3. FRENCH JEWISH CAMPAIGNERS
Bernard Lazare, was the first to lead a public campaign on behalf of Captain Alfred Dreyfus. Born in Nîmes in 1865 to a family of Provencal origin (Nimes, Toulouse, Avignon), Lazare was a well-known literary critic. When he became a convinced anarchist, he broke his ties from his home community, believing that assimilation was the sine qua non for getting rid of anti-Semitism:
"How are the Jews to avoid both avert antiSemitism and the unspoken disapproval of those who are indifferent to the struggle? The only way to avoid it is to disappear, to merge and go with the flow of the nation."
At the beginning of 1894, he had published a study on anti-Semitism which was well received by Drumont, the anti-Semitic editor of the Libre Parole. In his work, Lazare argued that
"the general causes of anti-Semitism have always been found in the Jews and not in those who were against the Jews."
Nevertheless, as an optimist, he concluded on the following note:
"in any case antiSemitism appears to me to be destined to vanish, and it will vanish for all the reasons that I have given: because the Jew is changing, because religious, political, social and economic conditions are changing, but it will vanish above all because it is one of the last, tenacious signs of the old reactionary and ultra-conservative spirit which is trying, in a hopeless rearguard action, to stem the revolutionary tide."
In an article published several weeks after Dreyfus' arrest, Bernard Lazare was the only figure to identify the danger threatening the Jews, of their being confined in a new ghetto:
"The Israelites are no longer shut away in a ghetto, chains are no longer stretched across the end of the streets in which they live, but a hostile atmosphere is created around them, an atmosphere of mistrust, of latent hatred, of unacknowledged and therefore even more powerful prejudices, a ghetto which is terrible in a different way than the ghetto which could be escaped from by rebellion or exile. This animosity is disguised commonly; and yet the intelligent Jew perceives it. He feels a resistance before him, he has the impression of a wall which his adversaries have erected between him and those in whose midst he lives."
It was at this point that Bernard Lazare threw himself into the Dreyfus Affair with such vigour that it should perhaps be known as the "Lazare Affair".
It was Dreyfus' brother-in-law, Joseph Valabrègue, a carpentras businessman, who made contact with Lazare. Mathieu, "that most devoted of brothers", found it easy to convince the writer that miscarriage of justice had occurred. In the summer of 1895, Lazare completed a detailed brochure proving that Dreyfus was innocent and exposing the various procedural irregularities at his trial. At the request of Mathieu Dreyfus, who at that time was engaged in discrete negotiations, he agreed not to publish his text and contented himself with engaging in polemics with Drumont.
Not until the autumn 1896 was he able to publish his work in Brussels, under the title:
"A Miscarriage of Justice--The truth about the Dreyfus Affair".
In this brochure, Lazare refers plainly to the anti-Semitic background to the Affair:
"Have I not said that Dreyfus belonged to a pariah class? He was a soldier, but he was Jewish, and it is above all as a Jew that he has been persecuted. It is because he was Jewish that he was arrested, it is because he was Jewish that he was found sentenced, it was because he was Jewish that voice of justice and truth cannot be raised in his defence, and the responsibility for the sentencepassed on this innocent man sits squarely on the shoulder of those who rought it about by their unworthy incitement, their lies and their slanders."
The brochure was not a roaring success. Many of the literary or political figures to whom Lazare sent it did not even take the trouble to read it, and those who did and were convinced by it, such as Senate Vice-President Scheurer-Kestner,had no patience for Lazare's anarchist leanings and tried to steer clear of the incipient pro-Dreyfus movement.
The Jews' reaction was to dissociate themselves from Bernard Lazare. The situation was described by a fellow journalist in the following words:
"Bernard Lazare's attempt failed utterly and miserably...like others, he tried unsuccessfully to put a religious complexion on the Dreyfus question. The intelligent Israelites are the first to recognize that the court-martial took the right decision; they are unanimous in condemning the former captain's crime, it is, moreover, easy to understand that at least to some extent, they are themselves victims of their co-religionist's treason... Thus they are the first to view Mr. Bernard Bazare's brochure as a markable blunder."
French Jews had no intention of championing someone they considered guilty, as Léon Blum put it:
"The dominant feeling could be stummed up along the lines of: 'This is something which the Jews should no become involved."
