Macron attends funeral for slain Holocaust survivor, vows to fight anti-Semitism

Tensions flare over march in memory of Mireille Knoll, with organizers saying far-right and far-left politicians not welcome

French President Emmanuel Macron at the funeral for murdered Holocaust survivor Mirelle Knoll, March 28, 2018. (Abraham Ben Isaac/Twitter, via JTA)

French President Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday attended the funeral for a Holocaust survivor who was allegedly murdered by her Muslim neighbor, saying Mireille Knoll, 85, was killed because she was Jewish and vowing to fight anti-Semitism.

Knoll’s attacker “murdered an innocent and vulnerable woman because she was Jewish, and in doing so profaned our sacred values and our history,” he said at the ceremony in the Parisian suburb of Bagneux.

He was seen wearing a kippah and talking with Knoll’s relatives and friends. Macron’s office said that after the ceremony he went to the funeral “in a personal capacity, to support the family.”

Macron had also commented about the March 23 slaying on Twitter, calling it “appalling.”

This photo, provided by Daniel Knoll on Tuesday March 27, 2018, shows the late Mireille Knoll, center, with her son Daniel and grand-daughter Jessica. (Daniel Knoll via AP)

“I am deeply affected by the appalling crime committed against Mrs. Knoll. I reaffirm my resolute determination to fight against anti-Semitism,” he wrote.

Knoll’s torched body was found with 11 stab wounds inside her apartment.

Prosecutors on Monday indicted two men, one of whom was her neighbor, in connection with what is being tried as a murder with aggravated circumstances of a hate crime. They are also charged with robbery.

Hundreds of French Jews and non-Jews were scheduled to attend a silent march in her memory later Wednesday in Paris.

Family members were also to meet with Prime Minister Edouard Philippe before the march, which will be held alongside similar gatherings in cities including Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse and Bordeaux.

Officials at Paris’s main mosque expressed its “support” for the victim’s family, saying “the evident anti-Semitic character of this murder is denounced and condemned by all the Muslims of France.”

Several leading politicians including Interior Minister Gerard Collomb and Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo have said they would attend the march starting at 5:30 p.m. making their way from Place de la Nation to Knoll’s home.

But tensions flared ahead of the march over the anticipated presence of far-right and far-left lawmakers, whom organizers had said were not welcome.

“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,” Francis Kalifat, president of the CRIF umbrella group of French Jewish organizations, told RTL radio.

National Front leader Marine Le Pen announced she would nonetheless 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 left-wing France Unbowed party, also planned to participate, party sources told AFP.

The brutal killing of the frail octogenarian — she was suffering from Parkinson’s disease, one of her sons said — has shocked France’s Jewish community.

The accused neighbor had been convicted in 2017 of sexually assaulting a 12-year-old girl, while sources close the inquiry said he and his accomplice had given conflicting accounts under questioning, each accusing the other of carrying out the attack.

“What the Nazis were unable to do, criminals, thugs have done with the same hatred,” Haim Korsia, the chief rabbi of Paris, told AFP.

Sammy Ghozlan, founder of the National Bureau of Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism, or BNVCA, on Tuesday told JTA that “authorities on the national level acted swiftly and correctly” in dealing with the investigation. It was “a lesson learned” from the handling of the slaying of another Jewish woman, Sarah Halimi, last year, he said.

Sarah Halimi. (Courtesy of the Confédération des Juifs de France et des amis d’Israël)

In April, BNVCA and the CRIF federation of French Jewish communities were among several French Jewish organizations that protested the omission of hate crime charges from the draft indictment of a Muslim man who confessed to killing Halimi, a 66-year-old physician, in her apartment.

The defendant, Kobili Traore, was heard calling Halimi, his neighbor, “a demon.” Halimi’s daughter said he had called the daughter a “dirty Jew” two years before he pummeled her mother in her apartment for over 30 minutes and threw Sarah Halimi to her death from her three-story home.

CRIF called the omission of hate crime charges a “cover-up.” They were finally included in a revised indictment following weeks of vocal lobbying by Jewish groups.

The controversy was among several similar cases in recent years, including a case last month in which a judge scrapped hate crime charges from the indictment of Arab youths who allegedly assaulted a Jewish teenager and took his kippah.

A similar exchange occurred after French prosecutors last year dropped hate crime charges in the case of four men suspected of rape and robbery at a suburban Paris home they acknowledged was targeted because it belonged to Jews. Following protests, the aggravated element also was added to their indictment.

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