Revisiting Edward Said’s An Open Letter to American-Jewish Intellectuals

Nubar Hovsepian and Peter Beinart revisit Edward Said’s 1989 letter, in Jewish Currents. Nubar Hovsepian:

“THE WAY BEFORE US is quite clearly marked,” Edward Said wrote in 1989, in an unpublished “Open Letter to American-Jewish Intellectuals.” “We are either to fight for justice, truth, and the right to honest criticism, or we should quite simply give up the title of intellectual.” Said was responding to what he saw as an epidemic of bad faith among the American Jewish intellectuals of his time with regard to Israel’s dispossession of Palestinians. By offering support for Israel via the “dehumanization, dismissal, and, after the mid-1970s . . . demonization of the Palestinian people,” Said argued, these intellectuals had “played a critical role” in providing the Jewish state with ideological cover for its destruction of Palestinian life.

I read Said’s piece late in 1989 when he was trying to decide whether to publish it. Edward Said and I had been close friends since the 1970s; he was intrigued that I, an Armenian from Egypt, was involved in Palestinian movement politics in Beirut. I secured the rights to publish his book Orientalism in Arabic, and together we collaborated on many efforts in the struggle for justice in Palestine. I favored publishing the piece, but other friends and advisors—the socially well-connected writer and editor Jean Stein, literary scholar Masao Miyoshi, and Pakistani political theorist Eqbal Ahmad—disagreed. Entries from the diary I kept during that period record that these interlocutors thought the article was “not constructive enough” and that it “would expose him to great criticism.” They were right in the sense that, had Said gone ahead and published his entreaty, angry denunciations from Jewish intellectuals would have filled the pages of The New York TimesThe Wall Street JournalThe New RepublicCommentary, and The Atlantic.

Yet I ultimately found their caution misguided, because Said, the most prominent Palestinian in the US, was already under attack on multiple fronts.

More here.