Montreal Jewish community demands justice for slain French woman

Virtual rally for Sarah Halimi in Montreal

MONTREAL—Montreal Jewish organizations joined with France’s Jewish community in demanding justice for Sarah Halimi, the Parisian woman whose killer has been absolved of criminal responsibility due to mental impairment.

At a virtual solidarity rally, organized with the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and the Communauté Sépharade Unifiée du Québec (CSUQ), on April 27, speakers sounded the alarm over the prevalence of anti-Semitic crimes and incidents in France and the government’s inadequate response.

Federation CJA president Gail Adelson-Marcovitz decried as “scandalous” the decision by France’s highest court that Kobil Traoré, was in a psychotic state induced by cannabis consumption in 2017 when he entered the apartment of his 65-year-old Jewish neighbour, beat her and threw her out the window.

The Montreal Jewish community, Adelson-Marcovitz said, is “united in grief and anger” with French Jews in their demand that Traoré be brought to trial for a brutal crime they believe was motivated by anti-Semitism.

Two days earlier, more than 20,000 people demonstrated in Paris against the April 14 ruling of the Court of Cassation which upheld the judgment of a lower tribunal in 2019. Traoré has been in a psychiatric hospital.

Adelson-Marcovitz said there can be no doubt the motive for Halimi’s slaying was “anti-Semitism with a capital A…If that is not recognized by the courts, then we are all indeed potential Sarahs and that should chill us to the bone.”

Traoré, a Muslim immigrant from Mali, reportedly shouted “Allahu Akbar” and that he had killed the Shaitan (devil in Islamic belief) at the scene. Halimi was the only Jewish resident of the apartment building.

CSUQ president Jacques Saada said French law must be amended to distinguish between crimes committed while suffering mental impairment due to illness and those following the “voluntary” use of drugs or alcohol.

Quoting writer James Baldwin, Saada said, “Nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

Also participating was a cousin of Halimi’s living in Montreal, Eric Allouch, who deplored the “barbarity” of her murder, which he believes was premeditated. He made an emotional plea for her memory to be honoured by correcting this injustice, as he lit a memorial candle holding up her photo on a phone.

Halimi’s brother, William Attal in France, was also on the Zoom call but could not be heard due to a technical glitch.

The guest speaker was French Chief Rabbi Haim Korsia who suggested that the law President Emmanuel Macron has promised to introduce, making it more difficult for intoxication to be entered as an insanity plea to avoid criminal prosecution, be named for Halimi.

Rabbi Korsia traced the tortuous path through the judicial system that her case has taken over the past four years, which has shaken the Jewish community’s confidence in authorities’ will to address anti-Semitism, and sparked debate among legal experts, politicians and intellectuals.

“Justice must be understood by society. We cannot have a response from justice that there is nothing we can do,” he said.

Aurelia Le Tareau-Rudnikoff, a dual citizen who has represented French nationals in Montreal and who is active with CIJA, said she felt “ashamed” of how Halimi’s death has been addressed in her native country. “France’s justice system abandoned Sarah Halimi and has failed to protect its Jews.”

The rally concluded with Cantor Daniel Benlolo of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue singing the El Malei Rachamim memorial prayer.

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