Paris (AFP) – Mourners were to gather in Paris on Wednesday for a silent march to honour an 85-year-old Jewish woman killed in what police are treating as an anti-Semitic attack, as tensions grew over the expected participation of far-right and far-left leaders against the organisers’ wishes.
Mireille Knoll, who escaped a notorious roundup and deportation of Jews from Paris during World War II, was found dead in her bed in her small apartment in eastern Paris on Friday by firefighters called to extinguish a blaze.
Police arrested a neighbour and another suspect who have been charged in the latest of several attacks that have rattled France’s Jewish community.
Investigators are working on the theory that Knoll’s killers stabbed her, robbed her and set her body on fire because she was a Jew.
“The terrible thing is that one of the attackers told the other: ‘She’s a Jew, she must have money’,” Interior Minister Gerard Collomb told parliament on Tuesday.
Several leading politicians including Collomb and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo have said they will attend the march from 1630 GMT, making their way from Place de la Nation to Knoll’s home.
Parliamentary proceedings will also be suspended to allow politicians to join the march.
“We are going to make a strong display against anti-Semitism,” Collomb told France Inter radio Wednesday.
“My generation thought this was finished, that after the shock of the Holocaust for everyone, never again would there be systematic attacks.”
The CRIF umbrella group of French Jewish organisations said Tuesday that neither the far-right National Front, nor far-left France Unbowed where some have criticised Israeli policies, were welcome at the event.
“I made it very clear, I explained that the high number of anti-Semites on both the extreme left and the extreme right made these parties unacceptable,” CRIF president Francis Kalifat told RTL radio.
But National Front leader Marine Le Pen announced she would attend the march along with other party officials, citing a call by Knoll’s son Daniel for “everyone, without exception” to attend.
Jean-Luc Melenchon, head of the leftwing France Unbowed party, also plans to participate, party sources told AFP.
– Growing anti-Semitism fears –
Mireille Knoll’s family will also be received by Prime Minister Edouard Philippe on Wednesday.
The death of the frail octogenarian — she was suffering from Parkinson’s disease, one of her sons said — has shocked France’s Jewish community. It comes a year after an Orthodox Jewish woman in her sixties was thrown out of the window of her Paris flat by a neighbour shouting “Allahu Akhbar” (God is greatest).
A judge confirmed just last month that the April 2017 murder of Sarah Halimi was motivated by anti-Semitism, a delay that drew the ire of several Jewish groups.
Halimi’s murder reignited the debate over anti-Semitism in working-class districts in France, where Jews have been targeted in several deadly jihadist attacks in recent years.
France’s half-a-million-plus Jewish community is the largest in Europe but has been hit by a wave of emigration to Israel in the past two decades, partly due to the emergence of a virulent strain of anti-Semitism in predominantly immigrant neighbourhoods.
In 2012, an Islamist gunman shot dead three children and a teacher at a Jewish school in the southwestern city of Toulouse.
Three years later, an associate of the two brothers who massacred a group of cartoonists at satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo killed four people in a hostage-taking at a Jewish supermarket in Paris.