By Inna and Michael Rogatchi (C) ~ February 2017
Hard-Die Traditions of the Dreyfus Affair
Just a few months ago, in October 2016, there was a crowded celebration in France. The close to Switzerland city of Mulhouse was celebrating the opening of the statute of Alfred Dreyfus in commemoration of the 110th anniversary of his rehabilitation. It took them a bit of a time, we thought at the moment.
Today, witnessing the scandal around and the trial of distinguished scholar George Bensoussan, it is hard to withstand the temptation to recall the Dreyfus Affair into the Dreyfus-Bensoussan Affair.
We know George Bensoussan personally, and we were honoured that he hosted and was our co-speaker at the French national premiere of “The Lessons of Survival” film at the Memorial de la Shoah in Paris in the spring of 2015. We also know his academic work and many of his books on the Holocaust in which George Bensoussan has proved himself as an outstanding historian, very honest scholar, and very deep thinker who has contributed to the large extent to the understanding of the Holocaust as a process. George Bensoussan also is highly reputed authority in such special area as Jewish communities in Arab countries. He is hard-working, thoughtful, productive academic who had contributed to the humanity causes in a big way.
Observing the current macabre-in-making, one cannot help but to think on just two possibilities regarding this incomprehensible, completely irrational behaviour of the French public organisations and the juridical authorities alike: either Dreyfus Affair’s essence has never died in the country of the officer who was utterly loyal to his country but had ‘a default sin’ of being born Jewish; or the atmosphere and way of life and functioning of society in France in the 21st century is prone to recurrence of the one of the most shameful episodes of its history today.
It looks as the current resurrection of Dreyfus Affair is perceived by the certain part of the French public and juridical institutions with shoking enthusiasm. Since October 2015 France is galvanised by what is known as the Bensoussan Trial.
The Stalin show-trials alive
The chronicle of the scandal around the distinguished historian George Bensoussan is in public domain. To mention its essence briefly, in October 2015 the head of the editorial department of the Memorial de la Shoah was invited by the famous French philosopher and member of the French Academy Alain Finkielkraut to participate in a radio programme and discussion. In a course of the discussion, Bensoussan who was born in Morocco and knows the reality of life in the Arab world first-hand, referred to the previous passages on the topic of anti-Semitism among the Arab families in France which were said publicly, on the record, in the film demonstrated on the French TV3, by Smain Laacher, professor of the Strasbourg University, Algerian by origin.
In his portraying of the atmosphere of anti-Semitism which has become a norm in an Arab milieu in France, but still is regarded as a taboo in the country, Laacher in extensive elaboration described the phenomenon of what he called ‘domestic anti-Semitism’ in Arab families, with such details as “one of the parents’ insults to their children when they want to reprimand them, it is enough to call them ‘Jews’ “. Laacher also said on the record , in the movie broadcasted on the French TV3, that “anti-Semitism in Arab families is first of all domestic (…), it is in the air that one breathe” – according to the transcript of the film.
In the radio program discussion which has become fatal for him, George Bensoussan praised professor Laacher for his bravery, and mentioned, re-phrasing Laacher: “ as Laacher very bravery said ( …), in France, in Arab families ( …) anti-Semitisim is suckled with mother’s milk”.
It took only three days before the group of pro-Islamic activists brought the claim against George Bensoussan to the French media watch-dog, CSA, accusing the historian in propagating ‘biological racism”. The snow-ball of absurd accusations started to roll with maddening energy and speed. The absurd does have the characteristic to multiply in no time. George Orwell was a great expert on that.
The pro-Islamist organisation Collective Against Islamophobia in France ( CCIF) wasted no time in bringing the case against George Bensoussan to the Paris prefecture which , importantly, decided to prosecute.
That, in our view, was and is the essential point of yet another shameful public trial in France which is so astonishingly similar to the Stalin show-trials, in many details.
There are many organisations involved by now in the Bensoussan Affair, and the French public is also observing the intensifying battle inside the French Jewry divided on the position regarding the arrogant witch-hunt of the distinguished Jewish historian.
But in our opinion, these are not essential things to concentrate on, even only because all of this is hardly surprising.
The core of the matter as we are seeing it, it is a prompt decision of the Paris prefecture back in November 2015 to prosecute in the criminal court the distinguished historian for paraphrasing the other academic. Not only France, but the rest of the world ought to know the name of the prosecutor and anyone else who has contributed to the legal decision led to the Kafkian realities in Paris in late January 2017 when the trial took the place. George Bensoussan himself attested it as ‘intellectual terror’. We have a chilling feeling realising that George, his friends and people in the similar position in France all are living in the literally Kafkian reality.
