The Dreyfus Case is still relevant after 125 years

Dreyfus, A Family Affair, 1789-1945 by Michael Burns, Harper Collins, 1991.

More than two thousand books and articles have been written about the infamous court martial of French Jew Captain Alfred Dreyfus in 1894. While most histories focus on the case itself, Michael Burns provides a broader view, chronicling the emergence of the Dreyfus family as wealthy cotton manufacturers in Alsace, examining the case in great detail, and then following up on the roles the Dreyfus family and his supporters played in both world wars.

The Dreyfus family story has as much relevance today as it did at the turn of the century––not just in France where anti-Semitism has never gone away and has resurfaced recently in deadly fashion, not just in Europe––ditto its presence, but in the United States as well.

For those who forgot the short mention of the Dreyfus affair in their European History class, it is important to recall that at a young age Alfred Dreyfus became dedicated to France and to the French military, and he never waivered in that dedication. Despite his loyalty, Dreyfus was convicted of spying for France’s bitter enemy Germany, which had humiliated France in 1870 and taken part of Alsace as its reward.

The Dreyfus case coincided with the growing antagonism to Jews in France, as a result of their increasing integration into mainstream French society in general and in the ranks of the French military in particular. The plot, hatched by clerical and nationalist elements in the military and supported by vocal anti-Semites, led to Dreyfus spending five years on Devil’s Island off the coast of French Guiana. Dreyfus endured incredible deprivation, which Burns details, and barely survived. Yet, as a result of a campaign led by his brother Mathieu and the strength he gained from the support of his wife Lucie, Dreyfus survived to face a second court martial. Although he was convicted a second time, as the facts of his innocence had begun to emerge, he was eventually pardoned and his military rank was restored.

Jews world-wide know of the Dreyfus case because a Hungarian journalist who covered the initial trail cited it as an influence in his decision to join the nascent Zionist movement. Theodore Herzl (1860-1904) was apparently influenced not just by the case itself but also by the massive public outcry he witnessed against Dreyfus and against French Jews. Chants of “Death to Jews,” he wrote, were heard throughout the country.

The irony of the Dreyfus case was that the Dreyfusards––those who believed in Dreyfus innocence, downplayed the anti-Semitic motivation of his framers. The Dreyfus family had taken advantage of France’s emancipation of the Jews to become wealthy and to take advantage of the open doors to French society. Along the way, their Judaism was reduced to the equivalent of a regional family affiliation. At family funerals even Kaddish, the prayer cited for the dead, had to be recited in French.

The consequences of the Dreyfus’ family’s unwavering devotion to France was that several young men of the next generation including Mathieu’s son Emile, went to their deaths fighting for France in the first world war, and Alfred, who never fully recovered his health, insisted in returning to his post and put his life in danger defending Paris.

Despite the contributions of the Dreyfus family to that war, they were again victimized by French anti-Semite allies of the Nazis who helped send tens of thousands of French Jews, including those with medals for valor in the First World War, to Auschwitz.

Burns does not offer conclusions based on his thorough research, nor should he. That’s not the historian’s job. Conclusions based on the Dreyfus case are nevertheless the domain of reviewers.

In this reviewer’s humble opinion, the lesson of the Dreyfus case is that the promise of the French Revolution for Jews––emancipation and unrestricted opportunity––was never fulfilled. Yes, there were periods where Jews prospered and made inroads, but always at the expense of their commitment to Judaism, and always in the face of an undercurrent of resentment and hostility from those who needed a scapegoat for failures personal and national. Again and again, the undercurrent of resentment came to the surface whenever conditions justified the need for someone to blame.

Earlier I suggested the Dreyfus case offers lessons for Jews in the United States as well as in Europe. Recent history backs me up. When college students are bombarded by professors with accusations against Israel, when they are afraid to wear a Jewish star or kippah, and when members of Congress blame the Jewish Lobby (with a capital L) for buying their colleagues’ votes, events like the murders in Pittsburgh become all too likely.

