In the description of its new historical drama, Paris Police 1990, the BBC resurrected the notorious anti-Semitic libel that banished the Jewish army officer, Captain Alfred Dreyfus, to Devil’s Island for nearly five years on trumped-up charges.
BBC: Dreyfus was a “notorious Jewish spy”
The show is a noir thriller about a young police officer investigating a murder case in the same period as the Dreyfus affair (1894-196). Paris Police was originally produced and released in France by Canal+ and StudioCanal back in February.
The original description of the program posted by the BBC read, “The French Republic is in turmoil as rumours spread about the release from Devil’s Island of Dreyfus, the notorious Jewish spy”.
This error was decried by the media watchdog, Honest Reporting:
Dreyfus was a Jewish officer in the French army who was baselessly accused of treason by a deeply antisemitic establishment.
After initially being convicted and humiliated, he was later exonerated of all charges.
— HonestReporting (@HonestReporting) October 10, 2021
The description garnered widespread criticism, leading the BBC to change the iPlayer description:
The BBC have exonerated Dreyfus. Historic justice pic.twitter.com/3dcSoRNVlW
— Anshel Pfeffer אנשיל פפר (@AnshelPfeffer) October 10, 2021
“The sentence was not intended as an [sic] historical statement, but to reflect the rumors towards the Dreyfus case that we see in the drama — which also depicts the rise of antisemitism,” the BBC Spokesperson said in response to the Jerusalem Post.
The Dreyfus Affair
Captain Alfred Dreyfus, an Alsatian French artillery officer of Jewish descent, was accused of treason for allegedly communicating French military secrets to the German Embassy in Paris. He was convicted in 1894 and sentenced to life imprisonment on Devil’s Island in French Guiana. In 1896, Georges Picquart, head of counter-espionage, identified the real culprit as a French Army major named Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy. High-ranking military officials suppressed the new evidence and a military court unanimously acquitted Esterhazy after a trial lasting only two days. This conviction fueled massive anti-Semitic riots in Paris. The army laid additional charges against Dreyfus, based on forged documents. In 1899, Dreyfus was returned to France for another trial, leading to a public debate that divided French society. The new trial resulted in another conviction against Dreyfus and a 10-year sentence. Dreyfus did not return to Devil’s Island as he was pardoned and released. In 1906, Dreyfus was finally exonerated and reinstated as a major in the French Army. He served during the whole of World War I, ending his service with the rank of lieutenant-colonel.
One positive outcome of the Dreyfus Affair was that a young Jewish journalist covering the story was motivated to acknowledge that due to the undeniable persistence of anti-Semitism, even in the most liberated societies, required that Jews have their own state as a refuge., His name was Theodore Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism.