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April 4, 2022 2:59 pm

French Jewish Man Fatally Struck by Tram in Paris Was Fleeing From Brutal Antisemitic Attack, Family Insists

avatar by Ben Cohen

A figure identified as Jérémy Cohen, a 31-year-old French Jew, is seen fleeing from a gang attack seconds before being fatally struck by an oncoming tram. Photo: Screenshot.

The French authorities have opened an investigation into the case of a young Jewish man in Paris who was killed by a passing tram while fleeing a violent assault that his family insists was motivated by antisemitism.

The victim, 31-year-old Jérémy Cohen, lost his life on Feb. 17 after being struck by a moving tram in the Paris suburb of Bobigny. A harrowing video of the incident posted to social media over the weekend shows an individual fleeing from a violent attack by at least a dozen gang members, before running into the street where he was knocked down and killed by an oncoming tram.

In a statement released on Monday, Eric Mathais, the public prosecutor in Bobigny, said he would use “all necessary means to establish the truth,” following a meeting with members of Cohen’s family. The statement said that Cohen’s death was currently being treated as an unintended consequence of the brutal assault he was subjected to.

The charge that Cohen was the victim of an antisemitic gang was leveled by his two brothers during an interview with Jewish broadcaster Radio Shalom last week. Frustrated by what they perceived as a lack of media and police concern with the case — a complaint that has frequently been leveled by victims of antisemitism in France — they began their own investigation into their brother’s death, distributing flyers requesting information in mailboxes throughout the surrounding neighborhood.

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On March 10, Cohen’s family received an amateur video of the incident. While the video has been widely shared on Twitter and other platforms, the family asked for its distribution to cease on Monday.

The dark, grainy cellphone video captures a group of about a dozen youths punching and kicking another individual. The angle of the video is too distant to ascertain whether Cohen, who also suffered from developmental difficulties, was wearing the kippah that normally adorned his head at the time of the attack.

However, his brother Raphael stated on Radio Shalom that a white kippah was discovered at the scene following Cohen’s death, and that this may well have been the trigger for the assault. According to an unnamed police source quoted by broadcaster France Inter on Monday, no evidence has yet emerged to support the contention that Cohen was the victim of an antisemitic attack. The source said it was “impossible” to know whether Cohen had been wearing his kippah when he was assaulted, adding that the police had yet to identify the perpetrators.

There was little ambiguity about the shocking violence on display in the cellphone video obtained by Cohen’s relatives. The youths were seen surrounding their victim at a doorway on a busy street in Bobigny, as passengers in cars that were attempting to drive by passively watched the attack unfold. Cohen was seen being punched several times by different gang members before running away, only to be pulled to the sidewalk by another gang member. More blows were rained on him as he lay on the ground. At this point in the video, the vehicles that were stationary in the street at the beginning of the attack were seen driving away, with no one intervening to prevent the assault. The video then showed Cohen struggling to his feet and running dazedly into the street, where an oncoming tram struck him with brute force, dragging his body under its carriage.

By Monday morning, the news of Cohen’s fate and the accompanying video had been shared widely enough for his death to become an issue in the French presidential campaign, with voters preparing for the first round of the election on Sunday.

Monday also marked the fifth anniversary of the antisemitic murder of Sarah Halimi, a Jewish woman slaughtered in her Paris apartment by an intruder who was later excused from trial on the grounds of temporary insanity caused by his cannabis use.

Several of the presidential candidates denounced the attack on Cohen on social media. Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, a candidate from a small conservative party, remarked that Cohen had been trying to escape the “scum” who rounded on him during an “attack of an antisemitic nature that we have heard nothing about.” Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the candidate of the far left La France Insoumise (“France Rising,” LFI) declared his support for Cohen’s family, adding, “like them we want the truth.” Yannick Jadot, the Green Party candidate, meanwhile stated that “all light” needed to be shed on the circumstances of Cohen’s death. “It shouldn’t be left to his family to collect the evidence,” Jadot said.

Most of the attention was fixed on the reactions of the two rival far-right candidates: Marine Le Pen of the National Rally (RN) and Eric Zemmour, a columnist and pundit of Jewish origin who is running independently. Both argued that the silence around Cohen’s death was suspicious, with Le Pen tweeting: “What was presented as an accident could be an antisemitic murder. How to explain the silence on this affair and its motivations?” For his part, Zemmour described himself as “revolted,” asking: “Did he [Cohen] die to escape scum? Did he die because he was a Jew? Why is this case being hushed up?”

A spokesperson for Crif, the umbrella organization representing the Jewish community in France, told The Algemeiner on Monday that its leadership was in contact with Cohen’s family and was preparing a response. French news outlets quoted Crif’s president, Francis Kalifat, expressing his “full solidarity” with the family and urging that “all avenues be explored.”

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