AVIGNON, France (JTA) – Jewish leaders in France and relatives of the gunman who murdered four at a Jewish school in Toulouse protested the staging of a play on the killer’s life at the prestigious Avignon theater festival.
“I Love Death as You Love Life,” which premiered last week at the Festival of Avignon in southern France, details the last three hours in the life of Mohammed Merah, the Islamist who in 2012 murdered a rabbi and two of his sons along with a girl at the school. He also shot dead three French soldiers.
Ariel Goldmann, a vice-president of the CRIF umbrella group of French Jewish communities and spokesman for the SPCJ communal security unit, called the play “a disgrace and an ignominy” in a statement Wednesday that he co-authored with three other prominent community members.
The play is an “enterprise of justification being falsely presented under the alibi of artistic expression,” Goldman added in his letter, which was co-signed by Patrick Klugman, Elie Korchia and Jacques Gauthier-Gaujoux.
The Algerian playwright Mohamed Kacimi defended his work as “anything but a justification or rehabilitation of Merah,” but rather as “an interrogation about a monster created by society.”
The play, featuring two actors separated by a thin wall, is based on transcriptions of talks between Merah and counterterrorism agents who besieged the killer’s hiding place two days after the attack on the school. Merah, 23, was killed in a shootout with police when they broke in following the breakdown of negotiations aimed at getting Merah to come out peacefully.
In one scene, the actor portraying Merah tells the other actor that he had ordered a slice of four-cheese pizza after killing the children.
Some of the objections to the play, including by the National Bureau for Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism, were over what critics said was the “banalization” of Merah’s actions, and one of several perceived attempts to attribute them to his personal circumstances rather than ideology and portray him as vulnerable.