Palestinian intellectual accused of lying

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LONDON — An intellectual powerhouse of the Palestinian cause has fabricated his past to promote himself as a symbol of dispossession and exile, according to an article in 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 1947 in the face of threats by the Haganah, one of the pre-state Jewish resistance movements.

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 wrote 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, Weiner concluded.

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

Far from growing up in pitiful exile, wrote 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."

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, Said 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."

According to Weiner, 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, who incited a mob to burn down his Cairo stores. The entire family business was subsequently nationalized by Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser.

A Columbia University spokesperson would not comment, except to say, "We do have a lot of faith in Dr. Said."

Said could not be reached for comment. He did say through an aide, however, that he had never spoken with the Commentary writer and had never heard of him.

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 become an outspoken opponent of the Oslo accords.

He is author of such works as "Peace and its Discontents," "The Politics of Dispossession" and "Blaming the Victims." He has written a memoir, "Out of Place," which is set for publication in September

In the new book, Said reportedly acknowledges living in Egypt.

"I and my researchers interviewed 85 people over three years, including Edward Said's cousin, Robert, in Amman and a family friend in Cairo," Weiner countered. "I think people told him that the house of cards was looking perilous."

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

Hussein Ibish, the media director of the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in Washington, called Weiner's essay an attempt to discredit the claims of Palestinian refugees.

"His whole idea is to try to paint a picture of a group of people, including Said, who lost their homeland as not having any legitimate grievance," Ibish said.

Weiner used "unfair literalism," Ibish said, adding that Said speaks of "the emotional landscape of home, the emotional landscape of longing. It is an outrageous hatchet job. The fundamental claim that Said has been systematically misrepresenting his past is not true."

He also dismissed the magazine as a Zionist, right-wing journal.