The BBC described Alfred Dreyfus — a French-Jewish officer accused of treason in the Dreyfus Affair — as a "notorious Jewish spy" in its summary for the first episode of a period police drama released on October 9.
"Paris, 1899. The French Republic is in turmoil as rumors spread about the release from Devil's Island of Dreyfus, the notorious Jewish spy," read the summary for episode 1 of BBC's Paris Police 1900.
According to the BBC, the summary was later changed to avoid misunderstanding. The line from the program page was rewritten to describe Dreyfus instead as having been "previously arrested for spying."
Dreyfus was a Jewish officer in the French army who was baselessly accused of treason by a deeply antisemitic establishment.— HonestReporting (@HonestReporting) October 10, 2021
After initially being convicted and humiliated, he was later exonerated of all charges.
Yet the @BBC refers to him as a "notorious Jewish spy". pic.twitter.com/woFbgdnztM
"The sentence was not intended as an [sic] historical statement, but to reflect the rumors towards the Dreyfus case that we see in the drama — which also depicts the rise of antisemitism," the BBC Spokesperson said in response to a Jerusalem Post inquiry.
"For the BBC to produce a series featuring Alfred Dreyfus, who was baselessly accused of treason, and then describe him as a 'notorious Jewish spy' is an insult to his memory and to the Jewish community in general," Emanuel Miller, a media analyst at the media watchdog organization HonestReporting, told The Jerusalem Post. "The Dreyfus case represented a key moment in Zionism's history and in the eyes of many is a byword for the miscarriages of justice suffered by Jews throughout the ages. How many times must a Jew's name be smeared?"
"While the website text was quietly changed, the BBC evidently feels it doesn't owe Jews an apology, much less take serious steps to familiarize its staff with the basics of antisemitism in order to prevent such easily avoidable mishaps," Miller said to the Post. "Unfortunately, judging by past experience, the BBC is unlikely to apologize for the insulting mischaracterization."
Alfred Dreyfus was a French Jewish Military officer who was falsely accused of treason in 1894 in the wake of the Franco-Prussian War. Dreyfus's officer sword was publicly broken, he was stripped of his rank, and imprisoned on Devil's Island. Eventually, reports of an army cover-up of Dreyfus' innocence and scapegoating were leaked to the press, later leading to his exoneration in 1906.
The antisemitism surrounding the scandal convinced Theodor Herzl, then a journalist and later one of the founding fathers of Zionism, of the necessity of establishing a Jewish state.