The Dreyfus Affair, Zola’s J’accuse!, and Antisemitism: Some Things Never Change

by Jeff Dunetz at

“J’accuse!” is arguably the most famous newspaper headline ever. It was published January 13, 1898, as Emile Zola’s 4,000-word front-page open letter to the president of France in defense of French Army Captain Alfred Dreyfus. Who was accused and convicted of treason. But as Zola pointed out, Dryfus’ actual crime was being Jewish.  The primary evidence against Dreyfus was a slip of paper discovered in a German military trash can. French handwriting experts couldn’t definitively link the handwriting on the garbage can paper to Dreyfus’s handwriting. But that was enough for the French military to convict Dreyfus at a court-martial trial.

The entire Dreyfus Affair demonstrated that concerning Antisemitism, little has changed between the late 1800s and today.

The Dreyfus affair generated Anti-Semitic riots worldwide. In France, there were more than twenty French cities, and riots in Algiers resulted in several deaths. The anti-Semitic riots of 1896 and 1897  were similar to the violent 2023-3034 anti-Semitic riots worldwide caused by Israel defending herself after the October 7 massacre.

Dreyfus suffered through a public ceremony called a degradariiion ceremony. It was attended by 20K French citizens who enjoyed watching Dreyfus stripped of his military insignia and his sword broken in half.