Commentary magazine recently posted a powerful article entitled, “The Existential Necessity of Zionism after Paris.” They noted of the massacre in the Parisian kosher grocery that it “was not the beginning of a new threat to French Jews and the Jews of Europe.” Rather, the editors noted, it marked “the culmination of a decade of crisis. And it will not be the end.”
There have been tensions between Christians and Jews since the days of the early church. Thankfully, during the past century relations between most Christian denominations and Jews have improved greatly. Much of this change has been prompted by the growing Christian appreciation of and affection for Israel.
I am no expert on Franco-Jewish history, but I know that one major event that shook the foundations of French society and reverberates to this day was the Dreyfus Affair, a political scandal that stretched from 1894 to 1906. Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish, French Army captain, was convicted falsely of espionage and sent to solitary confinement on Devil's Island in French Guiana for over four years. Eventually, Dreyfus was released and completely exonerated.
The Dreyfus Affair was a seismic event infused with anti-Semitism. Its impact on French society was at least one order of magnitude greater than Watergate was on the United States. Consequently, any consideration of the life of Jews in France must include the Dreyfus Affair and the treatment of Jews during World War II by the Vichy regime. Dreyfus is an elephant in the historical corner that colors all that came afterward.
If you are interested in knowing more about the Dreyfus Affair, Robert Harris’s historical novel,
An Officer and a Spy: A novel, makes the history exciting. (There are a number of good histories on the topic as an Amazon search will indicate.)
International religious persecution made itself clearly visible to us in the recent attack on the Parisian kosher store. Last week, I posted a brief discussion of the Dreyfus Affair and its implications, a century later, for understanding anti-Semitism in France today. Over the weekend, the John Batchelor Show posted its excellent interview of Robert Harris (An Officer and a Spy) by John Batchelor. Listening to this 40-minute discussion is the best way get a sense of this event, its scope, and its lasting effects. If may be found via this link to the iTunes podcast page (1/17/2015).