viewpoint: ben cohen

Ilan Halimi: Jewish Lives Matter


In his preface to a recent publication from Fathom, a British magazine covering the Middle East, British lawyer and anti-Semitism expert Anthony Julius—always the author of a memorable phrase—denounced “anti-Zionism and its creature, the BDS movement,” as “one of the major political stupidities of our time.”

The import of Julius’s comment struck me as I was reflecting on the terrible fate of Ilan Halimi, the young French Jew who 10 years ago was kidnapped for ransom by a largely Muslim gang. Halimi spent nearly a month in the custody of these “barbarians”—that was what they called themselves—during which time they beat him, burned him, and tortured him. Halimi was left for dead by a railway track outside Paris on Feb. 13, 2006, and indeed, he did die of his wounds just a few hours after being discovered.

In the tumult that followed the murder, it emerged that Youssef Fofana, the gang leader, had targeted Halimi because he was a Jew, and Jews have money. It was a brutal demonstration to a skeptical French public that anti-Semitism within the Muslim community—often fueled by savage attacks on Israel’s right to exist and dark mutterings about the political influence of its Jewish supporters—is all too real.

Speaking at the recent 10th anniversary commemorating Halimi’s murder, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazneuve confessed, “Ten years after the murder we still feel this collective regret of hesitating to call the act by its true name—anti-Semitic hate.’’

That hate is also, as Anthony Julius might acknowledge, a monstrous form of political stupidity. Despite being one of the discredited ideologies that grounded totalitarianism in the last century, anti-Semitism has persisted into this one. Its followers have regrouped under the banner of the elimination not just of Israel, but of the empathy and affiliation with Israel that most Diaspora Jews feel towards it.

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