TheFridayReport: A Travesty of Justice in France
Updated: Apr 17
J'Accuse! In an outrageous turn of events, a French top court ruled this week against trying Sarah Halimi's killer for murder. The court essentially said that because he was high on cannabis when he beat her and then threw her out of her third-floor balcony, he does not have to face justice.
The court refused to change course and upheld an earlier lower court decision, effectively saying the killer's judgement was impaired.
But neighbours attest that he was right-of-mind enough to yell antisemitic slurs while viciously beating her. He is said to have yelled the words, "Allahu akbar" (G-d is great) and "Shaitan" (Satan) just before throwing her off the balcony. Motivated by hate, his intent seems rather clear.
Emile Zola's famous open letter written in 1898 and entitled "J'Accuse!" rings as true today as it did over 120 years ago. In that letter, Zola (an influential writer of the time) accused the President and government of France of Antisemitism and unlawfully jailing Alfred Dreyfus - a Jewish officer who was wrongfully sentenced to prison over treason charges.
In the same way that Zola accused the state of Antisemitism, we too must stand resolute in our public outrage over the murder of an innocent gentle Jewish woman, Sarah Halimi - a retired teacher and physician. A kind and gentle woman who met her death brutally only because she was Jewish.
We are tired of bearing witness to antisemitic violence in France such as the brutal murder in 2006 of Ilan Halimi; the 2012 murder of three children and a Rabbi at a Jewish Day School in Toulouse, and the 2015 murder of four Jews in the Hypercacher Kosher supermarket in Paris.
It's no wonder a recent report that surveyed 11 European countries found France to be the most dangerous place to be a Jew in Europe. That report, conducted by a former NYPD Commissioner concluded that attacks and threats against French Jews surged 74 percent from 2017 to 2018 while preliminary data for 2019 showed "further intensification" and a 75 percent increase.
An estimated 500 attacks are reported in France each year - and we know most attacks and incidents go either unreported or are misfiled as mischief rather than a hate crime. One attack is too many - but 500? What message have the French courts sent to would-be attackers? If you smoke up, you can beat up Jews and walk away? It's a license to kill with impunity.
What has really changed in France since the Dreyfus affair? Zola's words echo today more than ever.
Lawyers representing the Halimi family were right in telling the media: “Today we can smoke, snort and inject ourselves in high doses to the point of causing ourselves an ‘acute delirious puff’ which abolishes our ‘discernement,‘ and we will benefit from criminal irresponsibility. “It’s a bad message that has been sent to French citizens of the Jewish faith.”
The Jewish world and its friends cannot stand silently - quietly - as state sanctioned violence is perpetuated against innocent Jewish French citizens. This is not a "watershed" event in France as some have claimed. That watershed moment has happened many times over. Even the French community has finally said it "no longer had full confidence that antisemitic hate crimes in France are handled properly".
France has been reeling from extremist motivated violence for years now. Not just against the Jewish community. Sadly, there have been countless terror related attacks including the terrible attack on Charlie Hebdo; a violent attack in Nice and the horrendous massacre at the Bataclan theatre which resulted in 135 deaths. This is unacceptable.
In the case of French Jews, they are specifically and directly hunted and targeted by their perpetrators because they are Jewish. Following the attack on Charlie Hebdo, a terrorist specifically targeted the Kosher Market on Friday evening - erev Shabbat.
France must be held to account for its failure of justice in the case of Sarah Halimi. We want answers now! On this Shabbat Sarah Halimi's family deserved justice and closure. This they did not get. The future of the Jewish community of France remains even more precarious.
On A Different Note: In today's National Post, my editorial provided advice to the NDP relating to its recent federal convention in which Israel was targeted. In this article, my suggestion was for the NDP to take a more equitable and nuanced approach to Middle East peace in order to strengthen its influence and diplomacy. Here is the link to the article: https://nationalpost.com/opinion/avi-benlolo-how-the-ndp-could-become-a-credible-voice-for-mideast-peace
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In Memoriam, Sarah Halimi
ABOUT: Avi Abraham Benlolo has been described as the nation's most prominent and noted expert in Holocaust studies, in countering Antisemitism and promoting human rights. He has dedicated nearly three decades in executive capacities in the Jewish community and as a leading voice in Canada. His academic research, graduate degree, Ph.D. coursework and nearly three decades of professional work has focused on these arenas in addition to peace and security in the Middle East. He has published hundreds of articles in these areas. In recognition of his national and international leadership in this area, he has received numerous awards including an Honorary Doctorate from a prestigious Israeli university for his work in Holocaust studies and combating antisemitism; an Order of Vaughan for his distinguished contribution to anti-racism, equity and diversity; the Queens Diamond Jubilee Award for his contributions to Canada and a race relations award for best practice, based on distinguished service in promoting human rights.
As a supporter of Israel, he is proud to have established "The Avi Benlolo Scholarship Fund in National Security" at Haifa University.