PARIS (JTA) — A French court rejected pleas for a public trial of the gang members accused of kidnapping and murdering Ilan Halimi because he was Jewish.
Wednesday’s decision, on the first day of a nationally anticipated case, was a blow to the Halimi family and Jewish institutions. They have argued in favor of a public trial because they say it would reveal the xenophobia behind the killing and its national significance.
Outside the courtroom, a crowd of about 100 Jewish youth, mostly members of the Jewish Defense League, and adults wearing Jewish symbols protested the day’s anticipated closed-door ruling.
A closed trial “will take the tone of a family drama, whereas we needed a trial about prejudices capable of killing and about 21st century anti-Semitism,” said Raphael Haddad, head of the French Jewish Student Union in an interview with the French daily Le Monde.
French law forbids the trial be made public because two of the 27 suspects were minors when the crime took place.
Defense lawyers told JTA that their clients did not necessarily object to a public trial because it might have helped influence opinion in their favor.
On July 10, judges will ultimately rule whether anti-Semitism is to blame for the fate of Halimi, 23, who was held for ransom and savagely tortured to death in 2006.
Though suspects told police the kidnapping was planned under the pretense that Jews were rich and worth a larger ransom, some police investigators and opinions expressed in the media have maintained that the accused did not act out of hatred for Jews.
During Halimi’s capture, police also denied anti-Semitism was a motive for the crime.
The leader of the gang, known as the Barbarians, is expected to reassert in the coming weeks that he is not anti-Semitic. Upon entering court, a smiling Youssouf Fofana, 28, told the packed room that his last name was newly changed to ARABS, to stand for “African Revolt Armed Barbarian Salafist.”