By Craig Snoyman
The famous words have outlived their equally famous author. Author, Emile Zola published his open letter to the French President accusing the government of anti-Semitism and convicting Alfred Dreyfus without cause, simply because he was a Jew.
An assimilated Jewish Staff officer in the French army, Dreyfus was found guilty of treason. Then, in front of 5000 soldiers, he suffered the public degradation. The buttons of his military tunic were cut off, then the stripes of his trousers. Next came the removal of the insignia on his cap and sleeve. The final humiliation was his sword being broken in two – all performed with excruciating slow military precision. He was then marched around the Ecole to calls for his death and that of the Jews. Stripped of rank and dishonourably discharged from the army, he was deported to Devil’s Island to serve a sentence of life imprisonment. Following Zola’s J’ Accuse, a public outcry and evidence of an army cover-up, he was brought back to France for a retrial – and again found GUILTY!
The relationship between the French government and its Jewish citizens has always been a little uneven. Emancipated by dint of happenstance as a result of the French Revolution, the Jews were not trusted by the Revolutionaries that had unintentionally freed them. This distrust remained until Napoleon reconvened the Sanhedrin to satisfy himself that Jews could be good Frenchmen. It should then have been a case of Liberte, Fraternite and especially Egalite. It was not!
At the Dreyfus trial. there was another assimilated Jew present. A correspondent for the Austrian newspaper, Neue Freie Presse, he had been sent to cover the trial. Watching the Paris mob baying for Dreyfus’ blood and with shouts that “The Jew must burn” ringing in his ears, he left with a changed world view. He formed the opinion that the Jew had no place in the Diaspora. He concluded that the only hope for the submissive, discriminated, wandering Jew, was for them to have their own Jewish state in Palestine. That man was Theodor Herzl.
Fast-forward about 120 years. Herzl’s vision has been realised. France’s relationship with its Jews is still uneven. France’s recent record is something like this:
2006 – a young Jew, Ilan Halimi is kidnapped, tortured and murdered by a Muslim gang, who proclaim that “all the Jews in the world are enemies”. The French police reject the idea that the murder was motivated by Jew-hatred.
2012 – an Islamist gunman shoots dead three children and a teacher at a Jewish school in the southern city of Toulouse, because “the Jews kill our brothers and sisters in Palestine”.
2015 – Islamic gunmen take their hatred to the Hypercacher kosher supermarket and kill four Jewish customers at a kosher supermarket. One declares that he was murdering the people he hated most in the world. (or as then-president Obama called it “randomly shooting a bunch of people in a deli”). The attack on Bataclan theatre is played down (sic). The Jewish ownership of the theatre is concealed from the public.
2017– a 65-year-old Jewish retired doctor and schoolteacher, Sarah Halimi, is murdered in an anti-Semitic attack by her Muslim next-door neighbour. While torturing her, he is heard shouting the Arabic phrase Allāhu ʾakbar (meaning “God is the greatest”), and calling her a shaitan (Satan, in Islamic belief, a “demon” or ‘devil”). Then he throws her out of her third-floor window. The French authorities refused to classify this as an anti-Semitic attack. The media ignored it.
2018 – two men stab Holocaust survivor, Mireille Knoll, set her on fire and throw her out of the window of her Paris apartment. One of the men is heard shouting Allāhu akbar.
Writer, Marc Weitzmann, then writes that French authorities have repeatedly denied the anti-Semitic nature of these crimes, calling them “lone wolf” attacks or resulting from psychotic episodes. But then he’s not an Emile Zola, and the French government don’t have to listen to him. Neither do the French press or the French public. Lone wolves and psychotics can proliferate.
It goes further than that. The French Courts don’t listen either. In 2021, the Country’s highest court, the Cour de Cassation, upholds a lower court decision that the anti-Semitic murderer of Halimi could not be held criminally responsible because his “discernment” had been compromised . He is held to have attacked and killed Halimi not because he hated Jews, but because he was in a “delirious fit” (what we might term a “psychotic state”) brought on as a result of his cannabis abuse.
The court did see fit to mention that he had anti-Semitic tendencies!
I could find no reference as to whether he was using drugs in any of his previous (12) offences where he had been convicted. Nor was there any reference to a previous history of drug-induced “delirious fits”.
I have done more than my fair share of criminal cases and defended many substance abusers. Neither I, nor any of my colleagues that I have spoken to, can ever remember a marijuana abuser aggressively fighting. Marijuana is a “downer,” a depressive drug, not one that is likely to render one both temporarily insane and violently aggressive. The most aggressive behaviour that any of my clients ever showed while under the influence of marijuana, was throwing a bottle of pickles at the police who came to arresting him for housebreaking while he was trying to satiate his “munchies”.
In South Africa, and I suspect in most other countries, the voluntarily abuse of an abusive substance before committing a crime is an aggravating factor. It does not criminally absolve the abuser. Even if you are in a “delirious state” or in a state mental incapacity, there are other competent charges that can be laid. Temporary insanity is a defence to be raised and proved by the defence. It’s an extremely difficult defence to sustain. While France’s legal system is different from ours, there was still an expert report of a psychologist before the Cour, which stated that this murderer was not temporarily insane.
And now we come up to speed. The French government’s relationship with its Jewish citizens is still uneven. However today, there are no big-name Frenchmen – no Emile Zola standing up for Halimi, no press shouting about injustice. A small voice of President Emile Macron, tainted by his politics and by his previous employment with Rothschild et Cie, can be heard calling for a change in the law. But there are Jews protesting – in Paris and London and New York and Tel Aviv and elsewhere.
Vive la difference! The humiliated, cowering Jewish community had been too scared to protest the Dreyfus decision, either in Paris or at Rennes. The voice of reason had to come from the Gentiles. Now, thanks to the vision of Herzl, the existence of the State of Israel has given the Jews of the Diaspora a backbone and a voice. The fearful “Ghetto Jew” has disappeared. The new breed of Jew, in the knowledge of the support of the Israeli government is prepared to stand up and call for justice on their own. The murder of Sarah Halimi will never hit the world headlines like the death of George Floyd, but it will not be forgotten. It is not clear just how much Jewish Lives Matter to non-Jews and European governments. But Jews have very long memories, as Napoleon can attest – for those of you who remember your Gemarrah. So while the twitter-tags such as #JeSuisSarah and #JusticeforSarahHalimi may trend, a phrase not often used in the Diaspora, comes to mind which might be equally apt:
“Hashem yikom damma“(“May Hashem avenge her blood”)
Twice the French legal system has looked into the murder of Sarah Halimi and twice has been found wanting.
The double shadow of Dreyfus looms.
But now it is no longer an anti-Semitic murderer that is now on trial, it is again the French and their legal system. The scandal remains. The Jews again have reason to distrust the French authorities, but they have a voice. Where once there was the voice of an author proclaiming “J’Accuse”, it is now the voice of one nation shouting “JusticeforSarahHalimi”. #MayHashemavengeyourbloodSarahHalimi –
We, the Jews accuse!
About the writer:
Craig Snoyman is a practising advocate in South Africa.
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