The Dryfus Affair

´╗┐The Dreyfus affair was an infamous anti-Semitic plot and a political scandal that divided France, from its inception in 1894 until its resolution in 1906. The affair convinced many Jews that assimilation was a fallacy and that Zionism was the alternative.

On the morning of 5 January 1895, on the parade ground of a military college in the heart of Paris, the ceremony reducing Captain Alfred Dreyfus to the ranks, took place. The cry of "Death to the Jews" was heard from the crowd. It was only left to the humiliated prisoner to protest his innocence. Several months earlier he had been arrested and tried for spying and treason against France.

The anti-Semitic press "had a field day" at the trial and in an unprecedented effort turned Dreyfus into a symbol of the treacherous Jew. The media interest in the affair brought a large number of foreign reporters to the unhappy ceremony. Among those present was Theodor Herzl, the representative of a Viennese newspaper in France, whose encounter with this anti-Semitic revival in Europe's leading democracy, contributed to his writing of "Der Judenstaat", a landmark in the history of Zionism.

Initially, no public figures voiced any doubts as to the nature of the justice meted out, just as there was no official reaction to the wave of anti-Semitic feeling in the country. The first person to come to the defense of Dreyfus, who had meanwhile been sent to Devils Island, was Bernard Lazare, a French Jewish reporter and writer who, convinced of Dreyfus' innocence, published "the Truth about the Dreyfus Affair" in Brussels. However, by the end of 1897, Dreyfus' supporters were still few and far between.

The situation changed radically on 13th January 1898 when the author Emile Zola published his major article: "J'Accuse". The famous writer openly attacked the military establishment, accusing it of distorting the truth, and acting in a hypocritical and cowardly manner. Within a few days, many intellectuals put their names to petitions calling for a retrial.

France became a kind of battlefield in a cultural civil war. In one camp there were those who regarded criticism of the army as damaging to national security and as treason. In the other were those who regarded human rights as central to the development of liberal democracy.
The battle was decided by the discovery of a series of forgeries in the document which had incriminated Dreyfus.

A retrial was held in 1899, but again he was found guilty. However, immediately after this second court martial, Dreyfus was pardoned by the President of the Republic and released from custody. In 1906 Dreyfus was granted a full pardon and on the same military parade ground where he had been dishonored, was awarded the coveted Legion of Honor. The affair concluded with a victory for Justice. The battle for human rights and against anti-Semitism, however, was far from over.

Based on notes by Shlomo Sand, a professor of history at Tel Aviv University.

The stamp was issued in 1994. Designer: R. Dayagi.