Murder Of Sarah Halimi A Teachable Moment On Bias

The murder of Jewish woman Sarah Halimi in her Paris apartment four years ago became global news in May after the French judiciary declined to prosecute the man who killed her — a Muslim of Malian origin — after it was deemed he was having a psychotic episode after years of voluntarily smoking marijuana. He was heard shouting “Allahu Akbar” and “I killed the Shaitan” while he was attacking her.

The case, and many of the complexities around it, is at the center of a Twin Cities Cardozo Society continuing legal education seminar “The Sarah Halimi Case, The Law and Anti-Semitism in France” next week.

“Cardozo has done a lot of seminars on how the law and antisemitism play out,” said Ben Gerber, the Cardozo CLE co-chair, which is a program of the Minneapolis and St. Paul Jewish Federations. “Even Prime Minister Macron has weighed in and they are working on changing the law. But this case shows other schisms in European antisemitism.”

Minnesota attorney Valeria Chazin is moderating the discussion with Bruno Chaouat, a professor of French and Jewish studies at the University of Minnesota, and Oudy Bloch, an attorney who is a member of the Paris and New York Bar Associations specializing in criminal law who has represented victims of terror cases.

“I think this is such an important CLE to look at things that are happening in one Jewish community, it can be a very good reflection of something that might happen to the different Jewish community,” Chazin said. “There are a lot of common themes in Western countries right now and a lot of antisemitism.”

Chaouat has been doing a lot of work on new antisemitism in France, including some writing in French newspapers.

“This murder is, from my perspective, definitely a manifestation of this new antisemitism,” he said. “I don’t suspect the justice system of antisemitism in their decision, but I am absolutely for, and there is no doubt in my mind, that the murder is an antisemitic.”

Chaouat said that the judiciary’s decision not to charge had caused such an uproar that a prominent Jewish judge in France resigned over the controversy. 

Gerber said that not facing charges because of voluntary substance use is not unique to France; here in Minnesota this past March, the state Supreme Court overturned a felony rape conviction on the grounds that the woman was intoxicated by her own will.

“We tend to think of it as more unique than it really is,” Gerber said. “But the [Sarah Halimi] case has the bias element attached. That is an issue that affects Jews globally, and it’s scary that someone can commit a violent act of murder and can’t be prosecuted because they smoked marijuana.”