In a description for a new BBC Four drama Paris Police 1900, the broadcaster referred to Captain Alfred Dreyfus – who became the centre of the Dreyfus Affair – in a way that “implies he was actually a spy when he wasn’t”, according to Jewish News web editor Jack Mendel.
The Dreyfus Affair was largely seen as a notable example of antisemitism and miscarriage of justice, as Captain Dreyfus was wrongly accused of selling military secrets to the Germans.
Writing on Twitter, Mr Mendel explained that a more accurate description of him would have been “the accused Jewish spy”.
Mr Mendel added that “from what I’ve heard, the series is excellent”, but that he felt like “this is clumsy, out-of-context language”.
“I really like the BBC, and think sometimes carelessness can be perceived as spite or deliberate attempts to offend,” he said. “This isn’t that.”
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The offending description was also used by BBC Points of View in a tweet asking if they thought the show was a hit.
Instead, many responded angrily to him being called a spy.
The description has since been corrected to refer to Captain Dreyfus as having been “arrested for spying”, though the tweet remains as of Monday morning.
A BBC spokesperson told Mr Mendel: “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 antisemitism.”
However, high-ranking military officials suppressed the new evidence as they claimed the matter had already been decided. They did not want to admit to the embarrassment of such a major miscarriage of justice, and so would rather keep an innocent man imprisoned.
Leading French military officials even sought to forge documents, referring to Captain Dreyfus as “the Jew”, and conducted a public campaign rife with antisemitism.
Without the evidence found by Major Picquart, a military court acquitted Major Esterhazy.
Subsequently, famed French writer Emile Zola penned a 4,500-word open letter to the French President entitled “J’Accuse…!”
It formed part of a public campaign to bring justice to Captain Dreyfus. Many French intellectuals and artists, including Henri Poincare and Claude Monet, publicly rushed to his defence.
In 1899, Captain Dreyfus was returned to France for another trial. It saw antisemitic riots break out in the country, attacking Jewish people and their property.
The new trial resulted in another conviction and a 10-year sentence, but Dreyfus was pardoned and released.
In 1906, Dreyfus was exonerated and reinstated as a major in the French Army.
He served during the whole of the World War 1, ending his service with the rank of lieutenant-colonel, and died in 1935.
It is not the first time the BBC has been accused of brushing over antisemitism.
In 2019, the broadcaster allegedly mistranslated the Arabic word for “Jew” to “Israeli” in the documentary “One Day in Gaza”.
One alleged mistranslation was that of a Gazan who said: “The revolutionary songs, they excite you, they encourage you to rip a Jew’s head off.”
American historian Deborah Lipstadt – famed for taking on Holocaust deniers – said at the time it was a “blatant example” of how the BBC “engages in antisemitism denial”.
In response, a BBC spokesperson said “expert advice” had been sought – and that the translation of ‘Yehudi’ as ‘Israeli’ in the documentary “is both accurate and true to the speakers’ intentions.”