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'There is no justice in France for Jews'

Sister of murdered French Jewish woman Sarah Halimi to ask Israel to try case

Mass protests planned in Israel and France on Sunday calling for action after French appeal court decides killer won’t stand trial because he had used drugs

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Sarah Halimi. (Courtesy of the Confédération des Juifs de France et des amis d'Israël)
Sarah Halimi. (Courtesy of the Confédération des Juifs de France et des amis d'Israël)

The sister of Sarah Halimi — an Orthodox Jewish woman in her sixties murdered in Paris in 2017 — will seek a trial in Israel after the killer avoided being tried in France on the grounds that was not criminally responsible because he had smoked marijuana before the crime, lawyers said.

The news comes as French-speaking Israelis were preparing a series of demonstrations across the country on Sunday to protest the ruling by one of France’s highest courts.

Halimi died after being pushed out of the window of her Paris flat by neighbor Kobili Traore, 27, who shouted “Allahu Akbar” (“God is great” in Arabic.)

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

Lawyers Francis Szpiner and Gilles-William Goldnadel said in a statement late Wednesday they would “take a complaint to Israeli courts against Kobili Traore in the name of Esther Lekover, the victim’s sister.”

Criminal law in Israel can apply to crimes of anti-Semitism committed abroad when complaints are filed by Israeli citizens, such as Lekover.

But, as a rule, France does not extradite its citizens.

The lawyers said that they “deplore being forced to expedite this procedure, but they cannot accept a denial of justice that offends reason and fairness far beyond the Jewish community of France.”

Following last Wednesday’s verdict, lawyers representing Halimi’s family also said they intend to refer the case to the European Court of Human Rights.

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, is organizing 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 will also demonstrate in the front of the French Embassy in London on Sunday at 1 PM, in solidarity with the community in France. Attendance will be limited because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Habib said that he is “really angry about decision, but not surprised. I know that anti-Semitism in France is on the rise.”

The demonstrations are meant to show that the French Jewish community is determined to see Halimi’s killer behind bars, said Habib.

French Israeli lawyer Johann Habib (courtesy)

“We are first of all showing solidarity with the French Jews in France,” said David Allouche, president of the Francais de Netanya group and one of the  organizers of the protests. “We are trying to put pressure on the ambassador and on the French institutions that we don’t agree with this decision.”

“There is no more option for the family to get justice,” Allouche continued. “The only option is to get out on the streets, to make a lot of noise, and to hope that (French President Emmanuel) Macron will make a decision and will ask for a new trial.”

After criticizing a lower court’s insanity finding in January last year, drawing a sharp riposte from the country’s top magistrates, Macron on Sunday expressed support for the battle to bring Traore to trial for the killing.

Macron said he would seek a change to laws to prevent such a case from happening again. Macron said that taking drugs and “going crazy” should not take away criminal responsibility.

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks during a joint press conference with President Reuven Rivlin, after a working lunch, at the Elysee Palace in Paris, on March 18, 2021. (Ludovic MARIN / POOL / 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.

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

But Macron’s statement is not nearly enough, say the organizers.

“It’s a very weak statement,” said Allouche, “he’s showing a very weak attitude. It’s not good, and not enough. There are no actions behnd the words.”

“Macron wants to change the law for the future,” added Habib, “but just for people who have taken drugs. Macron is talking about the future, but we want justice for Sarah Halimi now.”

The French Embassy in Israel appeared to support the demands of the protesters.

“France expresses to Sarah Halimi’s family, to her relatives and to all the citizens awaiting this trial, its deep emotion and its very profound sadness,” said the French Embassy to the Times of  Israel in a statement.

“The decision of the Court of Cassation has been given according to the law. But as the government spokesperson clarified : “if the meaning of this decision implies that today the law allows the consumption of drugs to lead to criminal irresponsibility, it is not acceptable; drugs cannot be a license to kill.”

“This case legitimately triggers extremely strong emotions and Sunday’s demonstrations, which will take place in several cities in France and in Israel but also in various other countries, show that it is necessary to change the law,” the Embassy continued. “The President of the Republic asked the Justice minister to make proposals in this direction. It shall be done in the next few days. Our law must change to make sure that such a situation can never happen again.”

Sarah Halimi (Courtesy)

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.

Habib does not think anti-Semitism was behind the court’s ruling. “I cannot say that the French court is anti-Semitic, that’s not true. Maybe they were afraid of what could happen if  they bring the criminal to trial.”

Allouche, however, sees the court’s motivation differently. Anti-Semitism “is partly behind it, of course. When you have such difficulty recognizing the crime is anti-Semitic when it’s obvious, you cannot question what the judge wants to achieve here.”

Traore shouted “Allahu Akbar” (“God is great” in Arabic) as he beat Halimi, and proclaimed that he “had killed the Satan” afterward. Despite the circumstances, it took months for French prosecutors and some of France’s media to call the attack anti-Semitic.

The French Embassy in Tel Aviv. (Facebook)

Israel’s Foreign Ministry blasted the ruling Wednesday, telling the Times of Israel: “Sarah Halimi was murdered for clearly anti-Semitic motivations, 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 entire Jewish community’s sense of security.”

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 at a psychiatric facility.

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)

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.

“It’s a big denial of justice,” said Allouche. “There is no justice in France for Jews.”

Times of Israel staff and Agencies contributed to this report.

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