Remarkably, the film in which sociologist Laacher went on in a long tirade explaining the roots of the current anti-Semitism in Arab families in France had been aired in France back in 2015 two weeks after George Bensoussan was talking about it, without any consequence for Laacher. Moreover, he had published several articles in the leading French media, including Le Monde, both before and after the radio programme in which George Bensoussan was mentioning him, with very much the same analyses, with no reaction followed by any of those enthusiastic organisations and activists, and no prosecutor’s interests in it at all.
In the process of public defence of Bensoussan, several more well-known academics of Arab origins were named who are honestly analysing the phenomenon of the anti-Semitism in Arab families in their works and who all are publicly expressing the same opinion, facts, and analyses; none of them had ever become the subjects of any reprimand.
The court hearings in Paris in the end of January 2017 was surreal, with witnesses of prosecution stating that ‘anti-Semitism, indeed, is rooted in many Arab families in France, but not in every family’; with experts of prosecution issuing opinions like ‘while Arab families indeed are calling their children ‘Jews’, it is not regarded as an insult, but rather like a norm of a language and life conditions’.
It is seems that in modern France, both Kafka and Orwell has become grossly outdated. But not Emil Zola, not the trial of him, at least. The Bensoussan trial, in fact, is duly copy-cat of the first Zola trial 120 years later that another shame of France.
George Bensoussan: Emil Zola 120 year later
When people compare renowned Jewish historian Bensoussan to Dreyfus, it is a quick and understandable click of mind. In fact, the essence of the criminal case and the trial of Bensoussan and the way of its proceeding is astonishingly reminding the first trial of Emil Zola back in 1898 when great French writer decided to come to defence of Dreyfus.
The criminal case against Zola had been brought just in a few days after publication of his now famous J’Acusse article on the front page of the Aurora journal. Similarly to the Bensoussan case, the accusations were brought against both Zola and the media ( in the Bensoussan case, the radio discussion of French Culture programme).
120 years ago, three passages were taken from a very big Zola’s article to sue him for defamation and libel. Today, two phrases were made the reason of the claims against Bensoussan.
Zola was convicted to the maximum punishment for the case, one year in prison and 3 000 franks of penalty, a huge sum back in 1898.
How progressed France has become today, one could be releived: George Bensoussan was not in need to exile awaiting the verdict, as Zola was; and during his trial, the prosecutor demanded modest enough penalty of 1 500 Euro. So shall we laugh and shrug off as an obvious nonsense the persecution of George Bensoussan? Absolutely not.
What about the very reason of prosecuting the person, the distinguished historian, with impeccable record of deep and honest research and many books, the man of high international reputation, in criminal court for a metaphor? Why George Bensoussan had to have a criminal record, independently from the verdict of the trial? What about his and his family nerves, health, and emotions? What about the moral and health consequences of this ongoing witch-hunt, persecution and trial? What about the very fact of prosecuting a person for a alluding to another person’s statement?
Under the circumstances, it feels really farce-like to mention anything about some freedom of speech, some freedom of expression, some freedom of opinion, and any freedom of individual in France today. We can see all these ‘freedoms’ as prisoners of the common sense in the grotesque realities in the present-day French legal system and public atmosphere.
There is also far from farce to learn that well-known academic had been forced to start to collect money among his friends and supporters to be able to pay the legal expenses in more than 16-month’ continuing absurd litigation.
Dead-end of the human rights cause in France
The French media are full of the articles describing the case, in the very same motto as it had happened with both Dreyfuss and Zola trials. From that coverage, one is astonished – or not – to see that there are several French visible human rights organisation, including LICRA, the Jewish left-wing body which is attacking Bensoussan alongside with pro-Islamic Collective Against Islamophobia, as well as French Human Rights League. There are also Muslim SOS Racism organisation which was attested by Le Monde as ‘human-rights body which was developed into political movement’, and Movements Against Racism and Friendship with People.
Public organisations can be affiliated in any way, and it is only ironic to see such originally Jewish human-right body as LICRA to be transformed in what it is today. In general, the tendency of organisations proclaiming their devotion to human-rights cause, but acting in screamingly biased way is worrisomely growing phenomenon everywhere, not only in France. What is really serious here is the fact that in France such activities not only finding their ways to criminal courts, but that they are heard there with alarming sympathies.
