In 1894, a French military officer of Jewish descent, Alfred Dreyfus, was wrongfully convicted of treason and sentenced to life in prison. French public opinion swelled not only against Dreyfus, but against all Jews in France. Outraged, the prominent novelist Émile Zola wrote an open letter to the President of France entitled “J’accuse…!” (I accuse), recounting evidence of the military’s corruption and faulting what he called a “dirty Jew obsession” for provoking such a miscarriage of justice.
Years later, in an act widely credited to Zola’s letter, Dreyfus was ultimately granted a presidential pardon and reinstated as an officer in the French army.
In first exposing the hypocrisy and antisemitism of France’s military court, and later helping to clear Dreyfus’ name, “j’accuse” attests to the power that words and activism can have in changing the course of history. The term serves as a reminder that we cannot remain silent in the face of discrimination, and that we must shine a light on antisemitism wherever we find it--especially when it is on public display, masquerading as justice.
In the 19th century, j’accuse started as a protest against the discrimination of a single Jew. Today, we must stand up and accuse those who cynically claim the banner of progressivism and human rights in order to mask their discrimination against the state of the Jews.
It is that spirit in which “j’accuse” serves as the rallying cry for this organization. From BDS to the UN, from the news media to college campuses, we are today witnessing the miscarriage of justice on a massive scale. A flourishing democracy situated in a violent region, Israel is the only country in the world regularly singled out for ridicule and censure. It is the only democracy in the world subject to boycotts and sanctions, from celebrity performers to supermarkets and universities. And most disturbingly, Jews have become the only people in the world collectively punished for the perceived misdeeds of their nation state.
The fight for justice is a battle not just against bigots, whose motives are vile and numbers are few. Rather, it is also an endeavor to win back hearts and minds of the larger group of unwitting participants whom bigots have recruited under the twin guise of liberal values and resistance to oppression.
The J’accuse Coalition for Justice was founded to help rectify this crisis. By bringing sound arguments directly into the public discourse, using appeals to reason and fairness, and demanding equal standards, we seek to expose and correct this historic wrong.