Sarah Halimi: What’s the murder of one Jew when the Enlightenment is at Stake?

The Thinker, by Rodin. (

The decision of France’s Assemble National to pass a resolution equating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism is yet another example of moral rot that has seized the foundations of European society. The timing — just a week after Paris prosecutor dismissed the murder charges against Sarah Halimi’s killer for essentially being too high on marijuana to have the intent to kill — is too convenient to be coincidental. The resolution must be viewed as a deliberate political response to the court’s legal decision.

The resolution is cold comfort — never mind the fact that it only passed by a vote of 154-72, with half of the Assembly not even participating — and amounts to nothing more than yet another in a long line of empty, meaningless words and gestures offered up by European institutions as a recompense for the consistent refusal to use hard power against a spiller of Jewish blood; another desperate attempt by European politicians to obfuscate the profound and systematic dearth of any hard power action being taken to protect Jewish communities beyond turning synagogues into fortresses. This apathy all across the western world continues to aid, abet, and empower anti-Semites; by extension, it acts as proof of civilizational complicity in the growing exodus of Jews from European shores in numbers unseen since the 1930’s. Ultimately and most tragically, it’s a slur against the memory of those felled on French shores defending the Enlightenment ideal — equality before the law for all Peoples.

Make no mistake, the decision to drop the charges against Sarah Halimi’s killer is yet another canary in the coal mine for those European Enlightenment values so dearly won. Because although it remains unpopular to say it out loud, the increasingly systematic failure of European states to enforce the rule of law in anti-Semitic crimes belies their stated commitment to equality before the law. Rule of law is neither an assumed truth nor a birthright; it’s a civilizational commitment. It required massive political and legal reorganization, won via violent revolution, in the heart of western civilization across three centuries — England (17th); America (18th); France (19th) — to accomplish.

All of this begs the question — why the inaction to defend the values of this post-Enlightenment civilization? Why the refusal to even risk committing the state’s monopoly on the legitimate exercise of hard power — like incarceration after a free and fair trial — to their defense?

European civilization cannibalized itself with hard power in the service of civilizational conflict along political, national, and ethnic lines in the 20th century, and the lesson it seems to have taken from the experience is the same one Jews did — never again. Except, where Jews internalized the central role hard power must play in the defense of civilization, Europe became incapable of viewing civilizational hard power aims as anything other than destructive.

As a result, the post-war continent went about erecting new political and judicial institutions in an effort to drive the use of hard power in civilizational conflict into obsolescence. This impulse is the foundation of the European Union project, an attempt to unite disparate civilizations in a post-hard-power regional order. The problem is that as the post-war trauma drives Europe to embrace increasingly heterogeneous populations under its authority, their civilizational norms, expectations, and prejudices do sometimes come into conflict. And when that happens, an absence of hard power to enforce Europe’s civilizational expectation of equality before the law renders that law, and that ideal, utterly meaningless.

A civilization cannot sustain itself without enforcing its values with hard power. Europe should know better; the continent’s own history of transition from divinely sanctioned dictatorships to democratic-rule-of-law bears witness to the role hard power plays in the rise and fall of civilizations. But the trauma of the world wars has shortened memories.

This is the real red flag for both Jews and Europe. The conclusion of “panels of psychiatrists” that “Mr Traoré had suffered a psychotic episode after a massive use of cannabis” is absurd. He was yelling “Allah Akbar”, as he murdered a Jewish woman in her own home. That is, it seems clear to me, an intentional crime carried out in the name of civilizational warfare.

I do not believe the procureur général, who made the final decision, acted from an anti-semitic motive. I also don’t believe the French justice system it is unwilling to protect Jews from murder. However, I believe this murder forced the French judicial system to choose between either dealing with this murder for what it is — a hate crime with civilizational conflict motives — and using its hard power to enforce the rule of equality before the law; or, (mis)applying legislation to sweep the crime under the rug in an effort to avoid having to come to terms with the fact that the utopic vision of a heterogeneous, yet post-civilizational-conflict, is false.

And when it came down to it, Jewish life is just not worth inconveniencing that narrative by forcing it to wrestle with the uncomfortable thought that perhaps your entire worldview is based on a fantasy. It’s much easier to misapply a rule to let a murder go free because hey, it’s just a Jew, right? Because what’s the murder of one Jew when the entire Enlightenment is at stake?

Luckily, we can all be comforted by the fact that while the real hard power choices continue to let the murders of Jews go free, France’s National Assembly will be there to pick up the slack and pass lots of resolutions reminding us just how committed they are to protecting what’s left of the Jewish community within its borders. And I guess since the Europeans place such weight in the lessons of their history, they must be taking comfort in knowing that what starts with the Jews, always ends with the Jews anyway, right?

About the Author
Bradley Chalupski is the winner of Israel's first medal in an international IBSF Skeleton competition, represented Israel in two IBSF Skeleton World Championships, and is the first Israeli athlete to compete in an IBSF Skeleton World Cup circuit event. In college, he interned for then Senator Joe Biden and later went on to intern in the policy department of NJ Governor Jon Corzine while earning his J.D. from the Seton Hall School of Law. He made Aliyah in 2012 and has lived in Jerusalem ever since.
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