PARIS (Reuters) – France’s far-right National Front and far-left France Unbowed movement said they would take part in a march on Wednesday to honor a Holocaust survivor killed in a suspected anti-Semitic attack, despite calls by a Jewish group for them not to attend.
Mireille Knoll, 85, was found dead 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. Police suspect that part of the motive for the killing was because Knoll was Jewish.
A march to honor her will take place in Paris later on Wednesday, organized by Crif, an umbrella organization of French Jewish groups. But Crif’s leader told far-right and far-left groups not to attend.
“Anti-Semites are over-represented in the far-left and the far-right, making those parties ones that you don’t want to be associated with,” Crif director Francis Kalifat told RTL radio. “Therefore they are not welcome.”
His comments underscore the enduring tension and alarm among France’s 400,000-strong Jewish community over anti-Semitism, which Interior Minister Gerard Collomb on Tuesday described as a cancer that must not be allowed to eat away at the nation.
But while Crif was adamant about the far-right and far-left staying away, Mereille 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.
Other rallies in honor of Knoll, who narrowly escaped being deported to Auschwitz during World War Two, when 13,000 Jews were rounded up in July 1942 at the Vel d’Hiv velodrome in Paris, are planned in Lyon, Marseille and Strasbourg.
The far-left said it would take part.
“We had planned to take part in the rally and will be there no matter what,” France Unbowed lawmaker Adrien Quatennens told LCP TV. “Being associated with anti-Semitism is unbearable.”
The National Front said officials including leader Marine Le Pen, who has strived to rid the party of the anti-Semitic associations it gained under her father, party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, would attend the Paris march.
Ministers in President Emmanuel Macron’s government said the rally should be a moment of national unity.
“Everybody is welcome to come and honor the memory of this woman today,” government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux told Radio Classique.
Despite Marine Le Pen’s efforts to modernize her party, France’s top court provided a reminder of its past — it confirmed on Tuesday the conviction and her father for describing the Nazi gas chambers as a “detail” of history, and reaffirmed a 30,000 euro fine against him.
Reporting by Ingrid Melander and Sophie Louet; Editing by Luke Baker and Angus MacSwan