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Palestinian scholar dismisses attack on his reputation as work of ‘Zionist

LONDON, Aug. 31 (JTA) — A prominent Palestinian intellectual is attacking allegations that he fabricated portions of his personal history so he could claim he was a refugee. The allegations against Edward Said, professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University, were made in September’s Commentary magazine by Israeli academic Justus Weiner, who spent three years researching Said’s early childhood. Weiner found that Said, an articulate proponent of the Palestinian cause, did not, as he had claimed, grow up in Jerusalem, attend St. George’s School and then flee with his family in 1947 in response to threats by the prestate Haganah Jewish underground. Rather, says Weiner, Said was raised in privileged conditions in Cairo, from where his family fled to the United States as a result of attacks on his father’s business interests. In interviews this week, Said said he had never claimed to be a refugee and dismissed Weiner as a worker for “right-wing Zionists.” “I never said I became a refugee, but that my extended family — my uncles and cousins and aunts on both sides and my grandfathers — became refugees,” Said wrote in the London-based Arabic daily al-Hayat. In his memoir “Out of Place,” to be published at the end of this month, Said wrote that his mother’s Palestinian travel document “was a consequence of a shattering collective experience of dispossession.” It is this “collective experience,” he implies, that gives him the right to advocate the Palestinian cause as a refugee. In an interview with the London Sunday newspaper the Observer, which published an extract from Said’s memoirs this week, Said attempted to discredit a funder for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, where Weiner is scholar-in-residence. The paper noted that center’s leading benefactor is Michael Milken, a “junk-bond king who was convicted and sentenced in 1991 for his part in a massive insider trading scandal.” “He now runs a ‘nonprofit think-tank,’ the Milken Institute, which — according to its own documentation — ‘explores the dynamics of world economic growth.’ ” But the paper concedes: “It has no apparent direct links to hard right-wing Zionism.” In his interview with the Observer, Said accused Weiner of being “not a scholar or a journalist, but a paid employee of Milken and a group of right-wing Zionists for whom I am, I think, a symbol of what they fear most — reconciliation between Palestinians and Israelis.”

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