The Jewish Chronicle

Dismay at Paris heckler jail term

- BY SHIRLI SITBON PARIS

A MAN tried for insulting Jewish philosophe­r Alain Finkielkra­ut during an anti-government Yellow Vest (gilets jaunes) protest has been given a twomonth suspended sentence.

Prosecutor­s had sought a six-month suspended sentence and a €45,000 (£39,700) fine for Benjamin Weller, one of several men who attacked the academic on February 16 after recognisin­g him as he emerged from a taxi near his Paris home.

Weller, the only attacker identified so far, was filmed shouting “dirty Zionist”, “dirty race”, “you’re going to die and go to hell” and “France is ours! It’s ours”.

The court recognised the insults were antisemiti­c and not a political statement against Zionism, as claimed by the defendant. But the leader of the Jewish umbrella group Crif told the JC he was disappoint­ed by the sentence.

“It’s unbearable,” Francis Kalifat said. “How can a two-month suspended sentence dissuade anyone from carrying out such attacks?

“The justice system is not doing its job when it’s handing down such lenient sentences. It has to be firm. It may seem harsh, but being firm is the only way to dissuade people from repeating such acts.”

During his trial, Weller told the court “Zionists and other lobbies” control France, and that “Zionists are the reason people are suffering in France”.

The presiding judge said this proved his insults were antisemiti­c: “We consider Alain Finkielkra­ut was targeted because of his identity. The accused used all of the usual antisemiti­c stereotype­s implying they’re not part of the nation and saying that they want to dominate the world. The word ‘Zionist’ in this context has an antisemiti­c connotatio­n.”

But Weller denied being antisemiti­c and said his attacks on Mr Finkielkra­ut were a political statement against the philosophe­r’s right-wing views expressed over the years about preserving French identity, which Weller and his lawyers described as racist.

“My client’s statements were a reaction to Mr Finkielkra­ut’s own comments. We reject the court’s claims my client used antisemiti­c stereotype­s,” attorney Ouadie Elhamamouc­hi told the JC.

“There are clearly double standards here. Mr Finkielkra­ut has never been convicted for his own statements,” he said, confirming they would appeal the ruling “as a matter of principle”.

During his testimony to the court in May, Mr Finkielkra­ut said he had been stunned by the attack: “I tried to understand why they were heckling me. I think that had police not stopped them from approachin­g me, they would have attacked me physically.”

Weller had previously been flagged by French authoritie­s as a Salafist, although he told the court he abandoned those practices several years ago. He said the Yellow Vest movement included all kinds of activists who had a common contempt for Zionists.

 ?? PHOTO:PA ?? Benjamin Weller was given a suspended sentence
PHOTO:PA Benjamin Weller was given a suspended sentence

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