No Justice for Jews in France
For better or for worse, Jews are instinctively guided by memory. The Torah embedded Zachor in our national DNA 3,000 years ago in Egypt, and it has remained a dynamic part of our collective consciousness ever since.
That is why — even as we rose in protest from Tel Aviv to Paris to Los Angeles at the unspeakable injustice delivered by the French legal system against the murdered Dr. Sarah Halimi — it behooves us to remember that neither the crime nor this French decision came in a vacuum.
On October 3, 1980, on the eve of Sukkot, my colleague and friend, Dr. Shimon Samuels — the Simon Wiesenthal Center Director of International Relations — had just said goodbye to an Israeli acquaintance, Aliza Shagrir, on a Paris street. A few minutes later, she was dead, murdered by a bomb near the Rue Copernic Synagogue.
The following day, French Prime Minister Raymond Barre declared, “This odious bombing meant to strike Jews who were going to the synagogue, but hit innocent French people who crossed Rue Copernic.” In fact, one was a Portuguese concierge, another a Jewish worshiper, the third was Aliza, and one was an “innocent Frenchman.”
The Copernic attack was followed by 73 shootings and bombings of Jewish targets in Western Europe, 29 in France, culminating in a terrorist attack on the Jo Goldenberg restaurant.
The wave of terror stopped in 1982, partly because — needing funds after Israel’s incursion into Lebanon — the terrorists stopped targeting Jews, and began attacking banks and embassies. Only then did authorities finally act.
As for the Rue Copernic terrorists, a suspect in the bombing, Hassan Diab — a sociology professor at Carlton University — was finally extradited to France in 2014. Yet in 2018, he was released by a French court that dismissed all charges, despite a pending appeal. While his passport had supposedly been confiscated and he was under a no-fly order, Diab managed to fly home to Canada. As for the victims? After 41 years, the victims’ families still have no closure or justice.
For a quarter of a century, we have been lobbying French presidents, ministers of justice and the interior, and more, to demand that France confront antisemitic hate crimes, violence against Jews, and open hatred of the Jewish state.
In 2000, the police — under orders of the establishment — sat on their hands while synagogues were firebombed not by neo-Nazis, but by young Muslim hooligans. Incidents throughout 2001 and 2002 escalated with little or no action by authorities.
Even when police responded, French jurists were reluctant to give more than a slap on the wrist to perpetrators of hate crimes against Jews if they were African or Palestinian.
When Rabbi Marvin Hier, the founder and Dean of the Wiesenthal Center, raised these issues with then French President Jacques Chirac, the French leader lectured our delegation on how he personally felt empathy for a Palestinian youth who supported terrorism.
Later, Dieudonné, a popular comedian turned antisemitic polemicist, leveraged his TV appearances and interviews to fan the flames of Jew-hatred. On numerous occasions he was condemned and fined, but always let off the hook by the French judiciary — too often on grounds of “freedom of expression.” It was left to YouTube to stop him; and they only banned his hate channel in 2020.
So, it was left for Jews to mourn the murder of Ilan Halimi, a mobile-phone salesman kidnapped, tortured, and murdered by an antisemitic gang in 2006.
It was left to Jews to mourn the murders of Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, 30, his 4- and 5-year-old sons, Gabriel and Arieh, as well as the 7-year-old daughter of the school’s principal, murdered on the campus of their yeshiva on Toulouse.
Hundreds of thousands filled the streets of Paris after the Charlie Hebdo massacre. But it was left to French Jews to mourn the murder of four of their neighbors killed at a kosher supermarket in Paris by Amedy Coulibaly, who declared he was murdering the people he hated most in the world: “the Jews and the French.”
Jewish memory won’t allow us to forget Holocaust survivor Mireille Knoll, who was just a child in Paris when, in the summer of 1942, the French police, cooperating with the Germans, rounded up thousands of the city’s Jews, stuffing them into a cycling stadium, the Vélodrome d’Hiver. Virtually all were subsequently murdered at Auschwitz.
Despite surviving the Holocaust, she was stabbed to death as a senior citizen, and her body was partly burned by her attackers.
Today, we mourn the murder of our sister Sarah Halimi by a neighbor who beat this beautiful soul while screaming “Allah Akbar” and antisemitic epithets, and then threw her out of her third-floor window to her death. We mourn our sister Sarah who was murdered a second time by French judges who snatched justice for her soul because the killer smoked marijuana.
Simon Wiesenthal always taught that it always starts with the Jews, but never ends with the Jews.
That bodes ill for the people of France.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper is the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a leading Jewish human rights organization with over 400000 family members.