(JTA) — French President Emmanuel Macron said anti-Semitism was the reason for the deadly 2003 stabbing of a 23-year-old Jewish man whose killer was found unfit to stand trial.
Macron made the statement in a letter dated May 20 to Meyer Habib, a French-Jewish lawmaker who last month wrote the president to request belated recognition for Sebastien Selam, a DJ who was killed by his Muslim neighbor, as a victim of anti-Semitic violence.
“Recalled because of the heinous killing of Mirelle Knoll, the memory of this young Frenchman who fell a victim to the darkest of fanaticism lives on,” Macron wrote. Knoll, a Holocaust survivor, was stabbed to death in her Paris apartment on March 23. Prosecutors said a neighbor and an accomplice killed her, partly because she was Jewish.
The memory of Selam, Macron wrote, is part of “our national community, which is profoundly affected by anti-Semitic crimes like the one perpetrated against Sebastien Selam.”
It was the first time that a French official recognized the slaying as anti-Semitic. However, the recognition is symbolic and will not be reflected in the judiciary’s records on the case.
A French court in 2010 ruled that Selam’s killer, Adel Amastaibou, suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and was unable to control his actions. He was released from a psychiatric institution earlier this year in what Habib described in his letter to Macron as an “affront” to Selam’s relatives. Habib wrote this Sunday on Facebook.
Witnesses said they heard Amastaibou scream immediately after killing Selam in northern Paris: “I killed a Jew, I’m going to heaven.” Amastaibou later told police investigators about the killing of Selam that “Allah willed it.”
Amastaibou was a petty criminal who became a radical Muslim.
The labeling of some violent crimes against Jews as owing to psychiatric problems has provoked widespread anger among the Jewish community in France, prompting some critics to call it a cover-up by authorities or the judiciary.
Last year, the French anti-Semitism watchdog BNVCA protested the initial hospitalization at a psychiatric institution of Kobili Traore, the defendant in a trial for the alleged murder of his Jewish neighbor, Sarah Halimi, on April 4, 2017. Traore shouted “Allah is the greatest” in Arabic and called Halimi a “demon.” Her daughter said he had called the daughter a “dirty Jew” two years before murdering her mother. Traore ultimately was deemed fit top stand trial and put in jail.
Raphael Enthoven, a prominent philosopher of Jewish descent, complained ironically during a radio interview in September that in France, “all the anti-Semites are crazy.”
In 2015, a man who stabbed a Jewish man and assaulted a rabbi and his son in Marseille was deemed unfit to stand trial until he underwent a second psychiatric examination amid protests by local Jews. The man, who had no history of mental illness, was sent to prison for four years.