By Mitzpeh Staff@Mitzpeh
The Jewish relationship with the French legal system has almost always been a problematic one, characterized by distrust and disappointment that often result in dire consequences. There are French Jews still living who remember how the very legal institutions committed to their protection became enablers of their prosecution during the Holocaust. The latest outcry against the wildly unjust French justice system occurred last week when the top court ruled that a hate crime-inspired brutal murder against an elderly Jewish victim was not “responsible for his actions because he smoked marijuana prior to the crime.” The trial was about a case during spring 2017 when Muslim-Frenchman Kobili Traoré broke into the home of Sarah Halim after spotting her Mezuzah. He brutally beat her while shouting Arabic slurs and slogans and ended her 65 years of Jewish life by shoving her out of a window nearly 50 feet in the air. In 2021, Traoré was found not criminally responsible for his crimes due to his cannabis drug use and allowed to enter an insanity plea in the French Supreme Court of Appeals. This ruling is unacceptable. Its ramifications are even more concerning. For starters, the French Supreme Court of Appeals was, at best, lethargic in its hesitation in accepting the case from the lower courts, and at worst, contemptuous in its refusal to hear the case.
If not for pressure from French President Emmanuel Macron demanding more scrutiny against the lower court, the higher court would never have even heard about the killing of Sarah Halimi. Although the High Court tends to be very involved in cases where major precedent is created, the High Court drastically deviated in this case despite how the lower court’s finding on insanity/drug use and hate crime drastically altered precedent. This suggests that many Jews’ anecdotal claims about the ineptness of the French Justice system when it comes to prosecuting antisemitic hate crimes have merit, because even the highest French court nearly violated its own mandate to avoid holding an antisemitic hate crime defendant responsible for his actions. Furthermore, legal experts and Jews alike are very much concerned about the ramifications of this reality. President-elect of the Conseil Représentatif des Institutions juives de France Francis Kalifat, a leading Jewish umbrella organization, writes that “From now on in our country, we can torture and kill Jews with complete impunity.” He explains the terrible logic behind his sarcastic title: so long as those who aim to harm the Jewish people expose themselves to a mind-altering substance by drinking or smoking before harming Jews, it seems that they will be found not responsible for their crimes, no matter how heinous. This is all the more concerning because the rate of Jewish hate crimes, both in France and around the world, has been skyrocketing in recent years. A similar reaction is shared by Jewish students at the University of Maryland.
Samatha Kline, a freshman marketing major, highlighted the broader issue of Jewish persecution.
“It is truly appalling that we continue to see this pattern of hatred against Jews. I fear that we will never see the day where Jews are not persecuted for simply being Jews.”
Sophomore management and marketing major Keren Binyamin added her concerns about the interplay of anti-Semitism and politics.
“It is absolutely astounding the lengths people will go to excuse anti-Semitism especially when it is not committed by a white supremacist. Anti-Semitism is more than a bargaining chip in political debates. Sarah Halimi is not just a statistic, she was a living breathing human being.
To correct the dangerous errors of the handling of the killing by French authorities, the European Court of Human Rights, which has legitimate authority over this egregious human rights violation, must right this injustice.