In Defense of Marty Peretz

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Peretz’s friend Fouad Ajami, while trying to defend Peretz, had his comments used by Wallace-Wells to appear as an attack, so that one reads a quote from Ajami saying that   “there is an oldness about” Peretz.  Ajami also told Wallace-Wells that “Arabs understand Marty:me against my brother, me and my brother against my cousin, me and my cousin against the world.”  Ajami is only pointing out that Arabs respect those who are tough, and take advantage of those who try to appease them. Ajami is perhaps a writer whom Peretz cites more often than anyone else in his blog. On the question of Arab culture, the two stand together in holding a similar analysis. Yet the way in which Ajami is cited, readers would think that Ajami too is opposed to Peretz.

And then there were the demonstrations against Peretz at Harvard in late September, when he was supposed to be honored at the 50th anniversary of the school’s social studies program, where Peretz was director and then a lecturer, and which he endowed with a large amount of money. Leftist protestors proclaimed Peretz a “racist rat,” as one sign proclaimed, and any reader of the profile would have to conclude that their views are justified, since Peretz’s “long published record of provocations spoke for itself.”

So what were these “provocations” that were so horrid? Even if Peretz did go a bit over the top with hyperbole, and later apologized for some of what he said, is it right to judge the entire record of Peretz’s achievements by what he said in particular in one or two blogs? Of course, Wallace-Wells seems to find it bad that Peretz’s “ideological commitment to the left, though fervent on civil rights, had always been a little thin.” The evidence? That after the Six Day War in 1967, Peretz did not follow the black radicals in SNCC and other groups with its virulent condemnation of Israel as an imperialist-colonialist power, and that having given money to hold a New Politics Conference in Chicago, he left in dismay when black radicals and black nationalists took it over, and let loose an orgy of anti-white, and anti-Semitic tirades.

If this is “thin,” thank God for thinness. Peretz was far ahead of himself, seeing in its earliest gestations the danger of the white radical’s infatuation with the crazed African-American far Left. Even before The Black Panther Party came around and won the allegiance of the growing New Left, Peretz had already put that all behind him, and waited for everyone else to catch up to his wisdom.

Of course, all those who now hate Peretz argue the one good thing is to bring so many now eminent journalists into the start of their careers—people like Michael Kinsley, Hendrik Hertzberg, Leon Wieseltier, Andrew Sullivan, Frank Foer, the late Michael Kelly and others. So what is strange is the inability of any of these people to now speak up, and come to Peretz’s defense, since in so many ways, they would not have had the careers they eventually had without the start he gave them.  We learn that current TNR staffers talk of Peretz only “in a mocking context,” that they “make fun of his blog,” and were pushing for him to give it up. In a way, if this is so, it is a case of how Peretz’s decision to have the magazine a bit to the Left of him works personally against his own desire to maintain a tough foreign policy.

Marty Peretz is so ecumenical and tolerant, that he put into office as editor an entire slew of young college graduates whom he mentored, and who were to the Left of him on foreign policy, and on some domestic policy issues as well. Now, not one of them has spoken up for Peretz. Most of their anger is against Peretz for his strong views on Israel. When they think of Israel, they view it as the new oppressor rather than as a repository of Western values and democracy in an area of the world awash in the sea of Arab backwardness and tyranny. They do not like him continually pointing out the foibles of the Palestinian nationalists, and the weakness and corruption of the Palestinian authority, and the fact that the current Prime Minister of Palestine, Salam Fayyad, has little authority and little loyalty.

What is it in particular that inflamed so many against Peretz? Here is part of his offending blog:

Why do not Muslims raise their voices against these at once planned and random killings all over the Islamic world? This world went into hysteria some months ago when the Mossad took out the Hamas head of its own Murder Inc.

But, frankly, Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims. And among those Muslims led by the Imam Rauf there is hardly one who has raised a fuss about the routine and random bloodshed that defines their brotherhood. So, yes, I wonder whether I need honor these people and pretend that they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse.

