French Jewish leader questions judicial willingness to confront Islamist anti-Semitism
January 3, 2020
The head of the French Jewish community expressed fear that last week’s decision by prosecutors in Paris to excuse the murderer of a Jewish woman from a criminal trial symbolized a deeper reluctance to confront anti-Semitism among Muslims in France through legal means.
In a forthright letter to Paris Attorney General Catherine Champrenault, Francis Kalifat—the president of CRIF, the representative organization of French Jews—intimated that the decision not to try Kobili Traore for the Apr. 4, 2017 torture and murder of Sarah Halimi, a 65-year-old widow, in her Paris apartment, was ultimately political in nature.
“Did your Public Prosecutor’s Office want to avoid, through the trial of Sarah Halimi’s murderer, a trial at the same time of the Islamist anti-Semitism that kills in France?” Kalifat asked pointedly.
Kalifat said he had been left “speechless” by the decision to excuse Traore on the grounds that his intake of cannabis on the night of Halimi’s murder had left him temporarily insane, and therefore not legally responsible for his crime.
“I want you to know, Madam Attorney General, that beyond my own incomprehension, it is all French Jews who are plunged into a state of collective consternation, and who now know that it is possible in our country to torture and kill Jews in cold blood without being judged,” Kalifat wrote.
Advocates for the Halimi family stepped up their public criticism of the decision over the weekend. In an extensive interview on the Europe 1 network on Sunday night, Francis Szpiner—the lawyer representing Halimi’s children—called it an “aberration.”
He confirmed that he planned to appeal the decision before the Court of Cassation, the highest court in the French judicial system.
Several politicians also spoke out against the decision.
“Appalled by the incomprehensible decision of the Paris Court of Appeal, which concludes that the murderer of Sarah Halimi is not responsible because he was under the influence of cannabis!” tweeted the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo.
“As a Christian, I worry about the lack of outrage over this affair,” wrote Alain Houpert, who represents the center-right Republican Party in the French Senate. “Justice must be done for Sarah Halimi.”
Some of France’s leading political commentators lambasted the decision as a new low for the French judiciary.
“After having shown great cowardice during the Nazi occupation, French justice from time to time experiences major relapses,” wrote columnist Franz-Olivier Giesbert in Le Point.
Journalist Françoise Laborde charged that it was the French legal system that had taken a “delusional puff” when it concluded that Traore could not be held criminally responsible because of his cannabis intake.
In a sign that French Jews remain determined to eventually bring Traore to trial, Ariel Goldmann, a lawyer and the president of the United Jewish Social Fund (FSJU) in France, urged the community to take the case to François Molins, the public prosecutor at the Court of Cassation known for his tough stance toward Islamist terrorism and violence in France during the last decade.
Among the cases tried by Molins was that of Mohammed Merah, whose 2012 shooting spree included an attack on a Jewish school in the city of Toulouse where he murdered a rabbi and three small children.
Ben Cohen is a New York City-based journalist and author who writes a weekly column on Jewish and international affairs for JNS.