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Far right, far left row haunts march for slain Holocaust survivor

Politicians including Les Républicains MP Eric Ciotti, party president Laurent Wauquiez, Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo and others prepare to take part in a silent march in Paris on March 28.
3 min

French far-right and far-left groups are insisting on going to marches in honour of a Holocaust survivor brutally killed in a suspected anti-Semitic attack this week despite calls from a leading Jewish group for them not to attend.

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The horrific murder of Mireille Knoll, 85, has shocked France. She was found with 11 stab wounds at her apartment in a working-class district of Paris on Friday. The apartment was set ablaze after the attack and her body badly burnt. Investigators are working on the theory that Knoll, who was also robbed, was targeted because she was Jewish.

French President Emmanuel Macron attended her funeral on Wednesday, with his Élysée Palace office saying that Macron went to the ceremony "in a personal capacity, to support the family".

Earlier in the day, Macron denounced Knoll's attacker as someone who "murdered an innocent and vulnerable woman because she was Jewish, and in doing so profaned our sacred values and our history".

Thousands turned out for a silent memorial march, known as a marche blanche (white march), in her honour on Wednesday in Paris. It was planned by CRIF (Conseil Représentatif des Institutions Juives de France), an umbrella organisation of French Jewish groups, whose leader has asked far-right and far-left groups not to attend.

CRIF director Francis Kalifat said neither the far-right National Front nor members of the far left would be welcome at the march because of the anti-Semitic sentiment prevalent among some of their members.

Kalifat told RTL radio: "Anti-Semites are over-represented in the far left and the far right ... Therefore they are not welcome."

Nevertheless, National Front leader Marine Le Pen tweeted Wednesday that the CRIF can't stop her from attending. She has sought to distance herself from the anti-Semitism that stained her party in the past (the founder of the party, Le Pen’s father Jean-Marie, has described the Holocaust as a “mere detail of history”), instead focusing anger on immigrants and Islamist extremists.

Representatives from the far left were equally undeterred. "We had planned to take part in the rally and will be there no matter what," lawmaker Adrien Quatennens of the far-left France Insoumise (France Unbowed) party told LCP TV.

The stance of CRIF underscores the alarm among France's 400,000-strong Jewish community over rising anti-Semitism, which Interior Minister Gérard Collomb on Tuesday described as a cancer that must not be allowed to eat away at the nation. According to interior ministry figures, violent anti-Semitic crimes have risen 25 percent since 2016.

Officials at Paris's main mosque have expressed support for the Knoll's family, saying "the evident anti-Semitic character of this murder is denounced and condemned by all the Muslims of France".

Knoll’s son says ‘open to all’

But while CRIF was adamant about the far right and far left staying away, Knoll's son Daniel said the rally should be open to everyone.

"CRIF is playing politics but I'm just opening my heart," he told RMC radio, saying a ban was not the right approach.

Ministers in Macron's government said the rally should be a moment of national unity.

"Everybody is welcome to come and honour the memory of this woman today," government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux told Radio Classique.

Other rallies in honour of Knoll – who narrowly escaped being deported to Auschwitz during World War II when 13,000 Jews were rounded up in July 1942 at the infamous Vél d'Hiv stadium in Paris – are planned in Lyon, Marseille and Strasbourg.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)

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