What Edward Said Knows



Did you know that the Chmielnicki pogroms of the 17th century that killed so many Jews were really very "progressive" events ? No, you didn't know that ? Well, Edward Said knows.

And did you know that the Talmud teaches hatred toward Gentiles ? Edward Said knows.

Did you know that Jewish children are taught to utter a ritual curse when passing a non-Jewish cemetery? Edward Said knows.

Or that when orthodox Jews wash two hands, one is to worship Satan ? Or that Orthodox Jews frequently kill those with whom they disagree, for instance liberal rabbis ? Or that the Jews, spurred on by their religious traditions, oppress and kill the Palestinians ? You didn't even know THAT ? Well, Edward Said knows all this, and more. The Arab-American professor of literature at Columbia University not only knows all these things but he also wishes to share them with you.

The outlandish assertions that I have listed, and many more that are even more preposterous, are contained in a scurrilous little anti-Semitic pamphlet by one Israel Shahak, entitled "Jewish Religion, Jewish History." The French edition of Shahak was published in 1996 by La Vieille Taupe, a neo-Nazi sect in Paris that publishes books denying the Holocaust. And the French edition (but not the English) contains a remarkable eight-page introductory essay ("avant propos") by Edward Said.

Shahak is an eccentric Israeli chemist who, aged fifty-three in 1988, retired to devote himself full time to plagiarizing Nazi and other anti-Semitic writers. I had occasion to review his "Jewish History" when it appeared in English. This English edition (but not the French) bore an urgent recommendation by Noam Chomsky ("Shahak is an outstanding scholar, with remarkable insight and depth of knowledge. His work is informed and penetrating, a contribution of great value"). Gore Vidal, outdoing both Said and Chomsky, contributed his Foreword to both editions.

Said's essay in praise of Shahak, in the French edition, runs into a little problem. While the Holocaust never happened as far as La Vieille Taupe is concerned, Said has on more than one occasion spoken out against Holocaust-denying in the Arab world. So what to do when Said mentions, in passing, that Shahak is a survivor of the Holocaust ? La Vieille Taupe inserts a little footnote there, showing that Said is mistaken on this point (p. 12).

But for the rest, Said is right on board. He praises Shahak for the latter's felicity in describing Israel as "Judeo-Nazi" (p. 11). He appreciates Shahak's criticism of Arafat whenever Arafat showed himself conciliatory toward Israel (p. 13). And Said also approves of Shahak's opposition to Peace Now, since Peace Now, according to Said, is "shameful" in demanding peaceful actions from Palestinians (pp. 13-4). In short, Said finds in Shahak a kindred spirit in demanding, in effect, the complete dismantlement of Israel.

But these political points are completely overshadowed by what can only be considered the bad faith of Edward Said when he praises Shahak's "scholarship." Said says that Shahak is the greatest scholar he has ever known ("le plus grand érudit que j'aie jamais connu" -- p. 15). The book at hand, says Said, is a powerful study of Judaism, of its rabbinic and Talmudic traditions: "It is nothing less than a concise history of classic and modern Judaism insofar as these are relevant to the understanding of modern Israel" (p. 16).

So we see that Said of Columbia is at one with Chomsky of MIT : endorsing "scholarship" in fields in which he is not expert, in this case the "scholarship" of a shoddy, disreputable propaganda tract. It seems that two of the most distinguished American universities cannot guarantee the moral or indeed the intellectual integrity of what goes on within their walls.

Finally, it is an interesting fact that Said's praise of Shahak and his "scholarship" is effectively hidden from the public. It is not mentioned in the comprehensive bibliography of Said's writings, nor is Said's name mentioned in La Vieille Taupe's own on-line catalog. The book cannot be bought from the American or French amazon.com, it is not listed in the Library of Congress catalog nor in other standard catalogs that are available to the public. I myself became aware of it only when I visited the neo-Nazi Librairie du Savoir in Paris, which in fact is the book's distributor. It requires a professional librarian to verify the very existence of this item in the OCLC world catalog (not available to the public), or in the catalogue of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (which, to be sure, is available to anyone). It is here, in this official French source, that Said's dirty little secret -- his collaboration with the Nazis -- is laid open for all to see. The item is duly listed, as is Said's introduction to it.


Werner Cohn, April 2001


PS (June 2001): It appears that there is an English edition of the Shahak book that also contains the Said introduction. The edition of Shahak's book advertised by amazon.com says, on its cover, that it has a forword by Said. WC


Some further reading

The classic study of Arab anti-Semitism, published some thirty years ago, is, alas, as valid today as it was in the 1970's: Y. Harkabi, Arab Attitudes to Israel, Jerusalem, 1972

"'My Beautiful Old House' and Other Fabrications by Edward Said," by Justus Reid Weiner, Commentary, September 1999; available for purchase on line through the archives service of Commentary magazine. This article examines Said's claims to be a "Palestinian."

"Said's Splash," Chapter Two of Ivory Towers on Sand, by Martin Kramer, Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2001. This chapter summarizes the criticisms that scholars have made of Said's book Orientalism, and describes how, despite its intellectual weakness, this work by Said has become a powerful influence on the American academic establishment.






Other relevant pages on this website


Noam Chomsky's writings on Israel and Jews


Chomsky's Links to the neo-Nazis: Some documents


Chomsky Update: 2001


Israel Shahak's writings on the Jews






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