Ahead of elections, France refrains from calling incident anti-Semitic
Audrey Brachelle says Arab assailants drew swastikas on her body; labeling event anti-Semitic could affect final round of presidential elections.
MARSEILLES -Days before the presidential elections in France, authorities are reluctant to label as anti-Semitic an incident in which 22-year-old Audrey Brachelle was brutally attacked last Thursday in Marseilles.
Brachelle claims her Arab assailants stripped her and drew swastikas on her body.
Brachelle, an accountant at a textile factory, told Haaretz she was followed by two Middle-Eastern looking assailants on her way to the metro station in La Rose, a Marseilles neighborhood home to many Arab immigrants as well as Jews. According to her account of the incident, they snatched her cellular phone.
While she was resisting the robbery, they noticed she was wearing a golden locket bearing a Hebrew "Chai." That's when the robbery turned into an anti-Semitic attack. According to Brachelle, her attackers began striking her in the head. Then, one of them pulled a knife, cut a tuft of her hair and slashed her shirt. The two men then drew a swastika on her bare chest and fled the scene.
The police do not have any evidence refuting Brachelle's story, nor have they indicated they have any reason to doubt her account. She even helped reenact the incident at the scene. Tzvi Amar, president of the Marseilles Jewish community, told Haaretz that the attorney general's office informed him that he had concluded the attack was indeed anti-Semitic. Yet the police spokesman would only say the case "required further investigation."
This may be because calling the incident an anti-Semitic attack could have far-reaching political ramifications for the final round in the presidential elections, scheduled for May 6.
Anti-Semitism and violent behavior by Arab immigrants are hot topics that right-wing candidate Nicolas Sarkozy often alludes to. He has warned voters that his left-wing rival, Segolene Royal, might endanger French society by being overly lenient in such cases.
"I don't know what really happened, but it smells fishy," Farid Tayer, who runs a vegetable stand less than 100 meters from the scene of the attack, says. "It strikes me as a provocation connected to the elections. I think someone is hoping to filch a couple of votes off of this affair. Jews and Arabs have lived peacefully for a long time. The real violence here is on the part of Sarkozy, who's threatening to use force against us immigrants."
Tzvi Amar believes the opposite. He thinks Brachelle was indeed attacked because she was Jewish, and that authorities are stifling such claims because of their electoral volatility. The local Jewish community as a whole, however, is adopting a very ginger approach to the entire affair. They have been bitten once, and now they are twice shy.
In 2004, a French woman claimed six North African immigrants attacked her and her baby in a train near Paris. She said they beat her and her son, and scrawled a swastika on her body. Political mayhem ensued, until it was revealed that the alleged victim was not actually Jewish, and that she had invented the entire story.
The Jewish community is determined not to see the incident reoccur, and is keeping a low profile on the incident.
Meanwhile, Brachelle does not want to leave her home. Her concerned family members told Haaretz that she has been frightened, confused and suffering from acute headaches since the incident. "We can't even go near her, she just screams at us to leave her alone," they say.