Dismay, frustration, exasperation. Three months after Sarah Halimi was savagely murdered by Kobili Traoré, the suspect is still out of reach in a psychiatric hospital, leaving the criminal investigation at a standstill. An update and action plan were presented at a July 4th press conference organized by the Comité de soutien / Vérité et Justice pour Sarah Halimi, under the auspices of the CJFAI (Conféderation des Juifs de France et des Amis d’Israël) at a restaurant in the heart of the Invalides station. Mr. Gilles William Goldnadel, counsel for the victim’s brother William Attal, Samy Ghozlan former police commissioner and president of the BNVCA (Bureau National de vigilance contre l’antisémitisme), and MP Meyer Habib presented the facts as known to date.
Despite the horrors of the case, the presentation, moderated by Richard Abitbol and André Added, was respectful, dignified, and determined. No whining, no wild accusations. The support committee counts 7,000 members, including distinguished thinkers Georges Bensoussan, Pascal Bruckner, Luc Ferry, Alain Finkielkraut, Eric Marty and more.
I was in Israel on the 22nd of May when lawyers representing Sarah Halimi’s adult children – attorneys Jean-Alexandre Buchinger and David-Olivier Kaminski – presented their position at a press conference. Without stoking controversy, let it be understood that they favor a prudent “loyalist” approach, whereas Maître Goldnadel, a mince-no-words editorialist and former president of the France-Israel Association, is more forthrightly combative. At issue: the failure of law enforcement to intervene while Traoré was beating and torturing Sarah Halimi. The autopsy concludes that the victim was still alive when she was pushed off her 3rd floor balcony. At least six policemen were in the building, waiting for reinforcements before attempting to apprehend the assailant. Too late.
A brief review of the facts as corroborated by the police report
Twenty-seven-year-old Kobili Traoré, of Malian origin, a repeat offender with at least twenty convictions for theft, violence, and drugs, has no psychiatric history. As far as can be known at this stage of the investigation, no defense of mental instability has ever been presented in the various criminal proceedings and/or prison sentences. On the 3rd of April, after allegedly spending the afternoon smoking marijuana with friends, he came home in an agitated state and made so much trouble that his mother threw him out in the middle of the night. Apparently she did not seek medical help or police protection. No interviews with or statement by the family have been made public to date. Traoré sought refuge with Malian neighbors, the Diara family, that took him in unsuspectingly. But he was so aggressive that they barricaded themselves in a room and called the police. Three agents arrived within minutes and stood outside the door of the Diara apartment. Traoré was pacing around, loudly reciting koranic verses. Three more policemen arrived but did not enter the apartment because, according to the police report, they suspected they were dealing with a terrorist (the koranic verses).
While they waited for reinforcements, Traoré climbed from the Diara balcony to the next balcony, smashed the window, and fell upon his orthodox Jewish neighbor Sarah Halimi, a 65 year-old retired M.D. Shouting allahu akhbar, shietan (devil), he battered and tortured her, interjecting koranic verses with unspeakable barbaric acts. A neighbor across the courtyard called the police and recorded several minutes of the incident. But the police were already there and still did not intervene.
No matter how many times this fact is stated, repeated, corroborated, I cannot report it without a feeling of utter dismay. By the time the elite forces arrived, 50 minutes after the first response to the Diara’s call, Sarah Halimi lay dead in the courtyard and Kobili Traoré was back in the Diara apartment, calmly reciting koranic verses and boasting “I killed the neighborhood shietan.” He was arrested and placed in psychiatric confinement. To date, the court-appointed psychiatrist has not turned over his report to police or judicial authorities, and Traoré has not been questioned by police investigators. The anti-Semitic motive has not been included as an aggravating circumstance of the charges he faces.
Two elements of incomprehension
Goldnadel, expressing his extreme reluctance to take action against the police, themselves targets of the Islamic violence that massacred Sarah Halimi, nevertheless respected his client’s instructions to file a complaint for dereliction of duty. Why didn’t the police come to the rescue of a woman whose screams resounded in the courtyard, whose interminable agony stretched out for an eternity, who could have been saved in a matter of minutes? An internal police report concluded that law enforcement had followed accepted procedures and there is no need for further investigation.
