Staff at French Talmud school charged with mistreating pupils

Seven staff members of an ultra-orthodox Jewish religious school near Paris have been charged with "aggravated violence", prosecutors said Saturday, after students were taken into care.

This general view shows buildings on the estate which housed a Talmud school in Bussieres
This general view shows buildings on the estate which housed a Talmud school in Bussieres, on the outskirts of Paris, on February 1st, 2022, after 17 staff members were taken in for questioning by police, following reports of alleged acts of physical and psychological abuse against US and Israeli minors. Maryam EL HAMOUCHI / AFP

The Beth Yossef school in Bussieres, around 60 kilometres (35 miles) east of the capital Paris, had been hosting around 60 children aged 13-18 including  “many underage American and Israeli children who do not speak French in abusive conditions”, prosecutor Laureline Peyrefitte said earlier this week.

The children allegedly suffered “being locked up, confiscation of their identity documents, poor conditions, acts of abuse, lack of access to education and healthcare, and no possibility of returning to their families”.

Police said they had taken 17 members in staff in for questioning.

The seven were charged on Friday with various offences relating to the mistreatment of pupils and placed under judicial supervision, Peyrefitte added on Saturday.

Site managers, teaching staff, supervisors had “generally denied the facts even if some were able to describe acts like slaps and blows”, she said.

An American boy escaped from the school in July and sought shelter at the US embassy in Paris.

Others followed, and Israeli public television has been investigating the school for months.

Some of the children have already been returned to their parents. 

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French pensioner pushed out of 17th-floor window ‘may have been victim of anti-Semitic attack’

An 89-year-old man who was pushed out of his 17th-storey window by a neighbour may have been killed because he was Jewish, a prosecutor said on Friday, after several shocking anti-Semitic murders in France in recent years.

French pensioner pushed out of 17th-floor window 'may have been victim of anti-Semitic attack'

The victim’s body was found at the foot of his building in Lyon, southeast France, on May 17th and the 51-year-old neighbour was arrested. But investigators did not initially charge him with a racist crime.

Last Sunday, the BNVCA anti-Semitism watchdog group said it would seek to be a plaintiff in the case, citing its similarity with the 2017 murder of Sarah Halimi, a 65-year-old thrown from her window in a case that sparked national outcry.

“After social media postings were provided to us, the prosector’s office has asked judges to consider the aggravating circumstance of an act committed because of the victim’s ethnicity, nationality, race or religion,” Lyon prosecutor Nicolas Jacquet told AFP.

He did not provide examples of the posts, but Gilles-William Goldnadel, a lawyer and commentator for CNews television, said on Wednesday on Twitter that the suspect had called out Goldnabel in messages, including one that told him to “remember your origins.”

“It’s no longer a question of telling us it’s the act of a mentally disturbed person. The truth of anti-Semitism must no longer be hidden,” Goldnadel wrote.

France has grappled with a sharp rise in violence targeting its roughly 500,000 Jews, the largest community in Europe, in addition to jihadist attacks in recent years.

The murder of Halimi drew particular outrage after the killer, who had shouted “Allahu akbar” (“God is greatest” in Arabic), avoided trial because a judge determined he was under the influence of drugs and not criminally responsible.

That prompted President Emmanuel Macron to seek a law change to ensure people face responsibility for violent crimes while under the influence of drugs, which was adopted in December 2021.

In 2018, 85-year-old Mireille Knoll was brutally stabbed in an attack by two men said to have been looking for “hidden treasures” in her Paris apartment.