Rivlin hails Macron for backing law change after Halimi’s killer avoids trial

President pens letter to French counterpart thanking him for ‘quick, clear response’ to Jewish woman’s murder, says it sends clear message that current law is deficient

French President Emmanuel Macron (L) and President Reuven Rivlin at a press conference in Jerusalem on January 22, 2020. (Jacques Witt/Pool/AFP)
French President Emmanuel Macron (L) and President Reuven Rivlin at a press conference in Jerusalem on January 22, 2020. (Jacques Witt/Pool/AFP)

President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday thanked his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron for backing changes to existing laws, after a top court ruled that a Jewish woman’s murderer was not criminally responsible due to having been under the influence of marijuana.

Referring to Sarah Halimi’s murder and the court’s decision, Rivlin wrote to Macron: “Your quick and unequivocal response sends a clear message to the family of the victim and to France as a whole that the law as it currently stands is deficient, and that deficiency has allowed a despicable murderer to evade justice and punishment.”

Rivlin wrote that he was saddened by the French court’s decision regarding Halimi’s “antisemitic, brutal and terrible,” murder.

“The facts of the case are accepted,” Rivlin continued. “Dr. Sarah Halimi was a victim of a despicable murder by a cruel murderer because she was Jewish, and everything must be done to send a clear message that there is not, and there won’t be, any tolerance of sick and despicable antisemitism and attacks on Jews because of their ethnicity and religion.”

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

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.

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.

In the wake of the ruling, Macron expressed support for the country’s Jewish community and its efforts to bring Halimi’s killer to trial.

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

The Jewish community and the international Israel education organization StandWithUs holds a protest in front of the Consulate General of France on April 25, 2021 in Los Angeles, California to demand justice for Sarah Halimi. – Sarah Halimi a 65-year-old French Jewish woman was killed by her neighbor in her Paris, France, apartment in April 2017. (Apu GOMES / AFP)

“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 antiSemitic 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.

Stoking debate over a new strain of antisemitism 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 antisemitism.

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.

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