MP Meyer Habib, who represents French citizens in Israel, Greece, Cyprus, and Italy, pointed out that it takes little more than a minute and a half to terminate a terrorist attack in Israel; the Bataclan massacre that left 90 dead lasted three hours before the appropriate forces received the appropriate orders and neutralized the killers. Why did the police stand down during the interminable ordeal of Sarah Halimi? Were they obeying orders? From what level of the hierarchy? Why would they wait for orders when in fact failure to rescue is a criminal offense? One question leads to another and we cannot even be sure that the investigation will provide clear answers. Why does the judge stand down instead of qualifying the crime as anti-Semitic? Why did the media remain silent when this atrocious crime was committed between the first and second round of the presidential elections? As if safety from jihad massacre were not a legitimate campaign issue!
If the respective counsels differ on strategy and tactics, they are united in the determination to establish the anti-Semitic nature of the murder and to bring the killer from his refuge in a mental asylum to face his responsibilities in criminal court and, finally, to bring to light the obvious failure of the police to intervene on the spot and protect the victim’s life. Will their strategy change with the addition, announced Tuesday – of attorney Francis Szpiner to the legal team? Szpiner represented Ilan Halimi’s family in the case against the Gang of Barbarians. He also acted as counsel to France 2 in its lawsuit against Philippe Karsenty (the al Dura affair).
Is there a media blackout on the Sarah Halimi case?
Yes there is. In the immediate aftermath, the brutal assassination of a Jewish woman by her Muslim neighbor in Paris was barely reported. As for the far-fetched notion advanced by some mean-spirited commentators that an ordinary “neighborly murder” was too commonplace to deserve media attention in the middle of a hotly contested presidential race, it is patently dishonest. But what should we make of the suggestion, raised elsewhere, of a deliberate choice to withhold the information on the grounds that it could favor one candidate, Marine Le Pen, to the detriment of another, Emmanuel Macron? Whatever the twisted reasons for the de facto censorship, it is gradually breaking down, and even if the case doesn’t get the attention it deserves, it will not be kept out of the public eye and the judicial arena.
Why does it matter, beyond the individual tragedy of a fine woman who had spent her whole life in service to her community, brutally murdered by an enraged neighbor? It matters because it is not an isolated incident. It is one more in a 17 year series of attacks on Jews in France. It matters because this violence is an expression of genocidal hatred widely disseminated within the Arab-Muslim population in France. It matters because this hatred is so widespread that Sarah Halimi did not even file a complaint against Kobili Traoré or his sister when they snarled “dirty Jew” at her and her daughters. It matters because every attempt to discern, reveal and eventually deal with this murderous hatred is confronted with denial, hostility, derision, legal pursuits, and pathological skepticism. Witness the dogged prosecution of Georges Bensoussan for “Islamophobia,” and the stubborn refusal to accept statistics on Muslim antisemitism in France (the Fondapol survey).
Only Black lives matter?
The contrast is striking. In an attempt to mobilize a French equivalent of Black Lives Matter, that same Afro-Arab-Muslim community is repeatedly mobilized to defend alleged victims of police brutality. Whatever the circumstances that led to injury or death, the victim is always innocent. Whatever the version of the police or the judgment of the courts, it is unacceptable unless the policemen are declared guilty and punished. This is not limited to media debates and petitions. It’s in the streets and it’s extremely destructive. The 2005 Paris riots were triggered by the death of two youths electrocuted while hiding from the police in an electric substation.
French Jews do not riot, they tread a fine line between demanding justice and preserving the necessary access to authorities that ensure protection of synagogues and community centers, celebrate the Jewish contribution to French culture, defend the oft contested rights to circumcision and kosher slaughter. But the willful neglect of the Sarah Halimi case is a shocking throwback to the disgraceful practices of the early 2000s when anti-Jewish violence was misrepresented as petty delinquency and chalked up to inter-community conflict. The excuse back then was “we don’t want to add fuel to the fire,” a conscious or unconscious admission that if you say the perpetrators are Muslim, they’ll become even more violent. And Jews won’t be the only target. Seventeen years later it is obvious that throwing the Jews on the fire doesn’t appease the genocidal hatred that has now turned against the police, Christians, whites, teachers, medical personnel, Frenchmen in general, disrespectful journalists in particular, wayward Muslims, people enjoying concerts, 14th of July fireworks and outdoor cafés.
