Far-right puts Dreyfus affair into spotlight in French election race

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As French President Emmanuel Macron opens a museum dedicated to the exonerated Jewish soldier, ultra-nationalists like maverick far-right polemicist and expected candidate in next year's presidential elections, Éric Zemmour, again question his innocence.

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More than a century after he was exonerated, Alfred Dreyfus, the Jewish army officer whose false conviction for treason sparked bitter controversy, has erupted into France’s presidential race amid far-right attempts to question his innocence, reports The Guardian.

Emmanuel Macron last week personally inaugurated the first museum dedicated to the Dreyfus affair, a historical collection exhibited in the house of Émile Zola, the writer and best-known defender of the persecuted officer, in Médan west of Paris.

In the presence of the artillery captain’s descendents, the French president said nothing could repair the humiliations and injustices Dreyfus had suffered, but added pointedly: “Let us not aggravate it by forgetting, deepening or repeating them.”

Macron particularly stressed the continuing need to combat the antisemitism behind the officer’s persecution. “I say to the young: forget nothing of these fights,” he said. “In the world in which we live, in our country and in our Republic, they are not over.”

The comments were widely interpreted as targeting Éric Zemmour, the far-right, anti-immigrant TV pundit and polemicist who, despite not having declared his candidacy, is predicted by some polls to reach the second round of April’s presidential election. Zemmour has claimed France’s collaborationist wartime leader, Philippe Pétain, saved the lives of French Jews, rather than assisting their deportation to Nazi death camps, and has repeatedly said the truth about Dreyfus was unclear.

“Lots of people were ready to clear Dreyfus, but this affair is murky,” Zemmour, 63, told one TV show late last year. “We will never know” whether the allegations against him were lies, he said on another, adding that his innocence was “not obvious”.

Macron also suggested after his inauguration of the museum, which contains more than 500 exhibits and was co-financed by Pierre Bergé, the late partner of fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent, and anti-racism campaigners, that the army could consider posthumously promoting Dreyfus to the rank of general.

The officer’s exoneration has long been viewed as an affront to national pride by France’s far right, and historians say Zemmour – whose parents were Jewish Algerians with French citizenship – is far from the first ultra-nationalist to dispute his innocence.

An army colonel was cashiered in 1994 for publishing an article suggesting Dreyfus was guilty, prompting a lawyer for Jean-Marie Le Pen, the former far-right leader, to claim the captain’s exoneration had been “contrary to all known jurisprudence”.

Other far-right writers have argued the Dreyfus affair was “orchestrated” by “a secret and occult power” and “seriously weakened France” in the run-up to the first world war by undermining “national identity and pride”. More recently, said historian Marc Knobel, who advises the government on anti-racism and antisemitism, ultra-nationalists have made concerted attempts to rehabilitate far-right figures such as Marshal Pétain and Charles Maurras.

Read more of this report from The Guardian.

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