Following the news that an antisemitic motive had initially been ruled out after yet another elderly French Jew was allegedly thrown out of a window to his death, it was announced today that the investigation has been extended to determine whether or not antisemitism may have played a role.
Rene Hadjaj, a 90-year-old Jewish man, was allegedly defenestrated from an apartment block on 17th May in Lyon. A 51-year-old neighbour, believed to have known the victim well, was arrested.
Police initially believed that the incident related to an argument between the two and was not connected to the victim’s Jewish identity. They then proceeded to rule out an antisemitic motive, a decision that elicited outrage from parts of the French community.
Today, however, it was announced that the investigation will be extended following new information that was discovered on social media. It is understood that the new information arose from investigations carried out by concerned members of the Jewish community, which is similar to the recent case of Jeremy Cohen, where police also ruled out antisemitism before an investigation by the family of the victim turned up evidence that forced the police to reconsider.
French Jewry has been here before too many times in recent years.
In 2017, Sarah Halimi, a 65-year-old Jewish woman, was murdered by her 27-year-old Muslim neighbour, Kobili Traoré, after he tortured her before pushing her out of a window to her death. Mr Traoré was said to have yelled “Allah Akbar,” “I killed the shaitan,” which is an Arabic word for ‘devil’ or ‘demon’, along with antisemitic vitriol. It took time for the police to recognise the antisemitic motive, but Mr Traoré was deemed unfit to stand trial because he was under the influence of drugs at the time. The judgement was highly controversial and let to protests around the world – including a rally outside the French embassy in London organised by Campaign Against Antisemitism – and a parliamentary inquiry.
In 2018, 85-year-old Mireille Knoll, a Holocaust survivor, was stabbed eleven times during a botched robbery that also saw her body set alight in an effort by the perpetrators to burn her apartment. In this instance, the authorities did accept that there was an antisemitic motive and the perpetrators were jailed.
Then, last month, after the police had judged the death of Jeremy Cohen, a 31-year-old Jewish man who was hit by a tram, to be a traffic accident, his family undertook their own investigation, including leafleting neighbours for information. Footage emerged of a gang of men attacking the visibly Jewish Mr Cohen apparently causing him to flee and resulting in his death, leading to a new investigation.
These are just some of the high-profile recent cases in France, where antisemitism has skyrocketed by 75% in the past year, from already staggeringly high figures.