French Jewish Anger Grows Over Savage Antisemitic Murder of Pensioner at Hands of Muslim in Paris Suburb
As further details emerge of the brutal murder of an Orthodox Jewish woman in a Paris suburb at the hands of a Muslim assailant last month, French Jews are increasingly worried and angered by what one prominent member of the community called an “organized silence” surrounding the case.
Dr. Sarah Halimi — a 66-year-old pensioner living in the Paris suburb of Belleville — was murdered in the early hours of April 4 by Kada Traore, a 27-year-old immigrant from Mali. After breaking into the neighboring apartment of another Malian family at 4:25 a.m. — whose terrified inhabitants locked themselves away as they heard him recite verses from the Quran — Traore jumped over the balcony and forced his way into Halimi’s apartment. As he beat the elderly lady savagely, her screams prompted neighbors to call the police.
Three officers arrived at 4:45 a.m. But on hearing Traore yelling “Allahu Akhbar!” and “Shaitan!” (Arabic for ‘Satan’), they feared a terrorist attack was taking place, and called for backup. Anti-terror officers did not arrive until 5:00 a.m., by which time Halimi had been thrown by her attacker from the window of her third-floor apartment to the ground below. Traore, reported to be a drug dealer and addict with a criminal record, then returned to the apartment of the Malian family where he resumed his prayers, and was not taken into police custody until almost 6:00 a.m.
Shock over the barbaric nature of the murder has been compounded by the reluctance of both the media and French authorities to recognize it as an antisemitic hate crime — even after a silent march of remembrance on the Sunday after the murder was met by local youths chanting “Death to the Jews” and “We Own Kalashnikovs.”
In an open letter to new French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb, Alexandra Laignel-Lavastine — a French journalist and expert on antisemitism — charged that “in the advanced decadence that reigns today in the country of (antisemitic comedian) Dieudonné, for whom ‘the Jews are dogs’ (and people laugh hysterically), it seems that a run-over dog deserves more attention than a murdered Jewish woman.”
Laignel-Lavastine also quoted William Attal, Halimi’s brother, who stated, “I have waited seven weeks before I said anything. The absolute silence about my sister’s murder has become intolerable.”
Since the murder, official and media accounts of what transpired have played up claims that Traore was suffering from mental illness, while virtually ignoring the antisemitic element of the crime.
A common theory is that the recent French election encouraged — in the phrase of Michel Gurfinkiel, a leading French political analyst and president of the Jean-Jacques Rousseau Institute in Paris — an “organized silence” around the Halimi murder.
“Such a story would benefit the Right and the National Front,” Gurfinkiel said. “Everyone is convinced this is why there has been such an organized silence around the story.”
A few days after the murder, Marine Le Pen — the leader of the far-right, anti-immigrant National Front — tweeted that Halimi’s fate made her want to “speak about Islamist antisemitism.” Le Pen was defeated by centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron in the second round of the presidential election on May 7.
“The Jewish community was very careful not to be suspected of siding with Marine Le Pen,” Gurfinkiel said. He also noted that state provision of security to religious buildings and institutions means that Jewish organizations are “reluctant to raise certain questions.”
But as more time passes in the wake of Halimi’s murder, the calls to recognize its antisemitic nature are growing. Interviewed by the Le Parisien newspaper last week, the lawyers for the Halimi family, Jean-Alex Buchinger and David Kaminsky, said in no uncertain terms that Sarah Halimi had been “targeted, tortured and killed by her assailant because she was Jewish.”
Halimi’s murder robbed the Jewish community in Paris of one of its most loved figures, known for her work as a doctor and as a kindergarten teacher. “She was very well known and respected, a great person,” Gurfinkiel said. “The tragedy is that she was living in that part of Paris where Jews are gradually leaving, since the security doesn’t exist anymore.”
It also brought forth reminders of the 2006 kidnapping and murder of a young French Jew, Ilan Halimi — no relation to Ruth Halimi — whose body was left for dead by a mostly-Muslim gang who seized him out of the belief that Jews were wealthy and willing to pay ransom money.
“The French police were of no help during the whole (Ilan Halimi) episode, rejecting any idea that antisemitism could have played a role in the affair and preferring to believe the absurd notion that this was the result of some war between rival gangs,” Laignel-Lavastine noted in her letter about Ruth Halimi to French Interior Minister Collomb. “Ten years later, we have reached the same point.”
Traore is currently undergoing psychiatric tests and Jewish communal leaders are impatient for more information from authorities. “The more time passes, the more the community feels that there is something you do not want to tell us,” commented Joel Mergui, head of the Consistoire — the governing body of French Jewish communities.