(December 23, 2021 / Israel Hayom) Shia Majster was the only one out of a thousand deportees he shared a transport with who survived the Holocaust. As early as 1941, he was among the “foreign Jews” sent by Nazis from occupied Paris to a concentration camp in the Netherlands and later to Auschwitz. He returned to Paris but struggled his entire life due to the atrocities he witnessed during World War II.
His grandson, French attorney Nathanael Majster, 54, spoke of his grandfather during his testimony before a parliamentary commission of inquiry set up by the French National Assembly into the possible police and judicial misconduct during the investigation of the murder of French Jewish doctor and schoolteacher Sarah Halimi in the heart of Paris on April 4, 2017.
“As the grandson of a deportee, I cannot make peace with the fact that in modern-day France, a Jew is thrown to death off her balcony and this is received with complete indifference and organized lies,” Majster told commission members.
“In my professional life, I have not defended matters relating to the Jewish community,” Majster told Israel Hayom. “However, in this case, I was one of the first ones to warn of the shortcomings of the legal system. No one cared about the fate of this poor woman,” he said.
“A Muslim man tortured her for about 15 minutes, struck her as if she were just a piece of meat, broke all her bones, and whoever was the attorney general back then didn’t think it was barbaric. When barbarism is directed at Jews it is not considered barbarism. Jews are responsible for being attacked. This is the same conduct my grandfather encountered,” he added.
Majster is one of a dozen of witnesses who testified before the parliamentary probe launched in the summer at the initiative of French National Assembly member Meyer Habib, and which began work on Sept. 13. It is due to report its conclusions in mid-January.
The commission was created after it became clear that the French legal system did not intend to prosecute Halimi’s killer, Kobili Traoré, a son of immigrants from Mali, because he was judged to have suffered a psychotic episode caused by cannabis use.
Halimi’s case is not the first time that a Muslim who murdered a Jew in France has avoided trial due to supposed mental instability. In 2003, Adel Amastaibou, who murdered French Jewish DJ Sebastien Selam, was declared unfit to stand trial for this exact reason. And while authorities at least recognized Halimi’s killing as an anti-Semitic crime, in Selam’s case such declarations were never made.
Another difference is that Selam’s killer suffered from mental illness, mostly paranoid schizophrenia, for years, whereas Traore seems to have begun exhibiting such “symptoms” suspiciously close to when he perpetrated the attack. As far as is known, Traore never received or sought psychiatric help. He is currently in a psychiatric hospital, mentally stable, and continues to use cannabis without restriction.
Despite unequivocal evidence, it took months for the French legal system to recognize the anti-Semitic nature of Halimi’s murder. And despite the long-overdue recognition, the judge ruled that Taore was not fit to stand trial as he was in the grip of a drug-induced “delusional fit” and not in control of his actions.
Speaking to members of the commission of inquiry, Majster listed the series of omissions he found authorities had made when investigating Halimi’s murder.
That Traore tortured Halimi before throwing her off her balcony was omitted from the investigation altogether, and the question of whether the homicide was deliberate was not examined at all, even though evidence showed that Traore prepared for the attack in advance. Although Traore cried “Allahu Akbar” and recited Koranic verses during the murder, it was not viewed as a terrorist attack, and although a psychiatrist who initially examined Traore found that he was fit to stand trial, the judge in charge of the case appointed additional experts who ruled to the contrary.
“Why is it that when a victim is Jewish, the matter is not important? But when the victim is a [non-Jewish] policeman, teacher, or priest, the matter becomes a national urgency?” Majster asked committee members. “Is the French legal system turning itself into a defender of the Muslim community against the ‘excessive demands’ of the Jewish community? If so, this is a most serious matter. This affair is the result of the atmosphere of fear and loss of values, so it is crucial. Will this atmosphere win or will there be a revolt against this atmosphere for which the Jews are the first to pay the price?”
Members of the commission of inquiry—that include lawmakers from all factions of the National Assembly, including President Emanuel Macron’s party as well as leftists, who, unlike the right-wing parties, opposed launching the probe—were exposed to more and more horrific details about the murder case.
Sarah Halimi, 65 at the time of her death, was a retired physician and school teacher. She lived in a modest apartment in central Paris, in a neighborhood that has in recent years become a center of Islamist activity. The Omar Ibn Al Khattab Mosque—where extremist religious activists consistently gather—is only minutes away from where she lived.
Traore, 27 at the time he committed the murder, lived with his family—mother, stepfather, sister and her children—in the same building as Halimi. He has an extensive criminal record, having been prosecuted 24 times, including for violent assault, and imprisoned five times.
A few weeks before the murder, Traore began to attend the Omar Ibn Al Khattab Mosque regularly. He changed his behavior and began to stop talking to women, but did not stop smoking cannabis. The day before the murder, he visited the mosque three times for what he said were attempts to free himself of a spell cast on him by his stepfather.
On that same day, Traore visited other neighbors in the building, including the Diarra family who lived on the third floor, where Halimi also lived. The father of the family he visited is known as the “mediator” in conflicts between members of the Malian community. Traore asked the Diarras to look after his sister’s children and left a change of clothes and a towel with them, without an explanation.
