Dr Sarah Halimi, a 65-year-old Jewish grandmother, was beaten and thrown out of a window of her third-floor home in Paris. A Muslim male of Malian descent, who also lived in the block of flats, was charged with her murder. At time of writing, his trial is still pending. Neighbours – including Muslims – stated that they heard the man shouting religious slogans in Arabic during the killing, including sections of the Qur’an.
Concerns were expressed that the French authorities and media were reluctant to mention the religious dimension of the crime. The protesters – Jewish groups, prominent intellectuals and some political figures – were particularly angered by the absence of an anti-Semitic element to the charge against the assailant. Dr Halimi’s attacker had pleaded temporary insanity: he had been smoking cannabis heavily before the attack and psychiatrists have been divided as to whether he was fit to stand trial. Ten months after the attack, the courts formally reclassified Dr Halimi’s death as “murder with anti-Semitism as an aggravating factor”.
The extent of anti-Semitism is France is highlighted by the fact that, less than a month after the judge confirmed that Sarah Halimi’s murder was motivated by anti-Semitism in late February 2018, 85-year-old grandmother and holocaust survivor Mireille Knoll was repeatedly stabbed in her home by two men. Her body was later burnt.
France is home to Western Europe’s biggest Jewish population and many in the 400,000-strong community have complained for years of a rise in anti-Semitic hate crimes. In the face of such attacks, recent years have seen a sharp rise in emigration of Jews, with many going to Israel.
The death of Dr Halimi prompted renewed media comment, highlighting surveys pointing to a rise of anti-Semitism, especially among radicalised sections of the Muslim community.
Jewish Chronicle, 24th August 2017, 12th July 2018; Telegraph, 28th February 2018; Jerusalem Post, 26th June 2018.