10 years on, France doesn't get it
Sunday marked ten years since the murder of Ilan Halimi
. That's Halimi in the square with the purplish pink around it. It's from a Muslim dating site. It was eventually taken down
. Halimi was brutally murdered by a gang of Muslims, all but one of whom have been let go ten years later. On Sunday, there were a number of very small ceremonies in Paris marking Halimi's murder. They were only attended by Jews
The small crowd and its Jewish focus illustrate the wide disconnect between how the Halimi case is understood within and outside of France’s Jewish community – and what that might mean for the French Jewish future.
For France’s Jews, it remains an intimately tragic affair, marking arguably the most savage and sadistic anti-Semitic crime in France since World War II. For many citizens of French or European Christian origins, it is indeed a despicable violent crime, but not one fuelled by anti-Semitism. For me this is a form of blindness, of denial – but also a mark of the failure of France's government and Jewish community to establish violent anti-Semitism as a central concern for the whole of society.
Guershon N'duwa, president of the FJN, the Black-Jewish Federation of France, a constituent member of the French Jewish umbrella body CRIF, has organized the ceremony for Ilan Halimi for the past ten years, but he will not organize an eleventh. "The French government has always minimized the case of Ilan Halimi, and even now, has still not woken up to establish the link with the attacks of the past few years," says N'duwa, "and there is a definite link, a hatred of Jews.”
He continued: "But while Jewish community leaders have reached upwards, if you like, to French political parties on the right and left, they have not reached out to the non-Jewish public. So in spite of grandiose statements by politicians about fighting anti-Semitism, many French people still believe that Ilan's horrific death was a specifically Jewish affair, with few emotional links to the overall French nation, and not even necessarily a case of anti-Semitism. In reality, the intense emotional reaction by Jews here became a line that separated them from other French people, who reacted with intellectual disgust, but little more."
Both the Jewish community and the French government have been unable to engage the wider French public with the need to see, recognize and confront violent anti-Semitism and incitement against the community. This has diminished the number of French people who see anti-Semitic violence as a problem for all of France, not only its Jews and the government and security elite. For many, World War II had ended long ago, so it was easier to believe that this was a simple indecent but random tragedy committed by sociopaths.
The anniversary event’s low turnout was also an indication of intra-Jewish politics that have weakened the community’s resonance to speak as a united voice on this issue. In fact there were five other competing Halimi commemoration ceremonies around Paris this year, somewhat atomizing the effect of fewer and more robustly attended events. There were no Halimi family members present at Sunday’s Boulevard Voltaire gathering either, though his sisters reportedly attended one of the other ceremonies.
"This has become a very politicized affair and I am unhappy enough about that not to do it again," says N'duwa, who comes from a Protestant family in Congo-Brazzaville, Africa. He converted to Judaism years ago in France and has also lived in Israel.
Youssouf Fofana, who organized his kidnapping for ransom, will be in prison for years, in theory for life. Most of the others involved, including the woman used as bait, and the building superintendent who gave them the basement room and apartment in which Halimi was tortured in exchange for 1500 euros (which he never saw), have already been released.
Ten years after Halimi's murder, I still wonder why Jews remain in France. Neither they nor their non-Jewish neighbors understand what's going on in their country.
Labels: European Jews, feckless French, French anti-Semitism, Paris, Paris terror attacks