On the night of April 3, Traore asked to sleep over at a friend’s on the fourth floor. The two smoked weed and watched the film “The Punisher.” Shortly after 4 a.m., Traore left his friend’s apartment wearing a sweatshirt and no shoes. He walked one flight down to the Diarras’ apartment. The father of the family let him in, and then, for unknown reasons, locked himself and his family in one of the rooms and called the police for help.
In the meantime, Traore performed a purification ceremony, changed and prayed. Three policemen arrived at the scene within minutes. The Diarra family threw the keys through the window. When officers got to the door, they heard Traore praying in Arabic through the closed door. They did not use the keys to enter the apartment and avoided confronting Traore, although the Diarras had made it clear during the phone call that he was unarmed. Instead, the officers called for backup.
At this time, Halimi was still asleep in her apartment, which was next to the Diarras’. In retrospect, a tactical intervention by the police could have saved her life.
After finishing his prayers, Traore stepped out onto the Diarra family’s balcony, from where he moved onto Halimi’s. He broke into her apartment and began to strike her viciously. Halimi screamed out in pain. The neighbors woke up at her cries and called the police. The three policemen who were already at the scene claimed before the commission of inquiry that they had heard no screams.
After a severe beating that lasted about 12 minutes, Traore shouted, “There’s a woman here who is about to commit suicide,” and threw Halimi off the balcony of her third-floor apartment.
At that point, more police officers and an ambulance arrived. Halimi was pronounced dead on the scene. Meanwhile, Traore returned to the Diarras’ apartment. Only half an hour later did the police brave the murderer and enter the apartment. Traore did not resist arrest.
The officers’ scandalous incompetence could have been grounds for its own probe, but with Treore’s arrest there began a series of administrative and legal omissions that led to him avoiding prosecution.
A medical examination of Traore a few hours after the arrest determined that he should be hospitalized. As such, he could not remain in custody and was not immediately questioned by the police.
Prosecutor Francois Molins invited the heads of the Jewish community to meet with him, and told them there was no evidence that the killing was anti-Semitic. This happened on the eve of the French presidential elections. Rumors began to circulate among French Jews that politicians were trying to sweep the murder under the rug to limit right-wing nationalist candidate Marine Le Pen’s chances of victory.
About two weeks after Macron’s electoral victory, the Halimi family’s lawyers demanded in a press conference for the first time that the murder be treated as an anti-Semitic attack, which is considered in France to be aggravating circumstances.
The investigating judge, Anne Ihuellou, sought an initial psychiatric opinion of Traore from Jewish expert Daniel Zaguri.
The professional opinion included testimony from Traore according to which he had entered Halimi’s apartment without knowing who lived there, and that when he saw the “Torah scroll and the menorah,” it “ignited” a psychotic attack from which he “suffered.”
However, there was no menorah in the Halimi home, only regular Shabbat candlesticks. There was also no Torah scroll, only Jewish books that Traore would have mostly struggled to identify in the dark. A simple visit to Halimi’s apartment would have refuted Traore’s testimony, but Ihuellou did not bother, and even refused to reconstruct the murder.
Beyond that, she asked two more teams of psychiatrists to examine Traore and determine whether he was fit to stand trial. Both teams concluded that due to drug use prior to the attack, Traore had not been in control of his actions. Ihuellou chose to accept their conclusions. Appeals filed by the prosecution and the Halimi family were rejected.
“The purpose of the parliamentary inquiry commission is not to hold a retrial, but to examine whether there were deficiencies in the way the justice system and the police functioned with regard to this case and formulate recommendations,” Meyer Habib, who, as mentioned above, leads the commission, told Israel Hayom.
“We cannot order another trial to take place. From what we have heard so far, many flaws were pointed out. They [investigators] did not check Traore and his friends’ cellphones. Did not interrogate people at the Omar mosque. Officers who first arrived at the scene were ill prepared to deal with the situation. And most importantly, all the evidence that indicated this was a deliberate murder was intentionally ignored,” he said.
“They turned him into a crazy person because he smoked weed. Based on Halimi’s balcony, Traore chose to throw her off it from a point where the fall would be deeper. That is not the action of a person not in control of his actions,” he added.
The committee also heard testimony regarding Traore’s hospitalization, according to which he receives no medical treatment for any mental illness that would prevent him from being prosecuted, and that he is, in fact, in a mentally stable condition.
Halimi family attorney Jean-Alexandre Buchingern told the commission of inquiry: “Everything is being done to disguise the initial intent.”
David-Olivier Kaminski, who represented Halimi’s son Yonathan, said, “Experts are the ones who determined the ruling, not the judged. Throughout the affair, there was a feeling that the justice system was not seeking justice.”
Attorney Gilles-William Goldnadel, who also represented the family, told the commission, “I saw with my own eyes the death of the French legal system. When it comes to anti-Semitism, there is a very strong denial of reality by the justice system. In 2015, Traore was arrested for driving without a license and under the influence of drugs. Even back then he had an extensive criminal record. Had he been punished according to the letter of the law, perhaps Sarah Halimi would be alive today,” he said.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.
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