The Cocktail Party Contrarian: 125 Years After Zola, It Is Time for Americans of All Faiths To Confront Identity Politics and Say More Than ‘J’Accuse’

Also, to remember that those who stood up for Dreyfus liberated all of France.

F. Hamel via Wikimedia Commons
Alfred Dreyfus in captivity on Devil's Island, 1898. F. Hamel via Wikimedia Commons

In January 1898, Emile Zola published an open letter titled “J’accuse” in a French newspaper, L’Aurore. It called out the antisemitism that inspired false charges of treason against a Jewish officer in the French army, Alfred Dreyfus, accused of passing secrets to the Germans. Zola’s morally courageous declaration shamed those who hid their rank bigotry behind a façade of enlightened patriotic allegiance.

Zola’s cri de coeur ultimately led to Dreyfus’s freedom. It was a close call. Antisemitism has always been a powerful force. Dreyfus was twice convicted before being pardoned, and Zola himself was charged with libel and forced to flee to England for a time.

J’accuse” was ultimately effective — not because 19th century France was persuaded to love its Jews, but because Frenchmen still loved the idea of France. They believed in the legitimacy of their system more than they hated their Jews, and they chose to honor the French commitment to justice by refusing to corrupt it.

Today, Jews in America rely on allegiance to democratic ideals as preconditions for their safety and security no less than did Alfred Dreyfus. Yet once-revered American values like personal responsibility, the sanctity of the individual, blind justice, religious freedom, and free speech — which have long served as traditional guardrails against antisemitism in this country — have been decolonized.

In their place, identity politics and diversity, equity, and inclusion have been mainstreamed. We see the results across academia, and the broader culture: division along racial and ethnic lines, loss of national pride, and the upending of the American idea itself. The oppressor/oppressed model of social organization legitimizes hatred of the designated “guilty” class and allows antisemites not just to blame the “white, colonialist” Jews for their list of grievances, but to do so righteously and brazenly. 

Zola would have a difficult time writing a letter today in defense of the many Jewish students being harassed on college campuses or on our city streets. He might find there is no collective to which an appeal for collective conscience can be addressed.

Any such appeal would likely be met either by a tepid statement about tolerance issued by a politically sensitive and morally confused college president or by a mob of fanatic DEI activists that would sooner indict the French novelist for his racist, colonialist sympathies than shame his targets for their shameless indecency.

We need a new civilizational call that recognizes Jew hatred’s bold, unrestrained face, and that addresses the underlying American cultural rot that allows it to proudly express itself.

A century before Zola, Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle wrote a song that would later be called “La Marseillaise” and serve as the French national anthem. The lyrics alert citizens to the threatening “roar” of soldiers in the distance coming to cut the throats of their sons and wives. “Aux Armes” — to arms — it beckons them, and us as well. 

Tragically, Israelis today are taking up arms on a real battlefield. Hamas breached the fence. American Jews face a less physically dangerous, but no less existential, fight on the battlefield of ideas. Post-October 7, the DEI generation hand-glided into our X and Tik Tok accounts, where they openly debate the definition of “decapitated.”

Indoctrinated college students defend the “oppressed” by ripping posters of kidnapped toddlers from walls, unsympathetic to the plight of child “occupiers.” Faculty at prestigious institutions proudly sign their names to petitions that convert Hamas’s medieval butchery into sanitized political “resistance.”

The moral and intellectual degradation caused by the bad ideas that have permeated our culture are even more shocking in their overt, unabashed presentation. That so many seem so unashamed to speak and act the way they do discloses how late we are to the battle and how important the fight has become.

We thought it could all be contained the way Israel thought it could contain Hamas at its border. We too are guilty of a tragic “intelligence failure”; DEI and identity politics have become emboldened and, predictably, they have produced a grotesque strain of antisemitism reflective of the distorted worldview that bred them.

So now, Aux Armes. This is no longer an appeal to decency; it is a fight against those who show none. The decision to trade in America’s promise for the promise of allyship with those who seek to destroy it was a bad one for the entire country. It is time to partner with Americans of all faiths who have been working to reclaim our shared values from those who are drugged up on DEI and determined to drag us all down with them. 

The New York Sun

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