Bibi is No Dreyfus

Of all the comparisons between active politicians and historical figures, there is none as far-fetched as the claim that Bibi Netanyahu has something in common with Alfred Dreyfus.

The first time this falsification was made public was last October, as demonstrators chanting “only Bibi” held banners proclaiming “Netanyahu=Dreyfus.” The slogan was born a full three months before Bibi was even indicted, as though in preparation for judgment day. Sure enough, on Bibi’s first day in court on May 24th, once again sane Israelis were affronted with the Dreyfus analogy. We’ll be hearing more of this drivel as the case against the PM progresses.

One thing is certain: Bibi won’t silence the incitement spewed by some of his hard-core supporters, that scorn for everyone who doesn’t buy into the “us and them” narrative that defines Bibi-ism. Netanyahu’s whole career is built on internal discord, and now what’s left of his career depends on it.

Many Israelis can cite the great injustice that was done to Dreyfus, which inspired Theodore Herzl to found the Zionist movement. The link between Dreyfus and the State of Israel is unquestionable. But any Israeli who associates Bibi with Dreyfus is way off the mark.

For starters, Dreyfus was a soldier falsely accused of treason; Bibi is a Prime Minister more credibly accused of corruption– the “credibly” part is substantiated by over 300 prosecution witnesses. Dreyfus was a lowly Jew in a country rife with anti-Semitism, whereas Bibi, in his own words, is the “strong right-wing leader” of the Jewish state. Dreyfus didn’t have the power to appoint a like-minded Attorney General, like Avichai Mandelblit, who would fend off accusations and delay an indictment against him; in fact, the time Mandelblit spent wavering on Cases 1000, 2000 and 4000 to buy Bibi time was roughly half as long as the entire Dreyfus Affair, which lasted eight years. Unlike Bibi, Dreyfus didn’t have anyone in his pocket with the authority to shut down the courts three days before his trial.

While there is no public record of poor Alfred’s military “trial,” which was probably conducted without a semblance of due process, the accused surely didn’t show up in court surrounded by masked government officials, nor did he have demonstrators in the streets threatening to start a civil war in his defense. The only demonstrators were those who shouted “death to the Jew” as he was led to prison. Indeed, the transition from accusation to kangaroo court to Devil’s Island happened so fast that some 99% of the Dreyfus Affair consisted of the time it took to clear his name.

In contrast, Bibi, who has highly-paid lawyers to defend him, seems more resolved to spread accusations far and wide, against the media, police, Attorney General and State Prosecutor, who are all somehow in cahoots with the “anyone but Bibi” camp. How unlike Dreyfus, who only cried his innocence as he was sentenced to life in prison, stripped of his uniform, sword and very honor. He could have pointed fingers at his false accusers, and would have been justified. He could have mentioned that as a Jew in France he was at a great disadvantage, and he would have been right about that too. But what he actually said, famously, was: “I swear that I am innocent. I remain worthy of serving in the Army. Long live France! Long live the Army!” Not a word of recrimination. Dreyfus the patriot refused to play the victim.

How unlike Bibi, who thrives on victimhood. How unlike some of Bibi’s staunchest supporters, who are still screaming “victim” after so many years of right-wing rule.

While the Bibi-Dreyfus analogy doesn’t hold water, a closer look at France in Dreyfus’s time and modern Israel makes a more revealing comparison: A hundred years after the French Revolution, France was a democracy still under the grip of the Catholic church, ever striving for religious freedom and civil rights for all its citizens. Up against the inherent racism which plagues all countries, the struggle to achieve racial, religious and civil equality was championed by progressive Frenchmen of note. These included: Lieutenant Colonel Georges Piquart, the Chief of French Military Intelligence who first uncovered evidence that the case against Dreyfus was built on forged documents, and known author Emile Zola, whose open letter “J’Accuse” pointed to a military cover-up fortified by “religious circles” and “the ‘dirty Jew’ obsession that is the scourge of our time.” While this battle was in progress, in 1905, one year before Dreyfus’s name was finally cleared, French lawmakers achieved what the Americans had realized after their own revolution: Separation of church and state.

How unlike modern Israel, the “only democracy in the Middle East” which, 72 years after its birth, still doesn’t have a constitution, still doesn’t practice equality for all its citizens and still dances to the tune of religious clerics.

About the Author
Avi Shamir is a freelance writer, editor, translator and the author of "Saving the Game," a novel about baseball. A Brooklyn College graduate with a BA in English, Avi has contributed to the Jerusalem Post, The Nation, Israel Scene, In English and The World Zionist Press Service.
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