In what has become a disturbing, and all too familiar occurrence in France, another elderly French Jew has been murdered in an unprovoked attack motivated by antisemitism. On May 21, an 89-year-old Lyon resident named René Hadjaj was defenestrated from the 17th floor of the apartment complex where he resided. The perpetrator has been identified as a 51-year-old male of Algerian origin named Rachid Kheniche. Hadjaj was said to have been wearing a kippah at the time of the assault.
French police were quick to dismiss the attack as a dispute between neighbors unrelated to antisemitism. However, watchdog groups quickly alerted French law enforcement authorities to Kheniche’s social media postings where he engaged in antisemitic rants. After viewing the postings, the French prosecutor’s office requested that judges presiding over the case include an antisemitic motive charge as an aggravating circumstance in killing of Hadjaj.
Hadjaj’s murder is eerily similar to the horrific April 2017 murder of Sarah Halimi, a 65-year-old French-Jewish retired doctor, who was severely beaten and thrown from her apartment to her death. In that case, the killer was a 27-year-old drug dealer and user named Kobili Traore. Halimi, who lived in the same apartment complex as Traore had previously expressed fear of her future killer after enduring his repeated antisemitic threats. During his assault against Halimi, Traore yelled Allahu-Akbar (God is Great) a common Islamist refrain. After killing her, Traore reportedly said that he had just killed The Shaytan, an Islamic reference to Satan.
Concerned neighbors who heard the commotion in Halimi’s apartment and her cries for help called the police, whose response could be classified as comical if it wasn’t so sad. They initially arrived at the wrong address. When they finally reached the correct address, they waited for a SWAT team rather than entering immediately. A quick police response would have likely thwarted the attack and saved Halimi’s life.
But worse was yet to come. As in the case with Hadjaj, law enforcement authorities were quick to dismiss the antisemitic motive for the attack. After a public outcry, they changed their tune and added the charge of antisemitism as an aggravating factor. After a long and protracted legal proceedings, involving psychiatric reports and appeals, the French court ruled that Traore’s murder of Halimi was the result of a drug-induced psychosis and that therefore, he was not criminally responsible for her murder.
The logic of the French court that exonerated Traore is beyond comprehension. It essentially allows a murderer to escape the consequences of his own purposeful, deleterious and irresponsible actions. The manner in which France’s judiciary dealt with Halimi’s killer will remain an indelible stain on France’s judicial system and testament to its disregard for the rule of law and basic societal norms.
The Hadjaj and Halimi cases are not isolated incidents. In 2018, an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor named Mireille Knoll was stabbed 11 times by an assailant, who like Traore, yelled Allahu Akbar while stabbing her. In that case, two petty criminals broke into her Paris home believing that because she was Jewish, she was in possession of “hidden treasures.” The stabber was sentenced to life in prison but is eligible for parole in 22 years. His accomplice was acquitted of murder but convicted of theft with antisemitic motives and received 15 years.
France’s 500,000 strong Jewish population is under siege. Jews across the country are subject to daily harassment and assault, principally at the hands of France’s Muslims who far outnumber the Jewish population by a factor of about 10 to 1.
Three months prior to Hadjaj’s murder, a young French Jew named Jérémie Cohen was the victim of a gang assault. He was observant and wearing a kippah and this was sufficient to trigger the mob to attack him. In a desperate bid to escape his attackers, he ran into a busy thoroughfare and was fatally struck by a passing vehicle. Predictably, French police were quick to dismiss the incident as a simple traffic accident. It was only after Cohen’s family presented authorities with CCTV footage did the Justice Ministry agree to reopen the investigation.
It is open season on the Jews of France. Antisemitism represents a constant and prevalent menace and French authorities are doing little, if anything to combat it. It often spikes during times of Mideast tension, but irrational Jew-hate does not need an excuse to rear its ugly head.
Many of those who carry out these attacks are well known to authorities either due to their association with petty crime or radical Islam. Often, it’s both. The criminals merge the tools of their crime trade with radical Islam, making for a violent combination.
The plight of the Jews of France makes for yet another compelling argument for the existence of a strong Israel. Whenever Jews are in the minority, they become the target of violence, and this is particularly true when religious fervor and jealousy are added to the mix. In the meantime, the Jewish flight from France continues apace with most heading for – you guessed it – Israel.