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J’Accuse: Our Dreyfus Affair

FZY Young Zionist Editor Charles Burton discusses the ripples of antisemitism throughout history asking what can be done to prevent the recent avalanche of antisemitism across the world.

I must begin this article with an apology for my relative silence in the past weeks. In light of the events of the last months, words have largely failed me. We have watched, aghast, as our neighbours and friends have turned against us, as Jews, in our universities, in our homes and in our communities. We have seen, first hand, from friends, colleagues and acquaintances, the desecration of Holocaust Memorial Day, the tacit support for attacks on our homes and places of worship and we have seen cheerleading for the genocidal destruction of not just the only Jewish state, but also her people. No doubt these are scary and isolating times.

However, they are not without precedent. Throughout the millennia of Jewish history, through success and failure, the history of Jews is inextricably linked to the history of antisemitism. Many in the community have pointed to key events of Jewish persecution in history, making links to our current predicament.  To my mind, the most apt metaphor is not that of Weimar Germany or Ancient Rome, but the French Third Republic, around the turn of the 20th century. This was the France of the Dreyfus Affair, the event where a Jewish officer of the French Army, Alfred Dreyfus, was accused of being a spy - a double agent assisting the Germans in their war against France in 1896. However, this was not the only instance of antisemitism at the time and, as Jews across France celebrated 100 years of emancipation, they saw their rights at risk of being stripped and antisemitism rising as the far right gained support in France.

This France was deeply divided and full of contradictions. It was the France of ‘La Belle Époque’, the so-called ‘Beautiful Era’ but also the France that saw the genesis of scientific antisemitism. The France that was home to successful and prominent Jews like Maurice Ephrussi, the French banker and horse breeder, but also of prominent antisemites like Edouard Drumont, the author of ‘La France Juive’, a 1200 page antisemitic conspiracy theory accusing Jews of having taken control of France’s institutions and leaders.

It is ‘La France Juive’ which really piqued my interest. This abhorrent document and the ideas and contents contained within bear striking resemblance to the rhetoric of modern-day antisemites, particularly modern antisemitic anti-Zionists.

Antisemites across the pond in the USA have recently founded the ICSZ (The Institute for the Critical Study of Zionism) who’s founding charter vows to ‘support the delinking of the study of Zionism from Jewish Studies’ and ‘to reclaim academia [from Zionist control]’. Unsurprisingly, their upcoming conference is titled ‘Battling the ‘IHRA Definition’ [of antisemitism]: Theory and Activism’. Scratch the surface and explicit antisemitism is never too difficult to find it seems. Meanwhile, a group of hundreds of Australian Jews were doxxed, with their names, social media profiles and photos being leaked by a pro-Palestinian advocacy group. Their crime? Being members of a group chat providing support after Jewish creatives experienced antisemitism in the wake of October 7th. Their crime? Being Jewish.

Both of these shocking events are mirrored in Drumont’s ‘La France Juive’. For instance, Drumont included a list of famous Jews and gentiles alike for whom he had a distaste, due to their Jewish roots or for supporting the ‘Jewish cause’. Similarly, in his newspaper, ‘La Libre Parole’, Drumont spoke of Jews as having taken over French institutions, corrupting them with their seeming greed and impurity. Seemingly, the torch of antisemitism, having moved from Drumont to the Soviet Union, has now been taken up by certain factions of the movement for Palestinian liberation.

Alarmingly, Drumont, his acolytes in France and his protégés in the USSR and now in the modern West were not our most obvious and flagrant abusers- Neo-Nazis- but rather were- and are socialists and left-wingers. As such, it is clear that, unlike so many other forms of racism and discrimination, antisemitism is not declining but rather growing in popularity, and, perhaps more alarmingly, as David Baddiel posits, ‘Jews Don’t Count’.

Closer to home, across the UK we have seen an alarming rise in antisemitism. From attempted terror attacks on our shops and synagogues to the recent scenes in Birmingham and Leeds Universities, it is clear that something has to be done.

Naturally, comparisons to Kristallnacht and similar events have also been made. You need only to see the horrific events at Pita in Golders Green to make the clear link. However, it is my belief that we are not yet at that stage. We have an opportunity to halt the untiring train of antisemitism in its tracks and change the future.

In our world, it is not yet 1896, it is not 1933 and it is not the 1940s. We have an opportunity to change our destiny and create a better, more accepting world. So, I beseech you, do not lose your courage, your patience and your determination to create this better world. Keep posting, keep sharing and keep educating. Educate the youth of our community, teach them to be proud Jews and teach them to be unafraid in the face of antisemitism. Teach the outside world. Jews make up less than half a percent of the world population so if our voices can be heard then we too can make a change. Remain true to yourself and to your beliefs. Change the path of history and make this world a better place.

Am Yisrael Chai.


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