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Why Won't France Call An Anti-Semitic Murder By Its Name?

Soldiers guard the entrance of a synagogue in Paris
Soldiers guard the entrance of a synagogue in Paris
Francis Kalifat*


PARIS — It's taken years for acts of violence carried out against French Jews to be recognized not as ordinary crime, but as the violent expression of a new form of anti-Semitism. By describing perpetrators as standard criminals, lone wolves or psychiatric patients, every possible effort was made to avoid acknowledging that in France, once again, Jews are being attacked and even killed for the sole reason that they were Jewish.

People have tried hard not to see it, but "a growing portion of the French Muslim population" show signs of anti-Semitic prejudice and anti-Semitism, according to a September 2016 report by the Paris-based think tank Institut Montaigne. More troubling still, the same study found that among young French Muslims (aged 15 to 25), about half seem to harbor such ideas. Our society is struggling to face up to this new reality and to even name the evil when the victim is Jewish.

One of those victims was Sarah Attal-Halimi, 66, whose lifeless body was found in the wee hours of April 4 in the patio of her building in Paris' 11th arrondissement. The Jewish woman was tortured to the rhythm of surahs from the Koran, then thrown out alive from the balcony of her apartment by a 27-year-old French man of Malian descent, who shouted "Allahu Akbar" (God is great). A repeat offender, the accused attacker had been recently radicalized — probably in jail — and worships at a Salafist mosque.

Victim Sarah Attal-Halimi – Photo: via michelonfray.com

More than a self-evident fact, this is a textbook anti-Semitic murder, and one on which a rule of silence has been imposed.

From day one, Jewish leaders in France have been demanding that the whole truth about this sordid killing be made public. Attal-Halimi wasn't murdered because she just happened to be in the killer's path, or because she lived in that particular building. She wasn't killed because of her job, or because she might have money. No, Attal-Halimi was slaughtered for one and only one reason: because she was Jewish.

Is this because of the murderer's profile?

We don't understand the efforts made to present this killer as mentally insane when he is in fact a terrorist. His alleged insanity shouldn't hide his hateful anti-Semitism. What is the interest in dismissing or downplaying this as an anti-Semitic murder? Why is it that we have no trouble identifying a race-based crime for what it is but not an anti-Semitic crime? Is this because of the murderer's profile?

This isn't just a question. It's also an assessment and a foregone conclusion. The evidence demands that the crime be understood for what is is, that we acknowledge the truth of what really happened. Only that way can the family really mourn.

We need to stop looking for false excuses and reassurance by thinking that an Islamist, unless he's crazy, couldn't kill a Jewish woman. The details of the murder and the killer's personality indicate that Attal-Halimi was a victim of Islamist terrorism, and that this crime was pointedly anti-Semitic. As the only Jewish person living in the building, the victim was specifically targeted.

Attal-Halimi needs to be remembered as yet another casualty of this new hatred towards Jews that has been growing in our country since the beginning of the last decade. What we're demanding is self-evident. We're not demanding it out of revenge but in the name of justice. And for justice to be done, this anti-Semitic crime must be recognized as such without any further delay.

Then, and only then, will Attal-Halim be able to rest in peace. Only then will her family be able to mourn properly. And until then, in memory of Sarah Attal-Halimi, I will not stay quiet.

*Francis Kalifat is the president of the Conseil Représentatif des Institutions juives de France (CRIF), the umbrella organization for Jewish organizations in France.

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