(photo credit: AP)
The sentencing on Friday of the murderers of a French Jew attests to the growing concerns of anti-Semitism in French society, individuals close to the case told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.
The rift between the Jewish and Muslim community widened in 2006 as news of Ilan Halimi's kidnapping spread throughout Paris. The 23-year-old was tortured while held captive for more than three weeks. He was found naked and bound near a train station in a southern suburb of Paris, and his body showed signs of having been beaten, stabbed and burned. Halimi was rushed to a hospital, but died of his wounds in transit.
"There is distress in the Jewish community knowing that a tragedy has occurred, and there is always the fear that something of this kind might occur again," Richard Prasquier, president of the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions, said on Sunday.
Fofana, 28, was sentenced to life in prison for Halimi's murder and will not be eligible for parole for 22 years. He was born in France to Muslim immigrants from the Ivory Coast, and became the leader of an extremist gang called the Group of Barbarians. Twenty-eight other defendants were tried in the case, two of whom were acquitted.
According to Prasquier, Fofana directly targeted Halimi as a member of the Jewish community, operating on the anti-Semitic notions that all Jews have money and that if a Jew were abducted, members of the community would pay for the person's safe return.
"The Middle East conflict allows for the development of stereotypes against Jews, which is reflected in a difficult and tense relationship between some Muslims and Jews in France," he said.
The trial, which was closed to the public, could have enlightened the French population on the effects of anti-Semitism and the role of extremist groups in society, observers have said.
Francis Szpiner, the lawyer representing the Halimi family, argued that the trial might not be enough to deter others from attempting anti-Semitic criminal acts in the future, since it had been held behind closed doors and some of those involved had received minimal sentences.
Szpiner immediately filed an appeal for the sentences of two of Fofana's accomplices - Samir Ait Abdelmalek and Jean-Christophe Soumbou, sentenced to 15 and 18 years, respectively - which were too light to fit their crime, in his opinion.
The appeal was given to prosecutor Philippe Bilger, who an observer close to the case said might be biased due to his family history. Bilger told Paris Match magazine last week that his father, Joseph, had been sentenced to 10 years of hard labor for collaborating with the enemy during World War II.
"[My father] kept a close relationship with the French administration in Lorraine and chose to collaborate with the Nazis, rather than fight them," he said. Bilger has not condemned his father's actions.
Meanwhile, Halimi's murder continues to evoke Jewish fears of growing anti-Semitism, and will serve as a "dark chapter in France's history," Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said in a press release. Foxman called the incident "a reminder that classic anti-Semitism is still alive and well in Europe, and can have deadly consequences."
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