French police falsely arrest anti-Zionist Jewish leader after “murder” hoax

In the early hours of Tuesday morning, Pierre Stambul and his partner were violently awoken by police at their home in the French port city of Marseille.

“It was a bad moment because the cops came in my home very, very violently,” Stambul, co-president of the French Jewish Union for Peace (Union Juive Française pour la Paix – UFJP), told The Electronic Intifada. “They broke the doors to enter. I was handcuffed for one hour and spent seven hours in jail.”

The ordeal was the result of an anonymous, false tip-off to police that Stambul had murdered his wife.

Stambul, a strong critic of Israel, believes it was intended to stop him giving a speech in Toulouse that evening on anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.

Stambul says police put him in a cell for three hours before he was questioned. When he told them his suspicions of who had given the tip-off, they held him for another three hours while they checked out the story.

Sophisticated prank

Bouches-du-Rhône police chief Laurent Nunez told AFP that “Stambul was the victim of a prank, a malicious act.”

Nunez drew a comparison to previous acts that followed the same pattern attributed to Ulcan, the nickname for Gregory Chelli, a French Jewish extremist now living in present-day Israel.

According to Nunez, “someone called the police using his [Stambul’s] number saying he had killed his wife.”

During Stambul’s detention, word spread quickly on social media and, Stambul says, hundreds of people from France, Belgium and even Israel called the police to urge them to release him.

Stambul says he’s received no apology from the police for the false arrest.

Censorship

Stambul noted that in April, the Toulouse mayor banned the South African anti-apartheid veteran Farid Esack from speaking about Palestine in the city.

There were calls for a similar ban on Stambul, but Toulouse authorities allowed his event to proceed.

Such draconian bans on free speech have been increasingly used to target Palestine solidarity organizations in France on the pretext of protecting public order and fighting anti-Semitism and hate speech.

Stambul pointed out that social media postings by anti-Palestinian extremists had called on activists to go to Toulouse to try to shut down his talk.

In its own announcement of Stambul’s Toulouse speech, UFJP states that it “totally supports the Palestinian people’s call for boycott, divestment and sanctions.”

It adds that “Zionism is not only criminal against Palestinians. It is also suicidal for Jews. It is against all Jewish secular and religious traditions. It manipulates the history, memory and identity of Jews. In claiming to represent Jews it promotes confusion. It does not fight anti-Semitism but promotes it.”

Tuesday night’s speech did go ahead despite Stambul’s false arrest. It was a “big success,” he said, and hundreds of people attended.

Suspect: “Ulcan”

Stambul – like the police – believes the false tip-off fit the modus operandi of Gregory Chelli, a former member of French affiliate of the Jewish Defense League, the (Ligue de Defense Juive).

Notably, Chelli posted on his Facebook page on 9 June that “the anti-Israel kapo Pierre Stambul, president of the anti-Zionist organization UFJP, got a visit from the police. That’s annoying because this evening he was supposed to go and organize an event with the BDS.”

“Kapo” is the name given to Jews who collaborated with the authorities in Nazi death camps during the Second World War. It is used today by some Zionists to attack Jewish critics of Israel or Zionism.

Chelli linked to the announcement for Stambul’s Toulouse speech, which was cosponsored by the local BDS France chapter, a group that supports boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS).

Lethal pranks

Chelli, who lives in Ashdod in present-day Israel, has a history of severe harassment of French journalists and activists.

In the most notorious incident last year, Chelli targeted the family of French journalist Benoit Le Corre, possibly precipitating the death of this father.

Le Corre’s crime? He had reported on Chelli’s hacking attacks on Palestine solidarity websites.

In a prank call to Le Corre’s parents on 31 July, Chelli allegedly impersonated a police officer and told them that their son had been killed in a car accident.

Two days later, Chelli allegedly called the police again impersonating Le Corre’s father Thierry Le Corre, and claimed to have just murdered his wife and son.

Armed police raided the home, finding only Le Corre’s terrified parents.

A few days later, Thomas Le Corre suffered a massive heart attack in which, doctors said, the stress of these events was likely a factor. The elder Le Corre died in hospital a few days later.

Given the impunity and safe harbor Chelli enjoys for his activities, blogger Richard Silverstein asks: “Is Chelli engaging in this behavior alone or does he have support? If so, are his supporters individuals or associated with official sources. Does the Israeli government or security services have a hand in his activities? This isn’t a far-fetched question. A French national has violated serious laws and Israel refuses to take any action.”

Undeterred

Pierre Stambul said the timing of the attack on him was no coincidence.

“In Israel now they are completely crazy and frightened about BDS and especially what happened with Orange,” he said, referring to the French multinational telecom company’s recent announcement that it plans to pull its brand out of Israel.

“In my opinion, the existence of anti-Zionist Jews is very disturbing to them,” Stambul said of those targeting his organization.

“We have seen now that the Zionists know they are losing the battle of public opinion,” he added, “so we have to go on.”

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Ali Abunimah

Ali Abunimah's picture

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.