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May 27, 2022 10:59 am
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French Prosecutor Will Examine Antisemitic Motive in Brutal Murder of Elderly Jewish Man After All

avatar by Ben Cohen

89-year-old Jewish man René Hadjadj was pushed to his death from the 17th floor of an apartment building in Lyon, France. Photo: Twitter

The public prosecutor in the French city of Lyon announced on Friday that he would examine whether the brutal killing on an elderly Jewish man was motivated by antisemitism, one week after local police dismissed the possibility in their own investigation.

89-year-old René Hadjaj was pushed to his death on May 17 from the balcony on the 17th floor of the apartment building where he lived in the Duchère district of Lyon. His fate brought to mind the murder in April 2017 of Sarah Halimi, a Jewish woman who was beaten and tortured in her Paris apartment by an Islamist intruder, who then ejected her from her third-floor window.

In a statement on Friday, Lyon’s public prosecutor, Nicolas Jacquet, said that after being alerted to social media posts authored by Hadjaj’s accused killer, he had decided to “extend the referral to the investigating judges to the aggravating circumstance of an act committed for reasons of the victim belonging to a specific ethnic group, nation, race or religion.”

Jacquet explained that while the initial police investigation had ruled out the killing as an antisemitic act, to the dismay of the French Jewish community, “no investigative hypothesis” had been ignored.

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“The judicial investigation is therefore now continuing on the count of intentional homicide on the grounds of the victim’s belonging to a specific ethnic group, nation, race or religion,” he reiterated.

Hadjaj’s accused killer has been named as 51-year-old Rachid Khechiche, who regularly received visits from Hadjaj at his home in the apartment building where they both lived.

Local news outlet Le Progrès, which first reported on Hadjaj’s killing, disclosed that Khechiche frequented antisemitic websites and social media feeds. On his Twitter feed, followed by 65 people, Khechiche described himself as a woman who was “born in France to parents of Algerian origin, fed with social communism in the schools of the Republic, social centers and rehabilitation association.” He signed off his profile with the French phrase “y’en a marre” — “we are fed up.”

The paper said that Khechiche was fixated on the “Sayanim” — an antisemitic conspiracy theory claiming that the Mossad, Israel’s secret service, uses prominent Jews in the diaspora as its agents, with the goal of clamping down on expressions of solidarity with the Palestinians.

Among the individuals targeted by Khechiche on social media was the French-Jewish lawyer Gilles-William Goldnadel, whose clients include the family of Sarah Halimi. Goldnadel was labeled a “traitor to France” by Khechiche in a tweet posted nearly two years ago.

On Friday, Goldnadel said on Twitter that Khechiche had “reminded me of my origins in the manner of the Islamists.” He added, “the antisemitic truth is now no longer hidden. I won’t let go.”

The rise of violent antisemitism in France over the last 20 years has featured several incidents of Jews being held captive and beaten in their own homes by antisemitic intruders. One year after Sarah Halimi’s murder, 85-year-old Mireille Knoll, a Holocaust survivor, was stabbed and burned to death by two men, one of whom she had known since childhood, while in Sept. 2017, three members of the Pinto family were subjected to a vicious assault and robbery by an antisemitic gang who broke into their Paris home.

Earlier this year, the Jewish community in Paris was stunned by the death of 31-year-old Jérémy Cohen, who was fatally struck by a moving tram in the Paris suburb of Bobigny as he fled from a gang assault. Cohen’s mother later urged “caution” in ascribing an antisemitic motive behind the attack on her son, whose kippah, which could have identified him as a Jew, was discovered at the scene.

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