The Dreyfus Legacy of France

The mockery of justice in the case of neglected murder of Sarah Halimi   

Sarah Halimi murdered by Islamist fanatic in Paris in April 2017. Commons Images Library.

First, the disclaimer to make: I do like France very much. Its culture, its landscapes, its distinct style and charm.  I grew up with admiration of France’s intellectual and cultural might, and it is an integral part of who I am. 

I also have a family connection to France, and it places me on the inner level of appreciation. 

Additionally, we have many wonderful family-like friends in France who are an organic part of my husband’s and mine lives. 

And then comes the part of history. As sorry as I am to say it, the fact is that the history of France is nasty all the way, from the early settlements on the banks of Seine to the shocking news of the mockery of justice that we are stunned to see today. 

The more one studies the history of France, the more chilled one is. I will not provide the full catalog of it because the list would be too long, and because the subject of this essay is not the observation of France’s shortcomings from a historical perspective. 

The subject of this essay is boiling indignation. 

In April 2017, a wild 27-year old monster from Mali intruded via balcony into the apartment of 65-year old teacher Sarah Halimi, the mother of three children, widow of a well-known psychologist, renowned for her kind and widely appreciated work in her school. Nice, kind, quiet, very likable woman. 

The intruding monster attacks the woman who is three times older than him. He beats her severely leaving twenty-two — twenty-two — fractures in her small body. He screams ‘Allahu Akbar!’ attacking his defenseless victim. Then he throws her from the high Paris third floor balcony, to her death. He screams “ I killed the Shaitan!’. 

As it has been chronicled in multiple, including official sources, the police did not appear in time despite many repeated emergency calls from many alarmed people. When the police appeared, they did not storm the apartment. They were waiting for the enforcement, they have explained later. 

What happened next is too well-known to the Jewish people in France — and it is stunning to the outside world. Many of the French media were reluctant to report the crime as it was. Three months passed before a word ‘anti-Semitic’ was added, extremely reluctantly, to the qualification of the crime, after enormous pressure by the Sarah Halimi’s family, the Jewish community of France and many intellectuals, all Jewish, who just could not allow themselves to be silent. 

The killer, who had a long criminal record, was put in a mental clinic, and was posed as ‘unfitted to be tried’. Did he have a history of mental disorders? He did not. 

Two years passed before the next juridical move had had a place, after a very pale one-phrase comment by President Macron saying that ‘even if him ( the killer) would be seen by the judge as unfitting for a trial, the trial, a judicial proceeding has to have a place’. Not the tone we used to hear from the Presidents of the French Republics. Not the tone which we used to hear from this very President, as a rule. 

In 2019, the examining magistrate made its verdict: the killer was not criminally responsible. The reason? Because “ before the killing, he smoked cannabis”. Black on white, in the decision made in July 2019. 

Half a year later, in December 2019, this utterly scandalous decision was upheld by the Paris Court Appeal.  

Naturally, Sarah Halimi’s family appealed after that insult of common sense.  Their appeal took two years to have proceeded. 

Now, in April 2021, two years after the appeal, and four years after the horrific killing, the Court of the Cassation, the highest instance of the French legal system, has upheld the initial verdict. The animal who killed an innocent woman has been verified as having no criminal responsibility for wild murder just because he smoked cannabis before attacking his victim. 

Certainly, with this action, France has contributed to the world practices of litigation in the most shocking way possible. 

When back in 2019, responding, very reluctantly, to the mounting pressure of justified outrage over the intent negligence of the French police and then legal authorities to this unspeakable crime,  President Macron extremely cautiously uttered that just one carefully constructed phrase on the necessity of some legal proceeding of the case of murder,  some of those in charge, namely the case prosecutor Francois Molins and judge Chantal Arens from the Court of Cassation, supported by the top French judge, the head of the Union of the main judges of France Katia Dubreuil, unleashed a fountaining reprimand against him. How dared the President to interfere into the sacred independence of the French court system? Oh yeah. 