One cannot help but to remember the phrase of Pascal Bruckner, well-known French philosopher and writer, from his classic work “The Tyranny of Guilt”: “Europe relieves itself of the crime of the Shoah by blaming Israel (…)”. In the same work, Bruckner also wrote of what he called ‘quiet re-legitimisation of the hatred of the Jews” masked under the disguise of ‘the Palestinian question’.
In a decade since the publishing of that modern classic, its author Pascal Bruckner has felt his verdict on himself, literally: in the same motto with George Bensoussan, he was tried in the Paris court in January 2017 for his words in his TV appearance at ARTE in 2015 where he called for naming the people and organisations who were ‘collaborators of the murders of twelve journalists at the Charlie Hebdo office’. Similarly to the case of George Bensoussan, many French intellectuals of the highest calibre went to defence of Bruckner. In his case, the court has rejected the claims. His supporters were celebrating ‘the victory of the freedom of expression’ in nowadays France in exalted way, which is really shocking. We are not discussing the North Korea here, for truth’s sake.
The verdict on the George Bensoussan case is expected on March 7th, 2017.
Farce? No, Alarm.
The unbelievable facts on the George Bensoussan trial, the deeds of the Paris prefecture, the actions of the organisations claiming defence of human rights, the atmosphere in the big European country where today a distinguished academic is actually tried for a paraphrase, could be called ‘a farce’ if it all would be written in a form of a political fable, a mini-anti-utopia. But as it all is reality, it does indicate, along with the trial of Pascal Bruckner, alarming breach of real human rights and freedom in one of the biggest Western countries.
Not surprisingly, many well-known figures in France were outraged in what the member of the French Academy Alain Finkielkraut called ‘a trial of an opinion’. They are defending George Bensoussan actively and tirelessly.
We are joining their ranks and are calling to all our friends and colleagues, all those people who does not feel indifferent towards the reincarnation of Zola and Dreyfus trials to protest the trial of George Bensoussan strongly and to support the renowned historian and very good man with all our strength and determination.
It would be worth to remind, perhaps, about a couple of critically important historical facts that has become the direct consequence of the Dreyfuss trial back in the end of 19th century: The League of Anti-Semitism in France has been officially launched as a legitimate organisation in 1987 thus paving way to legitimised racial hatred – and we do know the price that French Jewry and thousands and thousands Jewish people who were in France has paid for that during the Second World War.
Of the contrary consequences, The League of Defence of Human Rights , the first ever organisation for defending human rights has been established by several leading defenders of Dreyfuss led by senator Ludovic Trarieux, former French Minister for Justice, in 1898, as their way of organised defence of Dreyfus. It is known that all of them had been electrified by Emil Zola’s J’Acusse which prompted their action directly.
It is also known that the observation of the Dreyfus Trial resulted in awful public ceremony of the officer’s degradation, and the general atmosphere of the hysterically and violently anti-Semitic France at the time, has made a profound, shocking impact on journalist Theodor Herzl who covered the trial for the Austrian Neue Freir Presse. Significantly, Herzle has completed the first version of Der Judeenstaat, the book which has become the manifest of the modern Zionism, in a few months following the Dreyfus trial.
In the final version of Der Judeenstaat, Herzl wrote: “If France – bastion of emancipation, progress and universal socialism – [can] get caught up in a maelstrom of anti-Semitism and let the Parisian crowd chant ‘Kill the Jews!’, where can they be safe once again – if not in their own country? Assimilation does not solve the problem, because the Gentile world will not allow it – as the Dreyfus affair has demonstrated so clearly”.
People who are acting in such bias, such open hatred, and such bigotry towards historian George Bensoussan in France today seem to be genuinely unaware with real strength of history which always pays back quite tangibly to those who ignores it.
For those who would like to support George Bensoussan, please follow the link – https://www.leetchi.com/c/solidarite-avec-historien-georges-bensoussan
Detail coverage of the Bensoussan Affair can be found here – https://www.facebook.com/HistorienGeorgesBensoussan/?fref=ts
(C) Inna & Michael Rogatchi
Inna and Michael Rogatchis are co-founders of The Rogatchi Foundation – www.rogatchifoundation.org, and is internationally renowned artistic and philanthropic couple. Inna Rogatchi is writer, scholar and film-maker; Michael Rogatchi is renowned artist. Both are active international public figures.