Writing an article about the horrifically violent and senseless murder of Sarah Halimi seemed superfluous, especially two weeks after the verdict. But when a friend (and several others I polled) had no knowledge of the case and its aftermath, I felt compelled to formally honor her memory.
Sarah Halimi was a 65-year-old Jewish, retired doctor and schoolteacher. Her 27-year-old neighbor gained access to her Paris apartment by breaking into the apartment next door, whose residents barricaded themselves into a room, phoned the police, and waited in fear while listening to him chant verses from the Quoran. The assailant beat Ms. Halimi severely and threw her out of her third-floor window while shouting “Allahu Akbar” and “I’ve killed the demon of the neighborhood.” Ms. Halimi lived in the same arrondissement as Mireille Knoll, the 85-year-old woman who survived the Holocaust, only to be stabbed eleven times and set on fire in her home, in an incident that was cited as an anti-Semitic hate crime in 2018.
Ms. Halimi’s case drew criticism when the French government was slow to label it a hate crime. In 2019 the court of original jurisdiction, as well as the court of appeals found the assailant not guilty due to the influence of cannabis and a “state of psychosis,” during the commission of the crime. Two weeks ago, the French Supreme Court affirmed that the assailant was not fit to stand trial and not responsible for his actions due to his use of cannabis prior to murdering Ms. Halimi.
France has a long and torturous history with anti-Semitism. It is alarming and maddening that so many incidents have occurred since World War II, and have escalated in the past decade. The Independent reports that “(a)ccording to French authorities, registered incidents of anti-Semitism rose to 541 (in 2018) from 311 in 2017, an increase of 74 percent.”
That an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor could be stabbed to death 73 years after the end of the War for no reason other than her Jewishness is bone-chilling. How do we wrap our minds around the beating and defenestration of a 65-year-old woman just because she was a Jew? How do we explain the beating of an 8-year-old boy for wearing a yarmulke or the frequent desecration of Jewish cemeteries and the appalling sight of the word “Juden” splattered across a bagel shop?
The atmosphere and prevalence of incidents in France is eerily reminiscent of the 1930s and yet, as commonplace and recognizable as it has become, it is only known to those who follow certain news outlets. The coverage by mainstream American news has been insignificant at best. No wonder so many are in the dark.
My friend explained his lack of knowledge by stating that I subscribe to certain news outlets that prioritize Jewish and Israeli topics, and I believe that he is likely correct; however, I shouldn’t have to read about violence against Jewish targets in my highly customized and targeted newsfeed.
Why should we care about anti-Semitism in France? Hasn’t it always been a cesspool of condoned stereotyping and not-so-veiled hatred? What about what is happening right here at home and the lack of awareness about the growing anti-Semitism in our own backyards?
The Anti Defamation League stated that “The American Jewish community experienced the highest level of anti-Semitic incidents last year since tracking began in 1979, with more than 2,100 acts of assault, vandalism and harassment reported across the United States.” The site states that “(t)he record number of incidents came as the Jewish community grappled with vicious and lethal anti-Semitic attacks against communities in Poway, Jersey City and Monsey, and a spree of violent assaults in Brooklyn.”
America is at a crossroads: We have finally begun to address the institution of racism that cuts deep into our roots and we have the potential to finally make some long-overdue changes. But it is also time to recognize that hate is hate. People of all religions, races, and backgrounds must stand up to hate when we encounter it. Anti-Semitic acts of violence are on the rise in this country too, yet we do not hear about this often enough in the mainstream media.
The New York Times reported that more than half of hate crimes in New York City in 2019 were against Jewish people. Jonathan Greenblatt, the chief executive of the ADL stated that, “[Orthodox Jews] are being singled out in disproportionate numbers to their percentage of the population.” Beatings on the street and in the subway are not uncommon.
The ruling in France has drawn international criticism not only from the French Jewish community who feels that not enough has been done to deal with systemic anti-Semitism in France but from the international community as well. Yet here in America, crickets.
We should care because it is happening here too, and the media fails to cover it with the same level of attention and frequency it gives other hate crimes. The number of incidents cited by the ADL is alarming. We should care because hate it hate. We must all stand up every single time we encounter it regardless of the identity of the victims. You don’t need to be Jewish to care about anti-Semitism. You just need to be a human being who cares.
(Hashtag and photo credit: Eitan Chitayat, creator of the film, I’m That Jew)