I have had a personal experience with this decision-making at the French courts and that omerta of silence all over it when I was publicly defending my distinguished colleague, internationally renowned French historian George Bensoussan. Today George along with his colleagues, including many of our personal friends, is fighting for the dignity of Sarah Halimi and against the cruel absurdity of this unique French legal system which has proven, once and again, on its high selectiveness, from the Dreyfus Affair and to this day. 

Inna Rogatchi in discussion with George Bensoussan. Memorial de la Shoah. Paris. April 2015. Courtesy (C) The Rogatchi Foundation.

In the way, as only real life can teach us, the mockery trial of George Bensoussan which I have called ‘a modern-day Dreyfus Affair’ had happened just three weeks before the horrific murder of Sarah Halimi. 

In the light of Sarah Halimi’s murder that has no criminal responsibility in modern-day France, Bensoussan absurd trial has to be called ‘modern Dreyfus Affair One’, and denial of justice to the victim Sarah Halimi and her family has to be called ‘modern Dreyfus Affair Two’. Congratulations to France with this growing list of shame. 

Exactly as in the case of a distinguished historian who was tried for several years for a quote, I believe that the people who were responsible for all premeditated mockery of policing and law in the attack, torture, and murder of Sarah Halimi, and for the consequent lenience of the investigation and the travesty of courts, should be named, with personal responsibility — moral, yes, at very least — to be bored by every one of them in that outrage that has tarnished the reputation of France for good. 

Those who were late in arriving at the location of the ongoing crime. Those who decided not to storm the apartment. Those who never interrogated the animal who murdered an innocent woman. Those who have authorized his move to the mental clinic. Those who kept him in the mental clinic obediently. Those who did not investigate. Those who were late to investigate. Those who obstructed justice. Those who came out with the verdict of ‘not bearing criminal responsibility’. Those who did upheld this verdict twice. Those who were and are silent in violating their professional duties in the media. Those who were and are ignorant at the National Assembly and the Senate of France. Those who were and are indifferent at the multiplied human rights organizations. 

All above applied to the murder committed independently of a racial element in this tragic story. Double tragic because of how the crime has been treated in France. 

Under the French law, so utterly independent, usage of drugs is an aggravating circumstance of a crime. This way, not the perverted one applied out of blue and against the existing law by the French judges who were ruling on the murder of Sarah Halimi. So what on earth has made them to pervert the law of the country in which they are enjoying their supreme independence? 

Probably, ‘Allahu Akbar!’ screams of the 27-year old Islamist fanatic on drugs torturing and murdering 65-year old teacher? Probably, ‘I killed Shaitan!’ screams of him after throwing her body off the third-floor balcony? Probably, his criminal history as a serial offender? 

To qualify the attack as ‘an anti-Semitic’ took three months and a battle, and it was never established as a racial motivation in the investigation of the case – which is another aggravating circumstance under the existing French law. 

The family of Sarah Halimi is not alone in their nightmare-like four-years battle against the wall of stunning negligence. In France, the Jewish community is fighting consistently against this screaming racial anti-Semitic crime. The French intellectuals are on the right side of this surreal barricade, as well. The Simon Wiesenthal Centre in France is fighting along. Some people from Israel are joining the protests. But there are many more public organizations and institutions in France and outside it which can intervene. 

I have also a revelation to make: one does not need to be Jewish to defend a Jew. Just like Emile Zola did. And many like him. I call those people Shining Souls. 

Demonstration in Paris after the verdict of the Court of Cassations. Paris. April 2021. Credit: SIPA.

After the original Dreyfus Affair, after the copycat Dreyfus Affair of the trial of George Bensoussan, in face of the third Dreyfus Affair of denying justice to brutally murdered Sarah Halimi, one cannot help but be appalled by the reality of legally verifying a sheer absurdity and institutionalizing it through the legal system upholding it on the top of it. This is the essence of what had happened in the perverted justice applied by the French police and legal system to the case of the murder of Sarah Halimi. When one of the protesters has said that with that verdict Sarah Halimi has been murdered twice, he was dead right. And as outrageous as it is, there are more cases like that in the modern history of France.