Later, Peretz apologized for the sentence about the First Amendment, explaining:

I do not think that any group or class of persons in the United States should be denied the protections of the First Amendment, not now, not ever. When I insist upon a sober recognition of the threats to our security, domestic threats included, I do not mean to suggest that the Constitution and its order of rights should in any way be abrogated. I would abhor such a prospect. I do not wish upon Muslim Americans the sorts of calumnies that were endured by Italian Americans in connection with Sacco and Vanzetti and Jewish Americans in connection with communism. My recent comments on the twisted Koran-hating reverend in Gainesville will give evidence of that. So I apologize for my sentence, not least because it misrepresents me.

But Peretz refused to give in on his view that to many Muslims, life is cheap. And rightfully so. And this, in particular, is what led to the charge that he is a racist. As he writes, “ There is no hatred in my heart; there is deep anxiety about the dangers of Islamism, and anger at the refusal of certain politicians and commentators to adequately grasp those dangers, but there is no hatred, none.”  Indeed, what really perturbs his opponents is that in this age of Obama, they prefer the short-sighted policy of our President, whose would-be outreach to the Muslim world is an unmitigated disaster, and which Peretz has consistently and forcefully continued to point out, time and time again.

If you don’t trust my assessment, look at the comments of so many who have rushed to condemn Peretz, and to portray him in the worst possible light. Ben Smith, writing in, offers the following:

I’ve thought for a while that blogging can be dangerous, and… Peretz’s blog, The Spine, [is] the case in point. A blog can extend a writer’s reach and voice. But it can also diminish someone who, like Peretz, had no evident filter and a reputation to lose.

Even worse is M.J.Rosenberg, at Josh Marshall’s TPM Café. He writes that Peretz

… is ostracized at Harvard, pushed out at the New Republic, mocked in the Jewish community, even his Muslim-bashing blog is about to be discontinued. I am delighted to see this bigot in exile for many reasons including this: I can start reading the New Republic again, which somehow survived Peretz and remains, in my opinion, a good magazine.

Think of the arrogance. Peretz, who is the man actually responsible for making TNR important by distancing it from its old Popular Front past, is the single reason that this rather unknown columnist will start reading it again.

And then there is the despicable hater of anything that is pro-Israel, Philip Weiss, a man who writes for the Buchananite paleoconservative hate magazine The American Conservative, as well as the leftist Nation - the two partner journals that blend together in defense of isolationism. In his own blog, Weiss writes that Peretz is “a racist crank…who has been ‘stripped of his magazine’ and is reduced to telling Holocaust stories in sybaritic Tel Aviv.”  If Peretz even knows who Weiss is, I’m sure he is delighted to have him as an enemy, as any sane person would. Weiss adds that Peretz “has no idea how offensive his racial statements were. I guess he has been flattered by admirers/petitioners at Harvard and the Yivo Institute and the New Republic for so long that no one dared to give Marty the news.”

Weiss obviously has no idea that few take his writing seriously, and that many find his writings more than offensive.  As for his belief that Peretz’s dismissal is “a new moment in the life of the Israel lobby,” that statement is so bizarre one must pause to even know what he is talking about.  Then he praises both Tom Friedman and David Remnick for turning against Israel. I wonder if these two, critical of Israel as they might be, really welcome an endorsement by Philip Weiss?

Even writers for some conservative sites are attacking Peretz. At The Daily Caller, Tucker Carlson’s website, Mike Riggs writes that Peretz reminds him of his own grandmother, who like Peretz, engages in “tokenism” by always pointing out that she has black friends – just as Peretz supposedly told Wallace-Wells that he has both black and Muslim friends. So he agrees with Wallace-Wells, who wrote that when Peretz stooped to that level, it was clear that he was “drowning.”  In citing this part of the interview, Riggs joins writer Alex Pareene at the leftist site, who after reprinting the same portion of the Peretz interview, concludes simply that “The New Republic, and the American press in general, are better off without him.”

Whatever TNR’s faults and problems, Marty Peretz built up and created a journal of opinion that for a time, had a positive and large influence on American politics and culture. In areas like the arts and books, it is way ahead of Salon, Slate, The Daily Caller, and any of the new websites that all of Peretz’s critics are writing for. Yet these writers spare not one thought for what he has accomplished with TNR over the years, and persist in using one or two blogs as the reason to knock him as the one man in journalism everyone is supposed to rejoice in being ostracized.

