Emile Zola’s J’accuse and the Dreyfus Affair
By Timothy Meyers
Today marks the 118th year anniversary of Emile Zola’s J’accuse editorial, which condemned the French military for its failure to reveal evidence exonerating French Jewish captain Alfred Dreyfus of espionage charges. Revelations of Dreyfus’ innocence and the lack of immediate acquittal epitomized the antisemitism endemic in French society at the end of the nineteenth-century.
Zola, already a famous writer, denounced the military for the cover-up, causing an uproar that forced France to acknowledge how antisemitism caused a miscarriage of justice. Dreyfus was eventually absolved of his alleged crimes. The legacy of his trial, conviction, and imprisonment instilled a commitment to recognizing and combating the stigmatization of Jews in many parts of French society.
Yet Jews continued to face persecution in France for decades to come, and antisemitism is again on the rise. The rise of far-right nationalists and Islamic extremism, along with a broader undercurrent of antisemitic attitudes, are combining to create a toxic climate for Jews in France. We released a report documenting the factors contributing to the continuing risks faced by French Jews: “Breaking the Cycle of Violence: Countering Antisemitism and Extremism in France.”
Although the French government seems committed to combating antisemitism, more can be done. Helping the Jewish community in France needs to be part of a broader inclusive approach of tolerance for all marginalized groups. In our report we recommend reforms the French government should enact that would improve lives of French Jews and all people who call France home. You can read the full report on this critical topic here.