In France and Germany, Courts Come to Terms with Non-Jewish Victims of Anti-Semitic Violence

January 5, 2021 | Ben Cohen
About the author: Ben Cohen, a New York-based writer, has contributed essays on anti-Semitism and related issues to Mosaic and other publications.

The end of the past year saw the conclusion of four legal proceedings that placed anti-Semitic murderers on the dock. On December 16, a French court convicted fourteen people for their involvement in the 2015 killing spree that targeted the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, and thereafter a kosher supermarket. In Germany last October, a court sentenced the neo-Nazi Stephan Balliet to life in prison for attempting a massacre at a synagogue on Yom Kippur of 2019, and for two murders he committed after the attempt failed. Ben Cohen notes that, although both courts delivered guilty sentences, there were important difference is their handling of the respective crimes:

One . . . has to factor in the reluctance—not to say distaste—within the French judiciary for acknowledging any anti-Semitic motives among defendants in crimes that involve Jewish victims, even when these are staring them in the face, as lawyers for the victims’ families pointed out several times during the harrowing six-month trial. This was certainly not the issue with Balliet’s trial in Germany, where the searing hatred of Jews that drove his assault was front and center in the courtroom proceedings.

Neither of the two individuals murdered by Balliet was Jewish. . . . Nonetheless, both of these people were victims of anti-Semitic violence, irrespective of whether they happened to be Jewish. To say otherwise is to separate Jews out from the rest of society.

I would argue that much the same judgment can be made concerning the Paris attacks, where Jewish and general institutions were targeted. . . . In accordance with their extreme Islamist ideology—for [French killers] “the Jews” were at the root of the evil that enabled Charlie Hebdo to print cartoons that lampooned the prophet Mohammad. Just as for Balliet, “the Jews” were the reason why Germany had permitted the entry of hundreds of thousands of Syrian war refugees during 2015. That is why, when asked to explain his preference for shooting up a synagogue over a mosque, Balliet answered that he wanted to “fight the cause, not the symptoms.”

But while both trials resulted some measure of justice, this was not the case elsewhere:

Last week, a court in Buenos Aires acquitted Carlos Telleldin, a car-dealer charged with having supplied the truck that was used in the devastating July 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in the Argentine capital. The day after that decision, which roiled Argentina’s Jewish community, a court on the other side of the globe in Sindh, Pakistan, released the four men accused of orchestrating the 2002 abduction and beheading of the American Jewish journalist Daniel Pearl.

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