In December 1894, French Capt. Alfred Dreyfus, a Jew, was tried and unjustly convicted of treason in a military court. His trial was a deliberate miscarriage of justice, masterminded by the army, condoned by its judiciary, fueled by racial prejudice and political treachery, and a complicit press.
He was sentenced to spend the rest of his life on Devil’s Island, a penal colony off the northeastern coast of South America.
On a cold Jan. 5, 1895, in the courtyard of the French Military College, Dreyfus suffered public humiliation in front of hundreds of soldiers. Outside the yard, a mob of French anti-Semites shouted “Kill the Jews!”
Édouard Drumont led the hate-filled rage against the Jewish captain.
Drumont had argued in his virulent, anti-Semitic book, Jewish France (1886), that the values and faith of the Jews were alien to France and a danger to the country. It sold millions of copies and was one of the most influential books in Europe during the latter 19th century and the early part of the 20th century.
Drumont envisioned a pure, uncorrupted Aryan French society. He characterized Jews as deceitful, greedy, criminal, disease-ridden and physically unappealing while Aryans were earnest, chivalrous, just and handsome.
Theodor Herzl, a Jew, had been sent by his Vienna newspaper to Paris to cover the Drefus Affair, which had drawn international attention. After the trial, he wrote The Jewish State calling for the establishment of Israel in Palestine, which was then under German control.
Herzl believed that Jews had no hope for fair treatment in Europe based on pogroms in Russia and in other European countries, plus the evident racism that led to Dreyfus’ unjust conviction and sentence. He said that the only hope for Jews was the establishment of Israel in Palestine. He passionately devoted the rest of his life to this cause.
Before he died in 1904, Herzl requested that his remains be re-interred in Israel, believing that a Jewish nation would be created in their ancestral homeland.
Herzl had also been prophetic in his prediction about the continued rise of anti-Semitism, which culminated with Hitler’s annihilation of six million Jews in the Holocaust.
Herzl’s dream was fulfilled after World War II. Control of Palestine passed from Germany to Great Britain. Great Britain issued a plan to the United Nations to relinquish control of the western section of Palestine in order to give the Jews a nation and a safe haven in their ancient fatherland.
The United Nations subsequently passed a resolution recommending and adopting that plan, which was immediately followed by President Truman’s recognition of the sovereignty of Israel. It was implemented on May 14, 1948.
This Monday, May 14, Israel will celebrate 64 years of independence in the land promised by God to Abraham in Genesis 12:7: “To your offspring I will give this land.”
Like Joseph, whose remains were carried out of Egypt in the Exodus and re-interred in the Promised Land, Theodor Herzl’s remains were flown out of Austria and re-interned on Aug. 22, 1949, in Israel. Thousands of grateful Jews attended the state-sponsored ceremony in which Herzl was buried in a grave overlooking Jerusalem.
Herzl had prophetically written, “The Jews who wish for a State will have it. We shall live at last as free men on our own soil, and die peacefully in our own homes.”
On this weekend of Israel’s celebration of freedom on their own soil, may we join with the Israelis in praying for lasting peace and security.
“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. May those who love you be secure. May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels” (Psalm 122:6-7).
THE REV. DAN WHITE IS PASTOR OF NORTH COLUMBIA CHURCH IN APPLING, GA.