The latest shocking development in the scandal over a horrific antisemitic murder in France not only trains a harsh light on that country’s attitude to Jew-hatred. It also illuminates a deeply problematic and wider inability to deal with antisemitism in the west.
In 2017, a 65-year-old Jewish retired doctor and schoolteacher, Sarah Halimi, was murdered in a frenzied antisemitic attack in her Paris apartment.
Her next-door neighbor, Kobili Traoré, a 27-year-old Muslim man of Malian descent, beat her and threw her out of her third-floor window to cries of Allahu akbar, or “God is great,” and calling her a shaitan, or “satan”.
He had previously harassed Halimi’s daughter by calling her a “filthy Jew”. According to one psychiatric report, Traoré had been troubled by Jewish religious artefacts in Halimi’s apartment — her mezuzah and menorah, which “amplified the frantic outburst of hate”.
Last week, France’s highest court, the Court of Cassation, upheld an appeal court ruling that had rejected putting Traoré on trial. This was because, at the time of the murder, he had been high on cannabis causing an episode of “acute mental delirium”.
Under French law, said the Court of Cassation, “a person is not criminally responsible if suffering, at the time of the event, from psychic or neuro-psychic disturbance that has eliminated all discernment or control” over that person’s actions.
The ruling defies comprehension. Many murders and other serious crimes are committed by people under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Yet no-one argues they are therefore not to be held responsible for their actions. As Francis Szpiner, one of the Halimi family’s lawyers, asked in outrage: “Will this also apply to drunk drivers who kill children on the road?”
By saying Traoré couldn’t be held responsible for killing Halimi, the court implied that she had been murdered in a random act of violence and that Traoré might have murdered anyone that night. But clearly, that wasn’t true. Traoré murdered Halimi because she was a Jew.