In the era of social media, it is almost an everyday occurrence to be
asked to sign a petition or to “like” a cause. When Emile Zola, the
celebrated French novelist, published J’Accuse on January 13,
1898, corresponding to the 19th of Tevet, he could only hope that his essay would gain popularity and stir a
response from the masses. He had no idea of the impact it would have on
his own life.

J’Accuse was Zola’s reaction to the Dreyfus Affair.
Zola was not only certain that the 1895 conviction of Captain Alfred
Dreyfus on charges of espionage was a deliberate miscarriage of justice,
but that it was primarily motivated by anti-Semitism.

Printed as an open letter on the front page of a liberal French newspaper, Zola accused:

Here then, Mr. President, are the facts which explain how a
miscarriage of justice could be made; and the moral evidence, the
financial circumstances of Dreyfus, the absence of reason, his continual
cry of innocence, completes its demonstration as a victim of the
extraordinary imaginations of commander [Armand] du Paty de Clam, of the
clerical medium in which it was found, of the hunting for the “dirty
Jews,” which dishonors our time.

J’Accuse split public opinion. Dreyfus was given a second
court-martial in 1899, but was once again found guilty (on forged
evidence). However, shortly thereafter he was pardoned by the President
of France.

As J’Accuse was addressed to the President of France, it did not
surprise Zola that he was then charged with libel. Sentenced to a year
in jail and a 3,000 Franc fine, Zola fled to England. He returned to
France when a new government was formed in June 1899. Zola died of
carbon monoxide poisoning four years later, two years before Dreyfus was
fully exonerated.

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