Alfred Dreyfus by Jean Baptiste Guth
Alfred Dreyfus by Jean Baptiste Guth Vanity Fair, 1899 public domain

The BBC has been sharply criticized for repeating the anti-Semitic libel that French army captain Alfred Dreyfus was a “notorious Jewish spy” in publicity material for a new BBC police drama.

According to a report in the Jewish Chronicle, the invective was part of an advertisement for the new Saturday night BBC 4 historical thriller Paris Police 1900.

Dreyfus’s case, in which his initial conviction as a spy was eventually overturned, was one of the most well known legal cases of the 19th Century and best known examples of anti-Semitic persecution of the era.

After his 1894 conviction for spying on behalf of Germany was overturned in 1899 due to the discovery of forged evidence, Dreyfus was given a full pardon in 1906. He returned to being an officer and went on to serve with the French army in World War One.

The BBC’s use of the phrase “notorious Jewish spy” caused outrage among the Jewish community and historians.

“I don’t understand how these things aren’t checked and somehow get through,” Karen Pollock, the chief executive of the Holocaust Education Trust, said on Twitter.

HonestReporting also sharply criticized the BBC’s wording, noting on social media that “Dreyfus was a Jewish officer in the French army who was baselessly accused of treason by a deeply anti-Semitic establishment.”

“After initially being convicted and humiliated, he was later exonerated of all charges,” HonestReporting wrote. “Yet the BBC refers to him as a 'notorious Jewish spy.’”

After the flurry of complaints, the BBC changed the show’s description to say that Dreyfus had been “previously arrested for spying.”

The BBC released a statement: “The sentence was not intended as an historical statement, but to reflect the rumours towards the Dreyfus case that we see in the drama – which also depicts the rise of anti-Semitism.”

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