At a special digital rally Monday, French leaders and officials from the United Nations, Canada and Israel demanded justice for the murdered French Jewish grandmother Sarah Halimi. They were joined by multi-faith religious leaders in France. Speakers also warned against the dangerous spike in antisemitism and called for concrete measures to tackle it.
Thousands recently took to the streets in cities across the world and many more protested on social media to voice their outrage over last month’s unfathomable French court decision to excuse Halimi’s antisemitic killer, Kobili Traoré, from trial due to his consumption of marijuana on the night of his barbaric crime. Many thousands have since signed a petition calling for Traoré to stand trial.
Keeping the issue in the public eye and on the international agenda, especially at a time of relentless global antisemitism, the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions (CRIF) and the Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM) held a special digital rally titled “Justice for Sarah Halimi: An International Movement Is Born.”
French leaders focused on the destructive impact of the court decision on France and French society. Former French Prime Minister Manuel Valls demanded a change in French law and said, “We should never, ever forget Sarah Halimi. This [court’s] decision hurts me, hurts us - citizens of the French Republic. It’s truly a judicial and moral catastrophe.
“Antisemitism has been ravaging… France for more than 12 decades. This antisemitism comes from the far right, from the far left, from our working-class districts, from the Arab-Muslim world under the guise of hatred for Israel and for Jews, or simply hatred. We must eradicate antisemitism from our society.”
Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo underscored her commitment towards fighting antisemitism. She commented, “Sarah Halimi was the victim of an intolerable antisemitic murder. We cannot accept it - Paris cannot accept it.” She pledged to make good on her promise to name a street after Halimi, so that “The walls of our capital will show her history and her face.” Mayor Hidalgo also praised the French government’s recent decision to prohibit a pro-Palestinian protest, noting that during a similar demonstration in 2014 “horrible phrases were chanted, calling on death to the Jews.”
Sarah Halimi’s son, Yonatan Halimi recalled the values his mother stood for, saying “My mother always taught us to take responsibility… It is very difficult for us that today, the justice system, the authorities did not assume their own responsibility.” He also warned that “each of us should guarantee his own security because unfortunately, security in France is not assured.”
Renowned French philosopher, writer and intellectual Bernard-Henri Lévy said that the Sarah Halimi case “is a symptom of the depth of French society’s denial of antisemitism. There was such a reluctance to admit the antisemitic character of this murder.” However, he added more hopefully that since the court ruling “there is a huge movement in French society of solidarity with the family… and there is a global movement saying that justice has not been done.”
CRIF President, Francis Kalifat emphasized that Halimi was murdered purely because she was Jewish. He said, “Sarah Halimi was killed twice. She was first the victim of the Islamist violence, of the killer’s antisemitism, but Sarah Halimi was also the victim of a denial of justice,” which he described as “the concern of the entire French society. It’s France’s concern.”
Global leaders outlined the wider significance of the failure to bring Sarah Halimi’s killer to trial and urged leaders across the world to take steps to combat antisemitism. United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief Ahmed Shaheed expressed solidarity with the Halimi family and “the Jewish communities in France and around the world who face a tide of antisemitic hate crime.” He warned that “This case sets a tenuous precedent and we all know too well where impunity for hate crimes lead us. In addition to ensuring justice for Sarah Halimi, France and other countries need to urgently face up to rising antisemitism.”
Canada’s Special Envoy for Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism Irwin Cotler, also the country’s former Justice Minister said that “the antisemitic murder of Sarah Halimi is a dramatic case study of both the pandemic of antisemitism on the one hand and the indifference and impunity that underpin it on the other.” He called for the wider adoption and implementation of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, describing it as “The most authoritative, comprehensive and international definition that we have.” Cotler also said that countries should “adopt a national action plan to combat antisemitism.”
CAM Board Member and Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel Isaac Herzog said that Halimi’s murder underscored how antisemitism persists. He said, “I call on the international community not to dismiss this issue, but rather to be extremely proactive in the fight against hatred in general and against antisemitism in particular.” He outlined three practical steps - Greater adoption of the IHRA definition, “taking defensive measures to protect Jewish communities, synagogues and the like” and increased education.
Meanwhile, French relgious leaders also demanded justice for Sarah Halimi and the eradication of antisemitism. Imam of Drancy, Hassan Shalgumi said that Halimi’s murder is a French problem, commenting “The injustice committed against this woman and against her family was committed against the French people, forgetting human rights. We should all stand in solidarity and fight for her.”
France’s Chief Rabbi Haim Korsia also emphasized the impact of antisemitism on wider society, describing it as “a poison, which infiltrates all societies to destroy them from the inside, to destroy the dream of what is a ‘republic’, a dream of fraternity among all the religions in France.”
Father Christophe Le Sourt, responsible for relations with the Jewish community on behalf of the Church of France also said that society must tackle Jew-hatred, commenting “The fight against antisemitism cannot and should not be the concern only of our Jewish brothers and sisters.”
In parallel with today’s event, a ceremony took place at the Kfar Silver Youth Village in Israel, during which 28 olive trees were planted in memory of Sarah Halimi. They were planted in the same plot where 25 olive trees were planted last year in memory of Lori Gilbert-Kaye, who was tragically shot and killed in an antisemitic attack in 2019 at the Chabad of Poway Synagogue.