Herzl’s vision came none too soon. Unfortunately, however, millions of Jews who might have benefitted were brutally murdered in the Holocaust or died as soldiers fighting the Nazi menace. What’s different today is that the state of Israel exists and at the moment one can be a practicing Jew and an American. Who knows whether both will last.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Amazon Deal Reveals What Socialism Means to Ocasio-Cortez and her Ilk

By now everyone knows that Amazon decided not to go ahead with a plan to build a new headquarters (H2) in New York City due to local political opposition. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez applauded the decision as a victory for New York, which gives us an opportunity to understand how her kind of socialism works.

Rep. AO-C suggested New York was saving $3 billion which could be used for teachers salaries and other benefits. Good idea? Well, it would be except there is no $3 billion. New York was not giving Amazon $3 billion to build in New York, they were getting a $3 billion tax break. So much for the value of a degree from Boston University in economics. She doesn’t know the difference between a tax break and a gift.

But you may be saying, a $3 billion tax break is still a bad idea. It’s too much. Except Gov. Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio forgot to explain that the $3 billion tax break was a deduction from the $30 billion Amazon promised to pay into New York City and New York State coffers. In other words Ocasio-Cortez refused $27 billion for New York because Amazon wasn’t going to have to pay the full $30 billion they promised. Does that make any sense?

But what does that have to do with socialism? Socialism is about putting in power representatives of “the working class” who will decide what’s best for everyone. It’s not about redistributing the wealth. That’s a myth. It’s not about giving everyone a job. That’s also a myth. Those are the things they say it means, but history tells us that never happens, and it never can.

They rejected Amazon because they were going to get a 10% tax break. As a result, they threw away 25,000 good paying jobs––jobs that will now go to people in other parts of the country––and lost the multiplier effect on the local economy in terms of people buying housing, home furnishings and appliances, clothing, electronics, going out to eat, etc.

Socialism is about making ideological decisions at the expense of the needs of the citizenry. Amazon is big. Amazon is bad. Socialism is inherently undemocratic. Elections are used to gain power followed by corruption of the electoral process in order to retain power. If Americans want to understand how socialism would work in America, we’ve just seen a perfect example.

Identity Politics Gone Insane: The Case of Elizabeth Warren

More evidence of Elizabeth Warren’s fraudulent claim that she is Native American has come to the fore in recent days. She self-identified as Native American thirty years ago on her Texas Bar Association application and also later on her official listings at the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard. Some accept her excuse that she thought she was Native American, but why didn’t she attempt to verify whether she was or wasn’t? The fact is she would continue to be getting away with a lie today had not others challenged her.

It appears that Warren sought to use this myth to enhance her status and advance her career. She wanted to be seen not just as a woman, but as a Native American woman. There is an academic construct called ‘intersectionality’ that increases a person’s status if she is a member of more than one oppressed minority. It appears that Warren’s use of her fake identity, rather than the merit of her academic accomplishments, earned her prestigious jobs and high salaries. She then built on that resume to gain the nomination of the Democrat Party for U.S. Senator from Massachusetts––a position she holds today, a position some might argue she does not deserve. She further has the gall to think she should be the Democrat Party candidate for President in 2020!

Focus on the distinction between identity and merit as the basis for hiring and promotion. While minorities and women were discriminated against in the past, that doesn’t justify giving them a free pass today. When equal opportunity is no longer the standard for advancement in a society, the door is wide open to new forms of discrimination. There is strong evidence that has been the case in academia for decades. People who hold conservative views have an inordinate hard time getting jobs in the social sciences. Some people have admitted they had to hide their beliefs until they had tenure track jobs because they knew prejudice, not merit, determines hiring in academia.

Identity Discrimination Now Found in the Business World

Favoritism based on identity has now been extended to the business world as well as in the news media where to be charged of an act of malfeasance by a minority is tantamount to guilt, especially if the person is a white male.

To be very clear, I also would challenge the notion that a non-minority—i.e., a male Caucasian––cannot be objective, impartial and fair in the fulfillment of his duties whether as a policeman, school and college instructor, or as president of the United States.

Democrats who wish to preserve the notion of equal rights for all citizens—something embodied in our Constitution––ought to make it clear that they do not support Warren’s candidacy for president or that of any other candidate who feels qualified because they are a member of a minority group or because they believe minorities deserve special treatment apart from merit.