UK Labour Shadow Chancellor Sparks Outrage by Comparing Assange Case to Dreyfus Affair
The UK Labour party’s shadow chancellor of the exchequer set off a storm of controversy on Thursday when he referred to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s legal situation as “the Dreyfus case of our age.”
Assange is wanted by the US for his exposure of classified information relating to, among other issues, the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, and is facing possible extradition from the UK.
The Guardian reported that Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said during a visit to Assange in prison, “I think this is one of the most important and significant political trials of this generation. In fact, longer.”
“I think it is the Dreyfus case of our age, the way in which a person is being persecuted for political reasons for simply exposing the truth of what went on in relation to recent wars,” he asserted.
The “Dreyfus case” refers to Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a 19th-century French-Jewish army officer falsely convicted of espionage by antisemitic forces in the French military and government before being exonerated more than a decade later. The case polarized French society and is now widely seen as one of the worst miscarriages of justice in modern European history.
McDonnell is widely known for his far-left views, which have included support for the Irish terrorist group the IRA and calling for Britons who served in the IDF to be stripped of their citizenship. McDonnell has also accused Israel of “genocide.”
He is a close aide of outgoing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who the overwhelming majority of British Jews consider to be personally antisemitic.
The response to McDonnell’s statement on Thursday was swift and angry.
The UK Jewish organization the Community Security Trust (CST) called it a “disgraceful false equivalence to one of the key learning moments of modern Jewish history.”
David Hirsh, a leading expert on British antisemitism, tweeted, “Dreyfus, an officer in 19thC France, framed as a German spy because he was Jewish. Even when his innocence was proven, antisemites held the state must not admit its fallibility. McDonnell should worry about antisemitism, not borrowing its history for absurd, spurious analogies.”
Karen Pollock, the chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said, “Dreyfus was a French artillery officer falsely accused of treason because he was Jewish. Go figure how or why John McDonnell could make such an inappropriate comparison with the Assange case.”
“Outrageous, ridiculous, and so deeply offensive,” she added.
Assange has been charged with espionage in the US for his WikiLeaks activities. He was granted asylum by Ecuador in 2012 and remained in the Ecuadorian embassy in London until 2019, when he was arrested by British police pending extradition to the US.
Earlier this week, The Guardian reported that a British court had been told that US President Donald Trump had offered Assange a pardon in exchange for a statement that Russia was not involved in stealing and leaking Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails during the 2016 presidential election campaign.
The claim was denied by the former Republican congressman, Dana Rohrabacher, who allegedly conveyed the proposal to Assange.