My Word: Justice For Sarah Halimi And Justice For All

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No fancy word can cover what happened to Halimi. She was murdered. An identifiably Orthodox Jewish woman, she was killed by a Muslim immigrant in a shocking crime.

First Sarah Halimi was thrown out of a window, then justice for her death was thrown under a bus.

The 65-year-old Parisian was killed in April 2017 by her 27-year-old neighbor, Kobili Traoré. He burst into her apartment while she was sleeping, beat her, crushed her skull and hurled her off the balcony. It is not clear whether she was still alive when he chucked the retired doctor and former teacher from the third floor like a rag doll. Neighbors reported hearing Traoré repeatedly shout “Allahu Akbar” and yell “I killed the sheitan,” using the Arabic word for “satan.”

There is a fancy word for throwing someone out of the window – defenestration. No fancy word can cover what happened to Halimi. She was murdered. An identifiably Orthodox Jewish woman, she was killed by a Muslim immigrant in a shocking crime.

Halimi lost her life; but Traoré might literally be getting away with murder.

In December 2019, a court ruled that Traoré was not criminally responsible for his actions because his heavy use of cannabis had triggered a psychotic episode and compromised his “discernment.”

Instead of asking what the magistrate was smoking when he made that ruling, last week the highest French court of appeals concurred that Traoré could not be considered criminally responsible for his actions on the night he killed Halimi. The appeal, like Halimi, was thrown out of the window – and the results could have similarly lethal repercussions.

No one in France can now feel safe. Any murderer has a built-in defense: “I was high. Pardon.”

Under the logic of last week’s French ruling, driving under the influence of alcohol might be considered an excuse for running someone over rather than a crime.

As the British group Campaign Against Antisemitism wrote: “In France today, it is possible to be sentenced to a year in prison for throwing a dog from a window, but if you hurl a Jew to their death whilst on drugs, you walk free.”

Talk about a country going to pot.

French President Emmanuel Macron was one of those shocked by both the crime and the non-punishment. “Deciding to take drugs and then ‘go crazy’ should not in my eyes remove your criminal responsibility,” Macron told Le Figaro, adding that he was asking the justice minister to submit relevant amendments to the law as soon as possible.

“It is not for me to comment on a court decision, but I would like to tell the family, relatives of the victim and all fellow citizens of the Jewish faith who were awaiting this trial of my warm support and the determination of the Republic to protect them,” Macron said.

Halimi was also known as Lucie Attal; Sarah is her Hebrew name and Attal her maiden name. It’s no coincidence that the name Halimi has stuck to her in her shocking death. It brings to mind the abduction, torture and murder of 23-year-old Parisian Jew Ilan Halimi by a French Muslim gang in 2006. Sarah Halimi’s death is also often linked with the similar brutal murder in 2018 of 85-year-old Holocaust survivor Mireille Knoll. Knoll was stabbed and left to die in her Paris apartment that had been set on fire by two attackers, one a Muslim neighbor who later claimed to have been drunk at the time.

The French Jewish community sadly has a long list of victims – including the children killed in the attack at a Toulouse Jewish school in 2012 and the people murdered at a kosher supermarket in Paris in 2015. Those were the people US president Barack Obama at the time dismissed as being folk randomly shot in a deli, rather than admit the possibility of them having been targeted as Jews. It’s likely their deaths would have been all but ignored by the world press had they not been killed just after the Charlie Hebdo massacre.

Criminal culpability matters. Sarah Halimi’s life mattered.

“From now on in our country, you can torture and kill Jews with complete impunity,” Francis Kalifat, the president of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France (CRIF), was quoted as saying after last week’s ruling.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry issued a response, to those who asked for it, saying: “Sarah Halimi was murdered out of clearly antisemitic motives, for the sole reason that she was a Jew. This was a despicable murder that harmed not only the victim herself and her family, but also the sense of security of the entire Jewish community.

“The way to confront antisemitism is through education, zero tolerance, and heavy punishment. This is not the message that the court’s ruling conveys.”

Earlier this month, Dr. Moshe Kantor, president of the European Jewish Congress, said at the release of the Annual Report on Antisemitism Worldwide 2020, by the Kantor Center at Tel Aviv University, that “The significant rise in extremism and the widespread increase in antisemitic conspiracy theories over the last year could have profound effects on Jewish communities in a post-pandemic world.”

The report noted a drop in the number of physical attacks last year, probably as a result of the lockdowns and COVID-19 restrictions, but found that “far more hate against Jews was spread online where accusing Jews and Israel for the coronavirus was easily spread, resulting in the expansion of extremist groups.”

Among the attacks reported were a number of incidents in which clearly identifiable Jews were knocked down in the street. And the attacks did not disappear this year. At the beginning of this month, an ultra-Orthodox couple and their baby were slashed by an attacker in a New York in what is being considered a hate crime. The suspect was charged with assault and “criminal possession of a controlled substance.”

I don’t want to give his lawyers any ideas, but by French legal standards they might be able to rest the defense case right there. Case closed without closure for the victims.

In a recent incident caught on security cameras in a Jewish neighborhood in London, a man crept up on a pregnant ultra-Orthodox woman, placed a bag over her head and punched her in the stomach. A vile hate crime – or just high jinks by somebody who can’t be considered responsible for his actions?

In Jerusalem, there has been a string of assaults by Muslim youth on ultra-Orthodox Jews since the start of Ramadan last week in what is being called “TikTok Attacks.” Far from denying the crimes, the perpetrators have posted them on social media, particularly on the TikTok platform. This leads to copycat attacks. And it can quickly spiral out of control from there.

Hate crimes are exactly that – crimes. They are not carried out by bored kids just looking for a bit of fun. No responsible parent, educator, religious or community leader – of any religion or community – can condone such attacks (or revenge attacks).

The cannabis excuse is a smoke screen. A murderer is hiding behind it and the smoke will allow more attacks to take place. No one will be safe – the young, the old, the disabled, people of every skin shade and religion are at risk.

Sarah Halimi’s family is reportedly now considering an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights after the Cour de Cassation in the Palace of Justice in Paris proved that it couldn’t distinguish between human rights and wrongs.

Last week’s verdict is not good for France and it’s not good for the world at large. Several protest rallies are being organized on Sunday, including in Paris and outside the French embassies in London and Tel Aviv.

It has become almost trite to hold a sign saying “Je suis Sarah Halimi” or with the names of other victims of hate crimes. But unless the severity of the incident is recognized the fact remains that we will all be potential Sarah Halimis – from a criminal’s hash to a victim’s hashtag. Where’s the justice in that?