French Jewry's complex feelings undoubtedly included patriotism, even a touchy patriotism, respect for the army, trust in their leaders, and a marked reluctance to consider them biased or fallible. But there was something else, too, which may charitably be dubbed a form of selfcentred, timid caution. French Jews did not want any possibility of believing that they were defending Dreyfus because he was Jewish. They did not want any possibility of ascribing their attitude to any racebased distinction or solidarity. Above all, they did not want, by coming to the defence of another Jew, to provide any fuel for the raging fires of anti-Semitism. This feeling was shared by Daniel Halévy:
"They turned a blind eye, and a cautious instinct recommended a continuing blind-eye policy. Sentence had been passed, it was considered right. There were opinions, but in an understated way, cause people were not used to having opinions. It is likely that a number of Jews, more familiar with the blows of anti-Semitism, thought differently. They said nothing of this, sparing their friends, even close ones, the expression of an opinion which would have bothered or annoyed them. The Dreyfus trial was, by a very curious, utterly tacit agreement, excluded from these Paris conversations, which exclude nothing."
Bernard Lazare was subsequently to champion a national solution to the Jewish problem, leading him to take part in the Second Zionist Congress in 1898. However, he clashed with Herzl, and died practically forgotten.
Lazare's brochure unleashed a wave of anti-Semitism and triggered the accusation that the Jews formed an "espionage and corruption syndicate".Highly placed officials were accused of being part is syndicate, and suffered accordingly. This was the fate of Isaiah Levaillant, a staunch supporter of Gambetta and Paymaster of the Haute Loire department, who was accused of having wanted to prevent the bankruptcy of a Jewish firm.
This incident sparked Levaillant's interest in community affairs, and he subsequently took over the running of the Univers Israélite newspaper, whose circulation he considerably improved. In marked contrast to the Archives Israélites, Levaillant did not ignore the Affair's impact on the Jews' social situation:
"Who among us has not suffered as a result? Which of us has not found that it as profoundly modified our social relations with our fellow citizens of other religions? Have not all of us, when we have come upon a group of peopleto whom things Jewish are a closed book, seen how the conversation falters suddenly, because they were talking about the Drefyus affair? Where is the officer or the civil servant who has not wondered whether the verdict on the former captain would harm his own career...?" The fact of the matter is that this appalling story had a major impact on the situation of French Jewry. Strictly speaking, the campaign to have the case reopened in 1898 when Zola's J'accuse was published. The famous novelist's involvement in the battle triggered a positive outburst of anti-Semitism both in France and in Algeria. At the end of January 1898, anti-Jewish riots took place practically all over France, particularly in Paris, Nantes, Bordeaux, Marseilles, Lyons, Nancy, Versailles, Clermont-Ferrand, La Rochelle, Poitiers, Angoulême, and so on. Jewish shops were pillaged and boycotted. Jews were attacked physically and there developed an atmosphere of insecurity. Levaillant commented: "Anti-Semitism has invaded every single part of the country and has spread through all social circles."
As passions were thus unleashed, the Jews reacted in very different ways. Some, like Fernard Ratisbonne, a retired Jewish officer, openly disassociated themselves from the pro-Dreyfus camp, condemning a campaign designed to shed discredit on the army. Another Jew, Gaston Pollonais, director-general of the newspaper Le Soir, also opposed reopening the case and roundly opposed the presence of Jews in the "syndicate", demanding that they choose between France and "I not not what abominable religious solidarity":
"When the dastardly leaders of cosmopolitan Semitism dared invoke racial interests in order to bring about a universal solidarity between all Jews, I refused to enlist in this foreign legion, I refused to desert the flat, and, faithful to unwavering, uncompromising principles I considered that the religion of France was superior to all others and, if called upon to choose between the Dreyfus-Zadoc Kahn-Reinach triumvirate and my country, it was to my country that I should dedicate all my energy and all my devotion."
Arthur Meyer, director of Le Gaulois, proclaimed similar sentiments.
But other Jews openly spoke out in favour of Dreyfus. This was the case of Joseph Reinach, who consequently lost his seat as parliamentary member for Digne in the 1898 elections. It was also the case of a committee established on the initiative of Zadoc Kahn, French Chief Rabbi, whose members were drawn from the ranks of those with repuations in literature, science, law, finance and politics. Led by Narcisse Leven, this committee financed the publication of brochures against anti-Semitism and initiated discrete actions. Other Jews were involved in the estabishment of a Human Rights League, including Victor Basch, Michel Bréal, Alfred Berl, Gustave Kahn, Silvain Lévi, Henri Sée, and others.