely accused of espionage, and when his main supporter was a Frenchman named Emile Zola.

Halimi’s horrific murder could also have an affect on the French presidential election in May 2022, when Macron will attempt to be the first president in some 20 years to be elected to a second term. As in 2017, he will be opposed by the xenophobic and racist Marine Le Pen, heiress to the murkiest movement in French political history and daughter of Holocaust denier Jean Marie Le Pen.

In 2017 Macron defeated her by a wide margin, 66 percent vs. 34 percent. This time the race will be closer and the incumbent president will need every vote. If French Jews, or at least some of them, stay home, or worse, transfer their support to Le Pen – that may improve her chances. And if that nightmare scenario becomes reality a year from now, we will really be able to assert that it marks the beginning of the end of France’s glorious Jewish community.

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