The Dreyfus Affair Again
By Bradford R. Pilcher - February 7, 2002
There is a statue of Alfred Dreyfus standing in Paris, France.
Students of Jewish history will recall that Dreyfus, the first Jew to
serve on the French army general staff, was wrongly accused of
spying for Germany in the late nineteenth century.
More than just wrongly accused, Dreyfus was persecuted. He was
strung up as much for his Judaism as his alleged wrongs, proving
once and for all that anti-Semitism was alive and well in France,
and indeed throughout Europe. Despite unprecedented attempts
at assimilation, the Jews found not acceptance but cries of hatred.
When Dreyfus was paraded through the streets of Paris in a
humiliating display, "Death to Dreyfus" was not the call of the
mob. Instead, they chanted, "Death to the Jews."
Students of history will also recall who was in the jeering crowd
on that day. Theodor Herzl, who was reporting on the Dreyfus
Affair, was there to hear the citizens of Paris demanding death for
his people. He saw the meaning of the events surrounding
Dreyfus's persecution, that in spite of their most sincere efforts,
the Jews could not be secure as a homeless minority.
Herzl thus committed himself to the cause of Zionism, and a
half-century later that cause was fulfilled. As we look back, we
must therefore see not only Herzl's role in the proliferation of
Zionism, but Dreyfus's as well.
It is then with some irony that a second, albeit far more minor,
Dreyfus Affair has recently occurred. Just this past week, that
statue of Dreyfus was vandalized. A yellow Star of David, like
Hitler once forced the Jews to wear, was painted over the statue's
plaque. The words, "Dirty Jew" accompanied it.
An act of anti-Semitic vandalism is, sadly, not uncommon in
France. Since the outbreak of the Al-Aqsa Intifada, worldwide
anti-Semitism has seen a marked increase. France has been one
of the centers of that upswing, so much so that even top
government officials and diplomats find themselves in anti-Jewish
France, where Dreyfus was tried and the Vichy collaborated, has
been exposed as a nation where anti-Semitism has not been
defeated. Instead, its anti-Semitism has been left under the rug
to grow like a mold, ready to lash out when the moment is right.
Still these recent events speak to more than just France. They
speak to the world, and particularly the Jews' role in it.
This recent vandalism should be a new symbol, teaching us the
same lesson Herzl learned one day in Paris. Despite all our best
hopes and efforts, hatred of the Jews did not end in 1945. Jewish
assimilation, no matter the degree, has done virtually nothing to
ensure Jewish security, and so it remains as true today as it did a
The Jews cannot be secure as a homeless minority, drifting from
country to country. A Jewish homeland - the Jewish homeland - is
not just preferable. It is a necessity. Dreyfus, against his will,
taught this to Herzl just over one hundred years ago. Today, by
way of a senseless but indicative act of vandalism, Dreyfus is
teaching us this lesson again.
Let us not forget so easily this time.
Bradford R. Pilcher is a student at
Georgia State University in
Atlanta, Georgia. Over the past
few years, he's been active in
countering Holocaust denial and
developing Israel education
programs. Information on Israel
and these efforts can be obtained
from Learningisrael.com. He can
be reached at
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