A day after the Israeli ambassador to Britain, Tzipi Hotovely, was harassed as she left the London School of Economics, a murder trial in France reached its grisly conclusion. Yacine Mihoub was handed a life term after being convicted of stabbing 85-year-old Mireille Knoll multiple times and then setting her body alight in March 2018. The elderly woman, a Holocaust survivor, had known Mihoub since he was a boy, but he still snuffed out her life because she was a Jew. An accomplice claimed Mihoub screamed ‘Allahu Akbar’ as he stabbed Knoll.
It was a murder almost identical in nature to that of Sarah Halimi, slain in the same arrondissement of Paris a year earlier. Her assailant also shouted ‘Allahu Akbar’ as he took the life of the retired Jewish doctor.
The killing of Madame Halimi was anti-Semitic, even if parts of the French political establishment pretended it wasn’t. Her killer, Kobili Traoré, subsequently escaped trial after France’s highest court of appeal ruled that he was not criminally responsible for his actions. The judges ruled that Traoré had been undergoing a ‘psychotic episode’ because of cannabis consumption.
This cowardice drew a sharp response from some French intellectuals, who signed an open letter decrying the ‘politics of the ostrich’.
‘It’s always the same story in France,’ said one of the signatories, Bernard-Henri Lévy. ‘Anti-Semitism is not supposed to exist, especially among minority communities.’
For French Jews, the diabolical murder of Halimi, and the political reaction that followed, had strong parallels with the death of 23-year-old Ilan Halimi (no relation to Sarah), who in 2006 was abducted and tortured to death over the course of three weeks by a Paris gang led by a man who described himself in court as an ‘African Barbarian Armed Revolt Salafist’.