For the Dreyfus Affair, How important was anti-semitism to the arrest of Dreyfus?

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bullgatortail | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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Opinions are mixed on how anti-Semitism played a part in the Dreyfus Affair. Alfred Dreyfus (1859-1935) was a French artillery officer who was accused of spying and treason in 1894 (by giving military information to Germany) and was sent to the infamous penal colony of Devil's Island in French Guiana, where he was placed in solitary confinement. Dreyfus was of Jewish descent, born in Alsace, a French district that borders Germany; the area of Alsace-Lorraine was once ruled by Germany. Dreyfus was eventually freed and reinstated to the French army, where he served throughout World War I.

Anti-Jewish sentiment was high in both France and Germany at the time, and Dreyfus' religion no doubt played some part in his being the scapegoat for this military drama. Theodor Herzl, who founded the World Zionist Organization, believed that

... the antisemitism and injustice revealed in France by the conviction of Alfred Dreyfus... (persuaded) him that Jews, despite the Enlightenment and Jewish assimilation, could never hope for fair treatment in European society. 

However, others did not agree.

In the Middle East, the Muslim Arab press was sympathetic to the falsely accused Captain Dreyfus, and criticized the persecution of Jews in France.

Some Jews believed that France had acted honorably.

The Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Lévinas often cited the words of his father: "A country that tears itself apart to defend the honor of a small Jewish captain is somewhere worth going."

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