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Tunisian chief rabbi demands justice after apparent antisemitic axe murder in France

Jewish French MP says investigation ongoing into Eyal Haddad’s death at hands of his Muslim neighbor, who reportedly told police he did it because Haddad was Jewish

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Eyal Haddad, a Tunisian-Israeli Jewish man who was killed by his neighbor in France in August 2022. (Courtesy)
Eyal Haddad, a Tunisian-Israeli Jewish man who was killed by his neighbor in France in August 2022. (Courtesy)

The chief rabbi of Tunisia demanded on Tuesday that French authorities press full charges against a Muslim man who allegedly murdered a member of the Tunisian Jewish community in an antisemitic attack outside of Paris.

“We were horrified to hear of the murder of a son of our city of Djerba, Eyal [Haddad] the son of Michael, who was murdered by a monster in France. We ask that the French government bring the murderer to justice, perform a transparent investigation, and press full charges against this low murderer to prevent similar incidents,” said Tunisia’s chief rabbi, Chaim Bitan, who also serves on the Conference of European Rabbis.

Haddad, 34, was murdered in Longperrier, just northeast of Paris, on August 20 by his neighbor, a Muslim man identified as Mohamed Dridi, who confessed to killing him with an axe and attempting to burn and bury the body, according to a statement by the National Bureau of Vigilance against Antisemitism (BNVCA).

The BNVCA said the suspect turned himself in to the police and told officers that Haddad, who lived next door to him, owed him 100 euros and had not returned them. He later also confessed that he had killed Haddad because he was Jewish.

Though Haddad was originally from Djerba, his family now lives in Beersheba, Israel. Haddad also had Israeli citizenship.

Despite Dridi’s confession to killing Haddad because he was Jewish, investigators were reportedly also looking into the possibility that the attack was not fundamentally antisemitic in nature but the result of an argument between the two men, who apparently knew each other well.

Tunisian Chief Rabbi Chaim Bitan in an undated photograph. (Conference of European Rabbis)

Meyer Habib, a Jewish parliamentarian in France, said there were still “plenty of shadow areas in this story” but that the murder was being investigated by French authorities and that he “trusts the country’s judiciary to shed light on this terrible case.”

Habib said Haddad’s family had asked him to help repatriate his body to Israel for burial there as soon as possible.

Despite outcries from the Jewish community over the brutality of the murder and the apparent antisemitic motivation, French authorities have been silent about the case.

“The homicide was allegedly committed by a Muslim suspect. Concern is heightened by the silence surrounding this case,” the BNVCA said.

French authorities have come under significant scrutiny and criticism in recent years for failing to recognize the antisemitic nature of crimes against Jews in the country and properly prosecute them.

Yonathan Arfi, president of Jewish community umbrella group CRIF, tweeted that his organization “expresses its solidarity with the family of [Eyal] Haddad.”

Arfi said he hoped information will quickly be made available and urged that “all avenues be explored at this stage, including the possibility of the aggravating factor of antisemitism.”

Joël Mergui, president of the Israelite Central Consistory of France, tweeted that Haddad’s “horrific murder overwhelms us. The investigation will have to carefully and lucidly seek the motivations for this crime, including the possible aggravating circumstance of antisemitism.”

Manel Msalmi, international affairs adviser to the European Parliament, tweeted, “It is not the 1st time that a Jew is murdered by his neighbor. We condemn this barbaric and criminal act and we call for justice for Eyal.”

The European Jewish Congress called on French authorities “to investigate and shed light on the true motives of [Haddad’s] attacker.”

Yamina MK Yomtob Kalfon tweeted that he was “outraged at another antisemitic murder of a Jew in France.”

“Years of antisemitic incitement among Muslim leaders in France are bringing about more and more incidents of attacks on Jews,” wrote Kalfon, a native of France who immigrated to Israel in 2004.

Two Jewish people were killed in France earlier this year, allegedly in antisemitic attacks.

Near the end of May, a French prosecutor said 89-year-old René Hadjaj, who was pushed out of his 17th-story window by a neighbor, may have been killed because he was Jewish. On May 17, his 51-year-old neighbor was arrested, but investigators did not initially charge him with a racist crime.

In February, relatives of Jeremy Cohen, a 31-year-old French Jew who died after being hit by a tram in the town of Bobigny, near Paris, said that his death was not an accident, but the result of an antisemitic attack.

Initially, his death was reported as a “pedestrian being run over,” but video footage released by Cohen’s family showed the moments leading to his death and indicated that the incident could have been triggered by an assault. In the video, Cohen is seen being attacked by several members of a large group before running away from the crowd and being hit by an oncoming tram.

France has grappled with a sharp rise in violence targeting its roughly 500,000 Jews, the largest community in Europe, in addition to jihadist attacks in recent years.

The 2017 murder of Sarah Halimi, a 65-year-old thrown from her window, sparked a national outcry.

Halimi’s murder drew particular outrage after the killer, who had shouted “Allahu akbar” (“God is greatest” in Arabic), avoided trial because a judge determined he was under the influence of cannabis and was therefore not criminally responsible.

That prompted French President Emmanuel Macron to seek a law change to ensure people face responsibility for violent crimes they commit while under the influence of drugs, which was adopted in December 2021.

In 2018, 85-year-old Mireille Knoll was brutally stabbed in an attack by two men said to have been looking for “hidden treasures” in her Paris apartment.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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