Ilan Halimi died in agony. He was found in the street, naked and handcuffed, with horrific injuries and burns over 80 percent of his body. The young man had been held captive and tortured for three endless weeks by a group of gangsters who just happened to be of the Muslim faith. They were holding him for ransom.
The group had chosen the 23-year-old phone salesman because he was Jewish and it is well known that the Jews are full of money. In fact, though he had not been their first choice, three of their four earlier prospective victims, who had been lucky enough not to fall in their hands, were Jews.
When Ilan's distraught parents said they could not possibly find the enormous sum requested, they were told to ask their rabbi. Or the synagogue. Or the community. For good measure they were sent by e-mail of picture of their son, naked and with a bag on his head. "Just like in Iraq," it said. The family was told by the police not to worry. People who kidnap for ransom in France don't kill or harm their victim. There would not be any point.
The parents did worry, and rightly so.
Preliminary findings released by the French police were that there was no proof that anti-Semitism was at the root of the crime or had played any part in it. It took nearly a week for the reluctant admission to be made that though basically the young man had been snatched for gain, he had been chosen because he belonged to the Jewish community. And that the gang had links with Salafist (Wahhabist) groups and with supporters of the Palestinian cause. And that there was no reason for him to have been tortured other than the fact that he was a Jew.
THIS HAS not exactly been front-page news in Israel, as some of the French papers have noted with satisfaction. No official declarations. No candles lit in public squares. No peaceful march in his memory. The Israelis, said a source quoted in Le Figaro on Tuesday, are busy with their elections, and they still remember the outcry that followed Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's declaration about anti-Semitism in France last year.
And yet Ilan Halimi's death diminishes us all. The death of a young man with his whole life in front of him.
Perhaps even more, the manner of his death.
Each and every one of us should pause for a minute and reflect on the very real hell Ilan went through for three dreadful weeks. Starved, beaten, cut, burned. Naked and alone with his tormentors.
Because he was a Jew.
The writer is a former chairperson of the Foreign Office Wives Association of Israeli diplomats.