Can justice be an effective and dissuasive shield against the proliferation of anti-Semitic acts or remarks in France? In any case, in Éric Dupond-Moretti’s entourage, we highlight the instructions given to prosecutors and attorneys general recently received at the chancellery. “They were asked to provide a firm and systematic response to these types of facts which are intolerable. To date, there have been 260 investigations opened for anti-Semitic acts or glorification of terrorism. » A figure which therefore includes offenses occurring since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas on October 7, but also, possibly, acts linked to the Islamist attack in Arras which, on October 13, cost the life of Professor Dominique Bernard.
“857 anti-Semitic acts” recorded in France
The Paris prosecutor’s office opened an investigation on Tuesday October 31 after the discovery of Stars of David tagged on several buildings in the capital. But Paris is of course not the only city where manifestations of hatred against the Jewish population occur. Tuesday, Gérald Darmanin specified that “857 anti-Semitic acts” have been recorded in France and “425” people have been arrested since the start of the war between Israel and Hamas. The current period therefore risks causing anti-Semitic acts to skyrocket, which in ordinary times remain at a fairly stable level.
Each year, the Ministry of the Interior records an average of 550 anti-Semitic acts. In 2022, there were 436 according to the Jewish Community Protection Service (SPCJ), an association which publishes an annual report on the subject. This figure corresponds to facts which have been the subject of a complaint or a report to the police or gendarmerie. “Nearly 10% of anti-Semitic acts are violent physical attacks. 14% of these acts are committed with a weapon (handgun, knife, cutter, axe, scissors, etc.),” indicates the SPCJ, specifying that a large proportion of anti-Semitic acts are committed in the private sphere: either at home, or at the victims’ professional place.
“As the effectiveness of the criminal response in this type of case is low, the victims are often harassed for several years by an anti-Semitic neighbor. These acts generate situations of great distress, particularly when the victim is elderly,” specifies the SPCJ. Another observation: last year, 63% of anti-Semitic attack cases were dismissed and “in only a quarter of the cases, the attackers were convicted”.
Would justice be too inactive or too lax in the face of this anti-Semitism? “In fact, the difficulty is often to identify the perpetrators or to characterize the facts,” specifies a prosecutor. “When a person is insulted in the street by a group of people, it is often very difficult to find the perpetrators or to know who said what,” she adds. Justice now risks being confronted with the same problem of identifying the authors of tags, in Paris or elsewhere, if their actions were not filmed by surveillance cameras or if they left no trace (fingerprint, DNA) at the scene. On October 27, a Moldovan couple was still arrested for having spray painted a Star of David on a wall in Paris.
Anti-Semitism, an aggravating circumstance
The other difficulty of justice is to characterize the anti-Semitic nature of certain offenses or crimes. Which is nevertheless essential. If an individual commits violence or murder with anti-Semitic motivation, this is an aggravating circumstance which increases the severity of the penalties incurred. But, in certain cases, the prosecution or the investigating magistrate do not consider the anti-Semitic nature of the offense.
“When a young person wearing a kippah is attacked in the street, the aggravating circumstance is taken into account without problem,” indicates Me Galina Elbaz, lawyer and vice-president of Licra. But it often happens that people without external signs of Jewishness are attacked by individuals who know that they are Jewish. In this case, it happens that the prosecution does not have the means or the will to carry out a more in-depth investigation. And then, he can have the defendants tried in immediate appearance for a simple offense. »
An emblematic case is that of the Sarah Halimi affair, this Jewish retiree killed at her home in 2017 in Paris. The civil parties had a very bad experience of the fact that the investigating judge waited more than nine months before taking into account the aggravating circumstance of anti-Semitism. “I had another case of a family sequestered at home, in which it took two years for the magistrate to take into account the aggravating circumstance,” emphasizes Me Elbaz. In defense of justice, it must be emphasized that, in almost all acts of violence, those accused deny the anti-Semitic motive behind the acts. “The magistrate must then gather sufficiently solid evidence to support the anti-Semitic nature of the act. Which is not always simple,” indicates the representative of the prosecution.
President of the Central Consistory of France and lawyer, Élie Korchia recognizes that, in the past, justice may have shown a “certain reluctance” to recognize the nature of certain facts. “But things have been better in recent years. Magistrates are more aware of this problem, he indicates. Generally speaking, I find that, from now on, when people are arrested, the justice system really does its job and no longer hesitates to hand down sometimes harsh sentences for anti-Semitic acts. »