Protests organized in Israel to pressure French government

#JeSuisSarah: Social media campaign launched demanding justice for Sarah Halimi

Combat Anti-Semitism Movement calls for global protest against ‘unfathomable’ French court ruling that murderer of Jewish woman not criminally responsible because he was high

An illustration of Sarah Halimi. (Courtesy of the Combat Anti-Semitism Movement.)
An illustration of Sarah Halimi. (Courtesy of the Combat Anti-Semitism Movement.)

The Combat Anti Semitism Movement launched a social media campaign Sunday to protest what it called the “unfathomable” decision of France’s highest court that the murderer of Sarah Halimi was not criminally responsible because he had smoked marijuana before the crime.

The umbrella organization of various groups tacking anti-Semitism said that the campaign, which utilizes the #JusticeForSarah and #JeSuisSarah hashtags, is aimed at showing solidarity with Halimi’s family and France’s Jewish community, whose leaders have called for a mass public rally in Paris Sunday afternoon in protest of the ruling.

Halimi, an Orthodox Jewish woman in her sixties, died in 2017 after being pushed out of the window of her Paris flat by neighbor Kobili Traore, who shouted “Allahu Akbar” (“God is great” in Arabic).

But in a decision earlier this month, the Court of Cassation’s Supreme Court of Appeals upheld rulings by lower tribunals that Traore cannot stand trial because he was too high on marijuana to be criminally responsible for his actions.

Sarah Halimi was beaten before she was thrown off her Paris apartment building’s roof in April 2017. (Courtesy of the Halimi family)

Traore, a heavy pot smoker, has been in psychiatric care since Halimi’s death. The court said he committed the killing after succumbing to a “delirious fit” and was thus not responsible for his actions.

“The recent legal ruling in France sets a dangerous precedent that murderous antiSemitism can go unpunished. It is a shocking blow not only to the family of Sarah Halimi and to French Jews, but to anyone who cares deeply about combating racism, antiSemitism and intolerance. It must not go unchallenged,” said Sacha Roytman-Dratwa, director of the Combat AntiSemitism Movement.

“By bringing our voices together and speaking in one unified voice, we can make a powerful statement to the world that antiSemitism will not be excused or tolerated,” she said.

Justice for Sarah Halimi placards, April 2021 (Crédit : Consistoire israélite du Haut-Rhin)

Meanwhile, French Jews in Israel and in France were planning a series of protests to pressure the French government to take action.

Johann Habib, a French-educated lawyer and community activist living in Israel, organized three protests in Israel, all taking place at 3 p.m. on Sunday in order to coincide with a demonstration by the Jewish community in Paris. The main demonstration will be in front of the French Embassy on Herbert Samuel Street in Tel Aviv.

The Jewish community in the United Kingdom was also demonstrating in front of the French Embassy in London on Sunday at 1 p.m., in solidarity with the community in France. Attendance is limited because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Additionally, protests were planned for several US cities, including in New York, Los Angeles and Miami.

Israel blasted the decision of the French court last week.

“Sarah Halimi was murdered for clearly anti-Semitic motivations, for the sole reason that she was a Jew,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Lior Hayat told The Times of Israel. “This was a despicable murder that harmed not only the victim herself and her family, but also the entire Jewish community’s sense of security.”

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

In the wake of the ruling, French President Emanuel Macron expressed support for the country’s Jewish community and its efforts to bring Halimi’s killer to trial. He said he would seek a change to laws to prevent such a case from happening again.

French President Emmanuel Macron delivers a press conference at The Elysee Presidential Palace in Paris, on March 25, 2021 (BENOIT TESSIER / POOL / AFP)

In a rare and controversial critique of France’s justice system, Macron said last week that taking drugs and “going crazy” should not take away criminal responsibility.

“It’s not for me to comment on a court decision, but I would like to express to the family, to the relatives of the victim, and to all our Jewish citizens who were waiting for a trial, my warm support and the Republic’s determination to protect them,” Macron told Le Figaro.

Macron said that France “does not judge citizens who are sick, we treat them… But deciding to take drugs and then ‘going crazy’ should not, in my opinion, take away your criminal responsibility.”

He added: “I would like Justice Minister [Eric Dupond-Moretti] to present a change in the law as soon as possible.”

An appeals court had said Traore, now in his early 30s, had anti-Semitic bias and that the killing was partly connected to it. But it also accepted the defense claims that Traore was too high to be tried for his actions and he was placed in a psychiatric facility.

The court decision, which means that Traore cannot stand trial in any French court, provoked anger from anti-racism groups who say the verdict puts Jews at risk.

Some 1,000 members of France’s Jewish community gathered outside the home of Sarah Halimi in Paris to commemorate her alleged anti-Semitic murder, April 9, 2017. (Screen capture: 0404 Video)

Stoking debate over a new strain of anti-Semitism among radicalized Muslim youths in predominantly immigrant neighborhoods, the handling of Halimi’s slaying has been a watershed event for many French Jews, who say it underlines the French state’s failures in dealing with anti-Semitism.

French Jews have been repeatedly targeted by jihadists in recent years, most notably in 2012, when an Islamist gunman shot dead three children and a teacher at a Jewish school in the southern city of Toulouse and in 2015 when a pro-Islamic State radical gunned down four people at a Jewish supermarket in Paris.

Lazar Berman contributed to this report.

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