The people, with the names and official positions, who all, in a large quantity, neglected two aggravating circumstances of premeditated murder, did not oversee it by chance. They all did it consciously. They all did it on purpose. They all knew exactly what they were doing. 

That’s why I believe that we all who are protesting this yet another Dreyfus Affair, now in the XXI century, ought to know their names. All of them. 

And I also would like to hear, on record, in the public domain, their all, each of them personally, explanation, in their all official capacities, in replying on this one question: “Why did you decide to ignore two aggravation circumstances of premeditated murder of Sarah Halimi on April 4th, 2017?”. I would like to have all those people to give a detailed reply to this one question. I would like to publish their all’ replies next to their photographs, and the official positions they hold. This publication would be France’s other ‘J’Accuse…!’. Obviously, the original one was not enough.

Does somebody still remember, by the way, that the Paris police had never – this is never — investigated the arson at the house of Emile Zola which killed the writer and a great man in September 1902, almost four years after publishing “J’Accuse…!” in the act which preserved which was left of the reputation of France in the Dreyfus Affair? That the coroner has refused to make the existing expert report and has, just one man, declared Zola’s death of natural causes? That nobody ever challenged that verdict of one man at a minor police position in that mighty, huge, and oh-so-frighteningly independent legal system of France in the case of the death of the famous writer known as the conscience of the nation? And this is given the well-known fact that after the publication of  ‘J’Accuse…!” Zola had received numerous death threats due to his honest position and incredible bravery all four years preceding his weird death? Oh well. 

And even when half of a century later, some glimpses of truth had appeared in one modest investigative report in Liberation in 1953, it was orchestrated in the way of a possible personal vendetta of just one too eager anti-Dreyfus zealot. Well, it might be sobering – and timing – to remember that at the time of that fatal arson, Emile Zola has completed his novel Vérité summarising the Colonel Dreyfus case, the shame of the century for France as it was known, completely justified. The second volume of the novel called Justice Emile Zola was unable to complete. He was dead laying on the floor of his Paris apartment desperately trying to reach the window to open it. He suffocated. It is a natural cause as it was seen by the French police and legal system in 1902. 

The same as torturing, causing 22 fractions, terrible beating to death, and throwing a woman from the balcony bears no criminal responsibility as it is seen by the French police and legal system in 2021. 

This phenomenon is called ‘Dreyfus Legacy of France’, and it is absolutely impossible to accept it. 

About the Author
Inna Rogatchi is internationally acclaimed writer, scholar, artist, art curator and film-maker, the author of widely prized film on Simon Wiesenthal The Lessons of Survival. She is also an expert on public diplomacy and was a long-term international affairs adviser for the Members of the European Parliament. She lectures on the topics of international politics and public diplomacy widely. Her professional trade-mark is inter-weave of history, arts, culture and mentality. She is the author of the concept of the Outreach to Humanity cultural and educational projects conducted internationally by The Rogatchi Foundation of which Inna is the co-founder and President. She is also the author of Culture for Humanity concept of The Rogatchi Foundation global initiative that aims to provide psychological comfort to wide audiences by the means of high-class arts and culture in challenging times. Inna is the wife of the world renowned artist Michael Rogatchi. Her family is related to the famous Rose-Mahler musical dynasty. Together with her husband, Inna is a founding member of Leonardo Knowledge Network, a special cultural body of leading European scientists and artists. Her professional interests are focused on Jewish heritage, arts and culture, history, Holocaust and post-Holocaust. She is running several projects on artistic and intellectual studies on various aspect of the Torah and Jewish spirituality. She is twice laureate of the Italian Il Volo di Pegaso Italian National Art, Literature and Music Award, the Patmos Solidarity Award, and the New York Jewish Children's Museum Award for Outstanding Contribution into the Arts and Culture (together with her husband). Inna Rogatchi was the member of the Board of the Finnish National Holocaust Remembrance Association and is member of the International Advisory Board of The Rumbula Memorial Project ( USA). Her art can be seen at Silver Strings: Inna Rogatchi Art site - www.innarogatchiart.com
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