While intellectuals engaged in public advocacy long before the term ‘public intellectual’ was coined, it was largely Emile Zola’s cry ‘J’accuse’ during the Dreyfus Affair in late nineteenth-century France that gave rise to the expectation that intellectuals ‘speak truth to power’. Yet, while many twentieth- and twenty-first-century intellectuals have spoken to power either as critics or as ‘fellow travellers’, their public engagement has always been accompanied by the question of legitimacy: why should their opinions be valued more than those of coachmen, shoemakers or, for that matter, Facebook users? The intention in this article is to partly address this question by investigating the strategies of legitimisation and validation used by public intellectuals in their political argumentation. Focusing on one case study – the long, burdened and erratic relationship between Israel’s writers and scholars, and the country’s prime ministers – I propose three main sources of validation used by public intellectuals: their preoccupation with ideas, their historical knowledge and their reputation. I illustrate these three modes of validation by analysing open letters written by theologian Martin Buber, philosopher Nathan Rotenstreich, historian Jacob Talmon, novelists Amos Oz and David Grossman, and others to Israel’s prime ministers from 1948 to the present, showing how the three modes evolved in response to the respective prime ministers’ attitudes towards the political involvement of intellectuals and how they were combined by public intellectuals in need of effective strategies to legitimise their stand in given political situations. I then try to assess the effectiveness of such strategies and conclude by noting the challenges posed to public intellectuals today by new players in the market of ideas, especially bloggers using new sources of validation, such as their closeness to the grassroots, in their political argumentation.
Because religion has been a constant source of social divisions and political conflicts, the role of Judaism in Israel is very often studied through the prism of a rigid religious–secular cleavage.Without denying the contentious character of religion in the political and social arenas, I suggest in this study that a closer look at the usages of religion in Israeli politics offers a more nuanced picture of the role of Judaism in Israel. In order to uphold this thesis, I identify the main usages of Judaism in the Israeli Parliament (the Knesset) and scrutinise the extent to which these different mobilisations overlap or crosscut the secular–religious cleavage. This analysis leads to a typology of three usages of religion: religion as a source of authority, religion as a marker of identity and nation, and religion as a source of values. On this basis, I demonstrate that the role of religion in Israel and especially in the Israeli Parliament cannot be reduced to the divide between religious and secular groups. If in its first usage, the religious–secular cleavage indeed predominates, the use of religion as an identity marker does not necessarily lead to a conflict with secular members, while in its final form, religion is mobilised as a resource by members of both groups.
Israeli religious settlers live in contested territory that they claim is promised to them by God. The settlers are at the center of the Israeli–Palestinian dispute and are the recipients of international condemnation for their illegal behavior. Because the territories are neither sovereign nor legally recognized by Israel, their definition is open to construction. Religious settlers make arguments to satisfy three discursive dilemmas that must be solved in order to normalize their lives. They must 1) construct their own authenticity, 2) marginalize the native others, and 3) establish cultural authority. These dilemmas are explicated in this essay.