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'Rudy H' - anti-Semitism or turf warfare?

Latest update : 2008-06-25

The 17-year-old French Jewish boy dubbed "Rudy H" awoke from a coma on Monday, the victim of a severe beating Saturday night during ethnic gang clashes in Paris' 19th arrondissment. Was anti-Semitism the motive?

The 17-year-old French-Jewish boy dubbed by the French media as “Rudy H”  awoke Monday night from a coma caused by a violent attack Saturday night in the mixed Buttes-Chaumont neighbourhood of Paris’ 19th arrondissement. The attack was apparently brought on by clashes between two groups of youths, one Jewish and one described as “Afro-Maghreban.” Rudy was wearing his kipah (skullcap) at the time of the attack.

At the time this article went to press, Rudy H. had not issued a public statement since coming out of his coma. But no sooner had the incident occurred than two vocal camps arose: those who were certain this attack was motivated by anti-Semitism, and those who were certain that it was not.

On Tuesday, the Paris attorney-general, Jean-Claude Marin, launched a judicial inquiry, decrying the act as "an attempted murder aggravated by its anti-Semitic overtones" and "collective violence under aggravated circumstances".

Critical details remain murky

The investigation, still underway, has yielded an approximate reconstruction of Saturday’s events, which ran in Tuesday’s edition of the French daily Le Parisien.

13:30-14h: the first confrontations between the two gangs in the park of Buttes-Chaumont. One was injured, though he did not press charges.

15:30-16-the fight spills out onto the street (rue Petit), growing in number.

7pm—this critical hour, wherein all answers probably lie, remains murky. Several different versions of the events of this hour arose: one, that Rudy appeared on rue Petit wearing a kipah, and was attacked. The other is that the two gangs met for the purpose of discussing a stolen scooter, that the Jewish gang fled, and that Rudy failed to escape.

7:30 pm—Rudy H. is immobile on the pavement of rue Petit--beaten, bleeding, and apparently stomped upon.


The chief rabbi of France, Gilles Bernheim, was quoted as saying Monday that it is “probable,” but “not certain” that the aggression against Rudy was caused by anti-Semitism.

Rudy's uncle Elie was quoted as saying that “his only crime was wearing a kipah.”

Nicolas Sarkozy issued a statement that did not clearly brand the act as anti-Semitism, but said that the French president “renews his total determination to fight all forms of racism and anti-Semitism.”

Another school of thought interprets the act not as specifically anti-Jewish, but one arising as a natural result of pre-existing violence. The teen did not have a spotless record: on December 9, 2007, he was questioned by French police regarding some "incidents of an inter-community nature,” perhaps implying another ethnic/religious confrontation. The details of this incident were not available at the time this article went to press.


A schoolteacher in the neighbourhood in which the events took place, interviewed by the French daily “Le Parisien,” gave another interpretation.  “The rival groups were fighting over drug-selling territory. This was more of a struggle over money than of ethnicity.”

Violent clashes in the demographically-mixed 19th arrondissement are a common occurrence, often preceded by exchanges of ethnic slurs.

Haunted by Halimi

For many of France’s inhabitants, the Rudy incident brought to mind a similar incident that took place on February 13, 2006, in which a 23-year-old Jewish man named Ilan Halimi died from torture in the basement of 4, Rue Serge-Prokofiev. He had been shaved, stabbed, and doused in acid during his captivity. The group responsible was multi-ethnic, consisting of both blacks and whites, though their leader was of Ivoirian descent and described as a person with mental health problems. 

This incident, which continues to weigh heavily on French minds, provoked charges of anti-Semitism – though it was unclear whether the underlying motivation was bigotry or criminal greed. The perpetrators had reportedly demanded a ransom from the victim’s family, instructing them to “go and get it from your synagogue.” And the ringleader allegedly told a rabbi, “We have a Jew.” The group had previously tried to extort money from other families, some Jewish and some not Jewish.

To date, such evidence of alleged anti-Semitism has not arisen in the Rudy case.


If not anti-semitism, then what?

Many French analysts say it’s too soon to determine whether Rudy was targeted specifically as a Jew. Some point to his past run-ins with the law, suggesting that the incident was just another chapter in a long-standing feud.

The issue has revived the debate as to whether anti-Semitism is on the rise in France.

On “The FRANCE 24 Debate", Ernst Hillebrand, Paris director of the Friederich Eberhard Instutute, said, "Statistically, anti-Semitism is on the rise, but  all over Europe, not just in France."

On the same edition of The Debate, Laurent Chambon, a member of the Labour Party Council in the Netherlands - another nation with claims of rising anti-Semitism - said that the problem is broader than it appears. “It's not just anti-Semitism; it's coupled with homophobia, and sexism." Furthermore, Chambon believes that such hate crimes are rooted in “malaise” among the perpetrators. He adds, "They are not happy with themselves. The real question is, what makes these youngsters attracted by an ideology of hatred?"

Date created : 2008-06-24