Genocidal Jew hatred is not an abstract concept
The unavoidable generalized use of the term “anti-Semitism” fuels a misunderstanding of the contemporary phenomenon. Anti-Semitism – old-fashioned and comically ideological, associated with defeated Nazism and its far right leftovers, frozen in a shameful past that can be atoned for at no cost – has become a mysterious element in the atmosphere for which no reliable barometer can be found. What is the exact dose of antisemitism that would correctly qualify as an act of violence? As Gilles Goldnadel declared at the press conference, a killer, Kobili Traoré in this case, can be motivated by anti-Semitism while in the grips of a mental crisis. A blood-spattered Adel Amastibou, after Islamically slaughtering his neighbor Sébastien Selam (November 2003), boasted “I killed my Jew, I’ll go to paradise.” He spent a few years in a mental hospital and, despite heroic efforts by attorney Alex Metzger, was never tried for the crime. Every Islamic attack or attempted attack committed in France over the past 17 years has been justified by the perpetrator in recognizable jihad terms. The folly lies in searching blindly for motivations when they stare us in the face. Who knows better than the killer what motivated the crime? Traoré said he killed the “neighborhood shietan.”
Lofty declarations and lowly copouts
The truth and justice for Sarah Halimi press conference was held a week after newly elected President Emmanuel Macron convened the Senate and the Assembly for a solemn Congress at the Versailles Chateau, where he pronounced the lofty principles of his administration, re-embroidering his campaign themes of Liberté, égalité, fraternité. The president left the ground-floor promises to his prime minister who, as it happens, made his speech at the Assembly right after the press conference and a few steps away from the venue. President Macron promised to make France a model for humanity, humanism, humanitarianism. He glorified French culture (having made the awkward error of denying its existence in a notable multicultural campaign speech) and praised the noble fiber in every French man and woman.
A few days later, presiding over a national tribute to Simone Veil [née Jacob] at les Invalides, the president announced that she would be buried, along with her husband, in the Pantheon. In a condolence tweet to Simone Veil’s family he wrote: “…may she be an inspiration to our fellow citizens who will find in her the best of France.” But Simone Jacob was defenseless when the French police arrested her and her family in Nice and delivered them to the Nazis to be exterminated. She survived Auschwitz. They did not survive. This kind of “never again” as a comforting flashback is unacceptable. When a thousand people marched to 26 rue des Vaucouleurs in the Belleville quarter of Paris to denounce the massacre of Sarah Halimi, they were met with insults from neighbors and threats from “youths” bragging that they will kill the Jews with their Kalashnikovs.
Sarah Halimi was savagely beaten, tortured, mutilated and thrown to her death because she was Jewish, but the genocidal hatred that motivated her murder is more than a Jewish problem. Beyond the personal tragedy that bereaves us, Sarah Halimi is an image of our civilization – defenseless because law enforcement stands down, the authorities mislead, the media are struck dumb, and those who tell the truth are persecuted and prosecuted.
The French Communist Party protests the presence of Benyamin Netanyahu at the commemoration of the July 16th 1942 Vel d’hiv roundup of Jews. “The commemoration,” reads the PCF communiqué “should carry a strong message of peace. The notoriously far right Israeli prime minister is a man of war and violence who is an obstacle to the construction of a just and lasting peace process between Israelis and Palestinians.”
A 54-year-old Tunisian resident of Linz, Austria, turned himself in to police last week after brutally murdering an elderly couple and setting fire to their home. He slit the throat of the 85 year-old woman, stabbed and battered her 87-year-old husband to death. He knew the couple because he regularly delivered groceries they bought at his wife’s store. Though the murderer is a Daesh sympathizer, the police are not classifying the crime as terrorist because there is no evidence that he was acting on orders from Daesh.
Nidra Poller is an American-born writer who has lived in Paris since 1972. She is author of works of fiction in English and in French, and has published in many venues, including the Wall Street Journal Europe, Family Security Matters, New English Review, Times of Israel (French), Commentary, Midah. She is the author of literary-political books testifying to the Troubled Dawn of the 21st Century (her latest release).