The Arty Semite

How an Age-Old Stereotype Led to a Horrific Kidnapping

By Renee Ghert-Zand

  • Print
  • Share Share

Was the 2006 kidnapping, 24-day long torture, and murder of 23-year-old French-Jewish cell phone salesman Ilan Halimi by a suburban Paris gang fueled by anti-Semitism? In the new documentary film, “Jews & Money,” there’s no doubt about the answer.

Courtesy of Stephanie Yin

In the film we see lawyers arguing over the validity of anti-Semitic hate crime charges, but filmmaker Lewis Cohen’s starting point is obvious. The story of Halimi’s murder and its aftermath serves as a springboard for the history and development of Western anti-Semitis, and the adoption of its elements by Islamists and others opposed to the State of Israel.

In particular, it is the gang leader’s admission that Halimi was targeted because of the belief that all Jews are rich, which sets the stage for the filmmaker’s investigation of this invidious canard.

Cohen told an audience at the first screening of the film’s final cut on April 17 at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco that it was the topic of Jews and money, and not the Halimi case specifically, that first interested him. He said he hadn’t thought much about the origin of the stereotype until he took an extended trip to Europe about five years ago. He decided he wanted to focus on the subject, and when someone told him about Halimi, he realized the crime was an excellent framing device.

To contextualize the anti-Semitism of the Halimi case, Cohen brings commentary from historians like Sara Lipton of SUNY Stony Brook, NYU’s Robert Chazan, and Derek Penslar of the University of Toronto. Professor and writer Joshua Halberstam sheds light on the meaning of money to Jews today, in particular in the Hasidic community from which he originates.

These scholarly insights and explanations, accompanied by visuals ranging from Medieval art to Nazi-era propaganda posters to early 20th-century Hollywood movies, take the viewer into the history of how Jews became associated with money lending, and of the advent of the anti-Semitic notion that Jews control the world economy. A visit to Rothenburg, Germany, where Rabbi Meir ben Baruch refused to be redeemed after being taken captive by ransom seekers, provides historical context to Halimi’s kidnapping.

These slower-paced segments provide a respite and counterpoint to the suspenseful black-and-white re-enactments of the 2006 crime. There are also fast-cut scenes shot outside the courtroom in 2009 and 2010, as well as interviews with Halimi’s mother and girlfriend, locals in the suburban Paris housing projects that are home to the gang members, and a number of journalists and attorneys.

Cohen, a French-speaking Montrealer, mentioned that it was difficult to get the Parisian Jewish community to open up to him. He also said that the only reason a couple of young men from the housing projects would agree to speak to him on film was because he wasn’t from the French media.

The filmmaker clearly prevailed against such challenges, creating a complex yet cohesive narrative. Even those already familiar with the Halimi case and with the history of anti-Semitism come away emotionally rattled by how Cohen managed to put it all together.

The next screening of “Jews & Money” will take place at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival on April 21, and it will be broadcast on Canadian television at the end of the month. It is not yet scheduled for a theatrical release.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Renee Ghert-Zand, Lewis Cohen, Jews and Money, Film, Ilan Halimi

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.