This article focuses on intellectuals—writers, philosophers, academics, scientists, and artists—who, by virtue of their accomplishments and talents, or simply because of their renown, wielded such moral authority that they became at times veritable “leaders of conscience,” influencing public opinion and, indeed, government policy in France. Responding to major events, whether colonial wars, international crises, or significant domestic political battles, French intellectuals weighed in time and again, from the Dreyfus affair to the bogus Sarkozy debate on “national identity.”1 This article reviews the stance of French intellectuals on the question of Palestine and the wider Arab-Israeli conflict, and examines how the ideological and political assumptions underlying their positions were not always amenable to rational explanation or easily ascribed to traditional attitudes of the Left and Right.
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