European Jewish Congress
March in Paris in Memory of Slain Jewish Youth
March in Paris in Memory of Slain Jewish Youth

Up to 200,000 people marched Sunday, February 26th through Paris in an emotional demonstration against racism and anti-Semitism, in memory of Ilan Halimi, a young Jewish man that was tortured and murdered in what many French authorities and the Jewish community have called an anti-Semitic act.

The marchers included Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy, Socialist party head Francois Hollande and former Prime Minister Lionel Jospin, among Jewish leaders and community groups, as well as representatives from Muslim and other minority associations.

This mass demonstration was organized following a joint call mid-last week to mobilize nationally, from the CRIF, the representative body of French Jews, and the anti-racism NGOs SOS-Racism and LICRA.

The marchers, who braved particularly cold weather, started at the Place de la Republique in central Paris, continuing to place de la Nation. Although the demonstration followed a traditional march route, it also passed the mobile telephone shop on Boulevard Voltaire where Halimi worked.

Among the participants were Dalil Boubakeur, head of the Paris Mosque and Chairman of the Council of Muslims in France, and Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger.

"We invited all democratic forces in France to this march," Pierre Besnainou, the President of the European Jewish Congress, told the Israeli newspaper {Haaretz}, adding that he attributed particular importance to the fact that so many non-Jews participated in the march. "What is important for us is to send the message that violence against a Jewish citizen of France is an act of violence to all of France."

Roger Cukierman, President of the CRIF, expressed satisfaction with the results of the rally. "It's important for French society to recognize that small racist and anti-Semitic prejudices can have terrible and dreadful consequences," he said in an interview with Radio Europe 1.

In the run-up to the march, some members from the right-wing Front National party announced their attention to attend, but were soon banned from the event's organizers. A far-right politician, Philippe de Villiers, who is not affiliated to the Front National, attempted to join the march on Sunday, but was ejected by police officers.

The police presence was particularly heavy, in part due to the participation of so many political personalities, including Minister Sarkozy, whose remarks before last years Paris riots turned him into a hated figure for many disaffected Muslim youth in the troubled suburbs of France's cities.

Police estimated the number of marchers at 33,000, although the CRIF said up to 200,000 people joined the march.

Details Emerging of Murder

On January 21st, the 23-year old Ilan Halimi was lured from the store where he worked selling cell phones in the 11th district in central Paris, after meeting a woman in an internet chat-room. He was then abducted by a criminal gang and brought to a suburban housing project where he was held and tortured, while his family received ransom demands.

After three weeks of unrelenting torture, Ilan Halimi was found naked and covered with burns in a train station outside Paris on February 13th - he died on the way to a hospital.

After the most recent wave of anti-Semitic arson attacks, graffiti incidents, desecrations and physical assaults since 2000, the Jewish community quickly noted that this was the first direct death in what they quickly called an anti-Semitic act.

In an television interview just released to French media, Youssouf Fofana, 25 years old and the suspected leader of the “Barbarians,” the group that carried out Halimi's kidnapping and murder, said that he had acted only for money, and was not responsible for his murder. He is now awaiting extradition from the Ivory Coast, where he had fled after the killing.

Although the Jewish community has seemingly made up its mind on the motives for Halimi's murder, the French public at large is still questioning if anti-Semitism played a role. Regardless, the details emerging point exclusively to an anti-Semitic motive, deeper than the fact that the “Barbarians” had apprently targeted Jews because they believed that all Jews are rich.

At least two apprehended members of the gang have admitted that they targeted Jews, and a third told police that he extinguished a cigarette on Halimi's head because he was Jewish.

The march on Sunday was among the largest in Paris against racism and anti-Semitism since a massive Paris demonstration in May 1990, when around one million people assembled in the capital to protest the desecration of an ancient cemetery in Carpentras, in southern France.

Smaller gatherings took place Sunday in the cities of Lyon, Nice, Strasbourg and Marseille, with Archbishop Jean-Pierre Ricard taking part in a rally in Bordeaux

Tuesday, February 28, 2006
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