NEW YORK, Nov. 16 (JTA) – The Anti-Defamation League is calling on the French Interior Ministry to investigate the police handling of the murder of Ilan Halimi, a French Jew abducted and murdered by a Muslim gang earlier this year. Halimi is believed to have been lured to an apartment in the Parisian suburbs last January, where he was kept prisoner for three weeks while his abductors attempted to extract a ransom from the family. His death prompted a public outcry in France, and tens of thousands of people — including several public officials — took to the streets of Paris to rally against racism and anti-Semitism. ADL national director Abraham Foxman was unable to say precisely where he believed the police, who are holding 18 people in custody in connection with the murder, had failed. But with Halimi’s mother Ruth at his side, he insisted that neighbors in the apartment building where Ilan was held knew of the crime unfolding in their midst and that police should have been able to work faster to save him. “There are a lot of questions that need to be answered,” he said. Foxman’s comments came at the tail end of Ruth Halimi’s first trip to the United States, in the course of which she was feted at a concert in Washington and honored at a luncheon in New York. “In a free country like France, one cannot accept the torture Ilan had as a human being, mostly because he was a Jew,” Halimi said Thursday. Speaking through an interpreter, Halimi thanked the Jewish community for its support and urged continued vigilance against anti-Semitism in her country. “We are all responsible for what is going on,” Halimi said. “We need to educate children, parents as well, so the other will be the same as one is. ” Choking back tears, Francoic Delattre, France’s consul general in New York, cast the issue in even starker terms. “What is at stake here, my friends, is an existential threat to all of us,” said Delattre, who called anti-Semitism “our common enemy” and said France is doing “the best it can” to combat it. In a private meeting with reporters, Halimi spoke of the magnitude of her loss and of her frustration with French police, who she said could have done more to rescue Ilan. “My soul is not here. It’s going with my son,” said Halimi, who was accompanied by her daughter, Yael. “My job is now to tell the world, we have a fight. We have work to do. We have to change this.” Halimi’s murder was a galvanizing event in a country already on edge from mounting anti-Semitic incidents, originating principally from France’s large Muslim underclass. In the latest incident, arsonists set fire to a Jewish school north of Paris Nov. 9; no one was injured. French authorities have been criticized for what some have said was a sluggish response to an increasing sense of insecurity among the country’s Jews. Though France has since stepped up efforts, Jewish groups are taking matters into their own hands. On Sunday, Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of the New York-based Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, presented plans for an international campaign against anti-Semitism featuring rap artist Jay-Z and the music impresario Russell Simmons. The pair will appear in public service announcements aimed at young people in Europe and Latin America, urging them to speak out against racism and anti-Semitism.
Ben Harris is JTA's former associate editor.