JERUSALEM — More than a century later, the French army has admitted that Capt. Alfred Dreyfus, an Alsatian Jew convicted of treason and sentenced to life imprisonment, was innocent.
The declaration was made during a discussion convened by the French Jewish community at which Jean-Louis Moreau, head of the army's history department, said Dreyfus had been innocent of all charges against him and was persecuted because he was a Jew, the Israeli daily Ha'aretz reported.
The Dreyfus Affair, as it came to be known, was a "military conspiracy which led to the conviction and deportation of an innocent man, and partially on the basis of a falsified document," the historian said.
Moreau said his remarks were nothing new and that the army had recognized Dreyfus' innocence since the charges were dropped.
The French Supreme Court in 1906 had overturned Dreyfus' 1894 conviction of spying for Germany, but the army had yet to openly state that the Jewish officer had not betrayed France, according to historical sources.
At the time of Dreyfus' conviction, the French army was rife with anti-Semitism.
Dreyfus had maintained his innocence, but his case did not gain public interest until evidence surfaced showing that another person spied for the German nation.
The suspect was acquitted quickly, prompting writer Emile Zola to publish an open letter, the famous "J'Accuse," claiming that the judges followed orders from the military.
One result of the Dreyfus Affair was to unite and bring to power the French left wing. Widespread anti-militarism and rabid anticlericalism followed, leading to the separation of church and state in France in 1905, historical sources said.
The Dreyfus Affair remains controversial even today. Last year, Moreau's predecessor was ousted after he suggested that Dreyfus was not innocent.
Also last year, the elite Polytechnique engineering school refused to have a statue of Dreyfus erected on its campus outside Paris.