Whitewashing a heinous anti-Semitic act

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By Gerard Leval
Special to WJW

In the early morning of April 3, 2017, a Jewish woman of 65, Sarah Halimi, was thrown to her death from the balcony of her Paris apartment. The uncontested facts indicate that her death was caused by her 27-year-old neighbor, a local delinquent. The neighbor entered Halimi’s apartment surreptitiously, beat her mercilessly and then, to cries of “Allahu Akhbar” and “I have killed the ‘sheitan’ [Satan],” fatally defenestrated her.


This flagrant act of anti-Semitic violence seemed like an open-and-shut case of a hate crime with the perpetrator deserving of the most severe punishment. It has not evolved that way.

In spite of the overwhelming evidence, it took some 10 months just to have the Paris courts classify the crime as an anti-Semitic hate crime. Then, several weeks ago, a Paris court of appeal declared that the attacker, Kabili Traoré, was not criminally responsible and, thus, should not be tried for his act. This decision has sent shock waves through the French-Jewish community. This terrible matter is yet one more chapter in an increasingly disturbing pattern of flagrantly anti-Semitic behavior carried out under the influence of Islamist hatred that is causing the Jews of France to feel marginalized and powerless.

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It turns out that Traoré had smoked a significant amount of cannabis shortly before he killed Halimi and, as a result, allegedly, was “acutely delusional” when he committed his heinous act. This fact undergirded the reasoning of the three-judge panel that declared that Traoré was not legally responsible for killing Halimi.

However, the analysis is hardly persuasive and the outcome could readily have been different. First, it is clear that Traoré consciously chose his Jewish victim (he had regularly harassed Halimi in the past and he passed up other individuals on his way to her apartment). Thus he seemingly had sufficient capacity to know what he was doing.


Second, the tribunal could have found that the ingestion of a substance was an aggravating factor rather than an exculpatory factor. In any event, the tribunal should very simply have elected to let the decision as to Traoré’s responsibility go to a jury rather than making the decision itself.

The tribunal’s decision to nullify Traoré’s responsibility for the heinous killing has raised concern beyond the Jewish community in France. The notion that any individual could drug himself, commit a vile, hate-filled act and then be exonerated by reason of his drug-induced state has raised consternation generally.

But, it is the fact that a young Muslim could attack and kill an elderly Jewish woman while loudly declaring his Islamist tendencies that has very understandably angered and disappointed French Jews. Beyond the feeling that a terrible injustice has occurred, there is also widespread worry that the tribunal’s decision could provide a kind of
encouragement to radical Muslims in France to attack Jews with impunity.

In the last few years, France has witnessed many acts of violence by Islamists, including the murder of Jewish children in Toulouse, the stabbing death in Paris of an elderly Holocaust survivor by two young Muslims and the recent stabbing deaths of four law enforcement officers by a fellow officer who invoked Islam during this act. While many political leaders have made statements supportive of victims of hate crimes, both Jewish and non-Jewish victims, there have also been disturbing declarations by some
politicians that seem to be stoking anti-Semitism.

The relative public indifference to the Halimi murder compounded by the seeming exoneration of the perpetrator of a horrible anti-Semitic crime, hardly provides the kind of environment in which Jews can feel safe and protected. It is becoming increasingly difficult not to conclude that French society does not seem to care much about the place of Jews in society and is far more interested in placating its growing and vocal Muslim population.

The court that denied Traoré’s responsibility for Halimi’s death seemed to be operating in a vacuum, oblivious to the context of rising anti-Semitism, usually manifested in the guise of opposition to Israel, but clearly present and increasingly overt. In particular, the tribunal seems to have failed to appreciate that the law, in any civilized nation, is not a neutral instrument that operates without regard to the context in which it is being applied, but rather that it exists to promote and accomplish fundamental justice — justice that has clearly not been done in this case.

It would have been far better for France and for its Jewish community, if the court of appeal had seen the horrific killing of Halimi as the consequence of an intentional act with hatred of Jews as its motivating factor and allowed a jury to decide the level of responsibility of the accused and the appropriate punishment to be meted out. Instead, the court chose — and there is really no other way to interpret the court’s action — to whitewash Halimi’s killing. France is the lesser for it and regrettably the French-
Jewish community has reason to be increasingly worried.

Gerard Leval is a partner in a Washington law firm. He writes and lectures on topics of French and Jewish interest.

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