Tens of thousands of demonstrators, joined by politicians of all stripes, marched through Paris on Sunday to protest racism and anti-Semitism after the torture and killing of a Paris Jew.
Police said some 33,000 people marched, while organizers said anywhere from 80,000 to 200,000 people took part.
Smaller marches took place in Strasbourg, Lyon, Marseille and Bordeaux, where Archbishop Jean-Pierre Ricard, named a cardinal this week by the pope, joined in.
Several government ministers joined the march in Paris, which made its way from Place de la Republique to La Place de la Nation, in eastern Paris, in a chilling cold.
“Today, we must march, we must stand up, to say that in France each of us has the right to live in dignity whatever his God, his religion, the color of his skin,” said Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy.
With punches and boos, a crowd ejected right-wing politician Philippe de Villiers from the march. De Villiers’ Movement for France blames immigration for France’s social ills. Another political party, the extreme-right National Front, was banned from the march by organizers.
The march was called after a 23-year-old cell phone salesman, Ilan Halimi, was kidnapped Jan. 21, sequestered and tortured for three weeks in the southern Paris suburb of Bagneux. Allegedly held by a suburban gang, he was found naked, handcuffed and covered with burn marks on Feb. 13 near railroad tracks south of Paris. Halimi died on his way to a hospital.
“Ilan tortured. France wounded,” read one of the banners carried by marchers.
Halimi’s family did not take part in the march, which was preceded by a gathering of several hundred people in the southern suburb of Sainte-Genevieve-des-Bois, where Halimi was found. A maple tree was planted in his memory.
It remains unclear whether anti-Semitism was the motive for the grisly killing, which may have been part of a suburban extortion racket.
Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said Tuesday that Halimi’s attackers were primarily motivated by greed. “But they believed, and I quote, ‘that Jews have money,”’ he said. “That’s called anti-Semitism.”
He said the gang tried to kidnap six other people since December — four of them Jewish.
“To know whether they acted with anti-Semitism or partly with anti-Semitism is not important, because anti-Semitism there was,” Sarkozy said Sunday.
The gang, apparently operating for several years, also tried to extort money from several prominent figures, including Rony Brauman, a founder of Doctors Without Borders.
Brauman, who is of Jewish origin, received a demand for money in 2004 in a letter containing a photograph of hooded armed men taken in front of his home. Months later, Molotov cocktails exploded in his courtyard and a gunshot hit his door, he told LCI television Saturday.
Brauman said he did not believe anti-Semitism was a factor in his case, just money.
Statement from Jerusalem
In Jerusalem, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said France and Israel must battle anti-Semitism together.
“We are all shocked” at the killing of Halimi, she said. It shows that “anti-Semitism is not a matter only of the Jewish people and Israel, but affects the whole society in which it happens.”
France has Europe’s largest Jewish community, as well as the largest Muslim community in Western Europe.
Anti-Semitic acts, as well as acts against Muslims, increased in France starting in 2000, reflecting the rise in Israeli-Palestinian violence. They’ve since fallen off their peak, but the Halimi case has revived fears anti-Semitism remains in French society.