Did 'Palestinian powerhouse' lie about his upbringing for political gain, fame?

Machlokes / Controversy

Jewish World Review / August 25, 1998 / 13 Elul, 5759

Douglas Davis

You ought to be looking away, Said
Did 'Palestinian powerhouse' lie about his upbringing for political gain, fame?

The leading Palestinian intellectual has fabricated his past to promote himself as a symbol of dispossession and exile. In layman's terms, it's as if we found out that Elie Wiesel spent WWII in Manhattan, not Auschwitz.

http://www.jewishworldreview.com --
(JTA) ---- An intellectual powerhouse of the Palestinian cause fabricated his past to promote himself as a symbol of dispossession and exile, according to the September issue of Commentary magazine.

Edward Said, professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University, has always claimed to have spent his formative years at his father's Jerusalem home.

He has said he attended St. George's School in Jerusalem and that he went into exile when his family was forced to flee in the face of threats by the Haganah, one of the prestate Jewish resistance movements, in November 1947.

After three years of research, Israeli academic Justus Reid Weiner said he has the evidence to show that Said's claims are a total fabrication.

Said did not live in Jerusalem, did not go to school there and was not a refugee, Weiner writes in Commentary, a neo-conservative Jewish magazine.


Instead, Said grew up in an atmosphere of luxury, privilege and affluence in Cairo, where his father -- a U.S. citizen -- was a wealthy businessman.

While he was born at his uncle's home in Jerusalem during a family visit, his birth certificate states that his home is Cairo.

Said could not be reached for comment.

Weiner, a scholar-in-residence at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and a lecturer in law at Hebrew University and Tel Aviv University, bases his conclusion on research that included delving into public records offices, school registers and telephone directories.

Said, says Weiner, "has served up -- and consciously encouraged others to serve up -- a wildly distorted version of the truth, made up in equal parts of outright deception and of artful obfuscations."

Far from growing up in pitiful exile, writes Weiner, "the young Edward Said resided in luxurious apartments, attended private English schools and played tennis at Cairo's exclusive Gezira sporting club, as the child of one of its few Arab members.

"Whatever we finally make of all this," he added, "there can be no denying that the parable is a lie."

Said, who has served as an intermediary between the United States and the Palestinians and who wrote Yasser Arafat's famous "gun-and-olive-branch" speech to the United Nations in 1974, has since become an outspoken opponent of the Oslo accords.

Leiters Sukkah

He is author of such works as "Peace and its Discontents," "The Politics of Dispossession" and "Blaming the Victims."

One of Said's claims is that after his family was evicted from their home, it was occupied by the eminent Jewish philosopher Martin Buber.

In remarks during an address to Palestinian students at Bir Zeit University last year, he asserted that "Buber, of course, was a great apostle of coexistence between Arabs and Jews, but he did not mind living in an Arab house whose inhabitants had been displaced."

The truth is that Buber was a tenant of Said's uncle, who evicted Buber in 1942.

Also, it was apparently the Egyptians, and not the Zionists, who were responsible for the downfall of Said's family.

The American citizenship of Edward Said's father attracted the fury of Arab nationalists in Cairo who incited a mob to burn down his stores.

The entire family business was subsequently nationalized by Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser.

An Arab American organization released a statement this week defending Said, arguing that the article does not question Said's contention that his family lost ownership of its house as a result of Israel's 1948 War of Independence.

"Commentary's article is an undisguised and clumsy polemic designed to negate the Palestinian experience and undermine Palestinian national identity," said the statement from the American-Arab Anti- Discrimination Committee.

But for some, the article is convincing.

"Said, it seems, was so much in love with the idea of exile that he simply had to create one for himself," wrote British writer Daniel Johnson recently.

He noted that Said's work "Culture and Imperialism" identifies the "exilic" condition as the necessary prerequisite for the intellectual or artist to challenge the persistent grip of imperialism on Eastern culture.

"And so," wrote Johnson, "Said entered an imaginary exile."

Said's forthcoming autobiography, "Out of Place," is scheduled for publication in September.

It is said to correctly place Said's childhood in Cairo and to dispense with much personal mythology.

Said Weiner: "I and my researchers interviewed 85 people over three years, including Edward Said's cousin, Robert, in Amman and a family friend in Cairo.

"I think people told him that the house of cards was looking perilous."

Johnson, who described Weiner's expose as "a remarkable piece of investigative journalism," added: "This is a tragedy for him, but a greater one for the Palestinians who trusted him.''


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