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June 21, 2021 5:50 pm

Trial Begins in France of Accused Antisemitic Gang Who Assaulted and Robbed Jewish Family in Their Own Home

avatar by Ben Cohen

Roger Pinto and his son David speaking on Israeli television shortly after their ordeal at the hands of an antisemitic gang in 2017. Photo: I24

The trial of nine individuals accused of subjecting a Jewish family to antisemitic abuse and robbery in their Paris home began on Monday at the assize court in Bobigny, a north-eastern suburb of the French capital.

However, lawyers for the nine are insisting that the invasion of the Pinto family’s home on Sept. 8, 2017, was not motivated by antisemitism.

The family’s ordeal began early on that morning when their 41-year-old son, David Pinto, woke up to discover that the electricity was not working in the family home in the Livry-Gargan neighborhood of Paris. Going down into the basement to check the electricity meter, David opened a door which allowed three assailants, who had set a trap by cutting off the electricity supply, to force their way into the house.

Having gagged David, the three men dragged him to the first floor of the family home. There, they encountered his  mother, Mireille, at the time 73-years-old, who managed to alert her husband — Roger, then 83-years-old — before she too was grabbed by the gang. Mireille said that she was “caught and gagged” by the three men.

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“As I struggled, the first man threw me down,” Mrs. Pinto recalled later. “He hit me. I really thought he wanted to rape me. The second one kicked me.”

The gang also attacked Roger Pinto, beating him unconscious. Mr. Pinto said that as he regained consciousness, he heard one of the gang members tell him,  “You are Jewish, we know that the Jews have a lot of money and you will give us what you have. If you do not give us what we ask you, we’ll kill you.”

Roger Pinto continued: “The three men had a screwdriver and a knife, which they constantly threatened us with. They threatened to kill us. That was unbearable. These thugs took our credit cards, took all the goods we had, jewelry from my wife.”

The Pinto family were tied and locked in a room while the gang carried out the robbery, which included several thousand euros in cash. After several hours, Mireille Pinto managed to call the emergency services using David’s phone. “For us it was really an eternity,” she said. “It was a very traumatic event.”

Among the mutations of antisemitism that French Jews have confronted in recent years is the myth that Jews are an uncommonly wealthy community with the widespread habit of keeping cash and expensive valuables in their homes. In 2014, a young Jewish couple in the suburb of Creteil was subjected to a violent robbery, during which the woman was raped, motivated by the same belief. More recently, in 2018, Mireille Knoll, an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor, was found burned and with multiple stab wounds in her Paris apartment after she was robbed by two men who targeted her because she was Jewish.

Lawyers for the nine defendants in the Pinto case — the three assailants and six more individuals who assisted them with the stolen goods — have argued that antisemitism was not a motivating factor. They claimed that the defendants had spotted Mireille Pinto a few weeks before the robbery, describing her as a “chic lady with beautiful jewelry” whom they had followed to her home. At least one defendant said that he was “unaware” that his victims were Jewish. “The facts were not committed because of the religion of the victims,” declared one of their lawyers, Margot Pugliese.

At the time of the attack in 2017, the then French Interior Minister, Gérard Collomb, was adamant that the attack on the Pintos was “a heinous aggression directly linked to the religion of the victims.” Marc Bensimhon, a lawyer for the Pintos, argued on Monday that there was no reason to change that assessment.

“The Pinto family was assaulted because they are a Jewish family,” Bensimhon said. “The attackers told them, ‘You are Jewish, so you have money.'”

Prior to the assault, the family was well-known among Parisian Jews for their active involvement in the community, with Roger Pinto serving as president of Siona, a pro-Israel association. In the wake of the attack, however, the Pintos moved away from the Livry-Gargan district where they had lived for thirty years. Mireille Pinto was badly traumatized by the attack and has not recovered from its effects four years later, while Roger Pinto was subsequently diagnosed with cancer.

The trial of the nine defendants will last for nine days. It will be keenly watched by a French Jewish community still hurting from the decision of the country’s highest court in April to excuse from trial the accused antisemitic killer of Sarah Halimi, a Jewish woman brutally murdered in her Paris apartment in April 2017, on the grounds that the perpetrator’s intake of cannabis had rendered him temporarily insane and therefore not criminally liable.

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