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Jewish World Review March 27, 2001 / 3 Nissan, 5761

Eric Fettmann

Eric Fettman
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Palestinian (?) poser
prof pays a price

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- THE past 12 months or so haven't been the best of times for Edward Said, professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University and for 20 years one of the most high-profile spokesmen for the Palestinians.

First came a devastating 17,000-word article in Commentary magazine that put the lie to Said's oft-told saga of painful dispossession at the hands of the evil Zionists from his ancestral home in Palestine. That story, wrote Salman Rushdie, "enables us to feel the pain of his people."

But as Justus Reid Weiner discovered in three years of research, little of Said's story actually is true. Although born in Jerusalem (during a family visit), he was raised and educated in Cairo. His "ancestral home?" Said never lived there.

Actually, Said pretty much escaped being exposed as the Palestinian Tawana Brawley. His longtime supporters defended him as a victim of Israeli extremists - conveniently ignoring the irony of someone dedicated to academic truth having fabricated his personal history. (Do Columbia students who submit phony transcripts get off scot-free, too?)

Things really exploded for Said last summer in Lebanon, when an Agence France-Presse photographer snapped him heaving a stone at a border guardpost manned by Israeli soldiers.

Now, as part of the fallout from that incident, the Sigmund Freud Society has disinvited Said from delivering a lecture in Vienna. Johann August Schulein, the society's president, told The New York Times that "a lot" of his members "told us that they cannot accept that we have invited an engaged Palestinian who also throws stones against Israeli society."

Predictably, Said again assumed the mantle of professional victim: "Freud was hounded out of Vienna because he was a Jew," he said. "Now I am hounded out because I'm a Palestinian."

Not quite. Said claims he is being persecuted for his beliefs, disingenuously ignoring the fact that his outspokenness on the Middle East has hardly hampered his academic career. But committing an act of violence is entirely different --- even if no one was injured.

For Said, throwing the rock was a "symbolic gesture of joy." For others, it was a gratuitous act of violence.

Of course, academia has hardly been off-limits to stone-throwing professors. During the '60s, unrestrained militancy and advocacy of violent opposition to political "repression" was all the rage on campus - witness Angela Davis, for example.

And Columbia has given its tacit approval to Said's violent assault. After two months of indecision, university officials issued a statement defending Said's "exercise in academic freedom," adding: "This matter cuts to the heart of what are fundamental values at a great university."

Which only goes to show that the folks at Morningside Heights remain caught in a political time warp. As Times columnist Clyde Haberman found, any attempt to throw a "symbolic gesture of joy" at the Columbia campus would result in immediate arrest.

Nor is Columbia alone in defending Said. Robert Fisk, Middle East correspondent for Britain's The Independent, last month claimed the "abuse and outright threats" against Said are "fast reaching McCarthyite proportions" simply because he "dares to tell the truth about the Palestinian uprising."

Said insists the rock was "a pebble" and that the nearest soldier "was half a mile away." But the Lebanese paper As-Safir reported at the time that Said was only a short distance away from Israeli soldiers in a watchtower.

So what does it all mean? On one level, the action speaks to Said's hypocrisy. For all his past talk about Israeli-Palestinian conciliation, participating in violent attacks hardly leads to conciliation.

Indeed, it speaks more to his more recent denunciation of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. As Justus Reid Weiner told The Washington Post: "You sometimes capture the essence of what a person stands for in a momentary gesture they may not have thought out in advance."

And, in fact, Shlomo Avineri, a left-wing Israeli academic, has written that Said "joined the Rejectionist Front. For [him], anything short of a total Palestinian nationalist victory - i.e., the elimination of Israel - is unacceptable."

For all his claims to victimhood and persecution, even this latest setback won't harm Said's career. The Freud Museum in London has invited Said to deliver his lecture there, instead - and he's accepted.

But Said has injured his own demand for political credibility. First he manufactured his personal tale of woe. Now he refuses to accept that there's a world of difference between denouncing Israel with words and attacking the Jewish state with rocks.

Sigmund Freud would have diagnosed it as classic case of denial.


JWR contributor Eric Fettmann is a columnist for the New York Post. Comment by clicking here.

01/19/01: A double standard on faith
12/01/00: What broke Barak
11/17/00: Back from the brink?
11/10/00: 'Stolen election': An ugly precedent

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© 2000, Eric Fettman