Clearly, this is a witch-hunt against Peretz, by writers who have been waiting with knives sharpened for a long time. I have been waiting in vain, evidently, to find any defenses of Peretz by any of those major journalists he mentored and supported over the years. The sole exception is Jack Shafter in Slate, who noted accurately in September that “if Marty Peretz were to step down from the New Republic, there probably would be no New Republic.” He writes:

After 36 years, for better and worse, Peretz has basically become the New Republic. If we’re going to beat up Marty for being Marty—and, please, be my guest—let’s make ourselves uncomfortable by also acknowledging his contribution to journalism and thought. I won’t bore you with the names of people who have worked there, but he has always had a good eye for talent. He has always given young people great chunks of the magazine to run. Michael Kinsley was 26 when Peretz made him managing editor. Andrew Sullivan and Peter Beinart were each 28 when he appointed them editor. Franklin Foer was 31.

And that is a great accomplishment, one that few would risk taking, and that made Peretz a great editor and mentor. Shafer’s piece was written in September. So where are any of Peretz’s other defenders? Where is Rick Hertzberg, who writes for “Talk of the Town” at The New Yorker, as well as a regular blog in which he has commented on scores of people and what he objects to about them, from Charles Krauthammer to me, of whom he said I had “lost my marbles.”

So far only David Horowitz, who undoubtedly disagrees with much of what Peretz holds dear, has defended him, in a comment he posted on the comments section after the online edition of Wallace-Wells’ article.  Is Horowitz, one solitary conservative writer, going to be the only one coming to Peretz’s defense?

Nothing is harder in partisan politics than to oppose your own side when it is morally in the wrong. During the Cold War, Marty Peretz’s great contribution was to take a stand against the appeasement mentality of his fellow leftists, and their view that Ronald Reagan and America were greater threats to their nation than Mikhail Gorbachev and the Soviet Communists. Today he is being punished for the same moral fortitude, for opposing the appeasement mentality of leftists like Beinart and Fallows, and publications like The Nation, The New York Times, The New Yorker and other similar publications towards the Islamo-fascists in Palestine and the Arab world.

If this is to be the case, it says a lot about the unwillingness of so many of the bien pensant liberal intellectuals to come forward. And what does that say about the integrity of contemporary liberalism, and about its adherents, who owe much to Marty Peretz, even if they do not realize it right now?

Ronald Radosh, an Adjunct Fellow at The Hudson Institute, blogs regularly for Pajamas Media. Over the years, he has written frequently for TNR, and counts Marty Peretz as a good friend.

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  • WildJew

    I see Peretz wrote an open letter to Mr. Obama on Jonathan Pollard. Phyllis Chesler responds: "……Peretz not only despises Pollard; he despises his supporters as well and characterizes them as "brazen … professional victims, mostly brutal themselves, who originate in the ultra-nationalist and religious right. They are insatiable. And they want America to be Israel's patsy." Peretz damns Pollard because he does not like some of Pollard's supporters who, he claims, engage in "incessant special pleading.' ("Special pleading?" Now where have I heard this phrase before?) If released, Peretz fears, Pollard will be greeted by "triumphant hustlers in the streets of Jerusalem … dancing the hora, of course, ecstatic." And why? Because they will have "pulled one over on [President Obama]. Over America too." …..

  • scum

    TNR always had a confused set of useless positions that are best consigned to the dustbin of history. Peretz's universal comment about Moslems was in fact racist, because it judged hundreds of millions by his perceptions of the actions of a few. Do we deny Japanese can be good Americans, because 'they were all kamikazes'? Do we deny American soldiers can be good Americans, because they are willing to risk their lives going overseas into conflict zones? In reference to the so-called 'isolationist' tendencies of the Nation and the sneering reference to 'paleoconservatives', remember that isolationism is a word to describe American conservatives all the from the 1890s thru WWII. Also, one wishes this article addressed the thousands who were tortured or executed by the divine contras. We're still feeling the blowback, as gangmembers from broken families in Central America destroy our inner cities. And finally, it's ironic to talk about the Left opposing the only democracy in the Middle East, when it's the American Right that has supplied so much support to non-democratic regimes, Saudi Arabia in particular. I could go on, but why bother?

    • Beth

      Dear scum,

      When the mosques stop preaching beheadings, and the slaughtering of the 'infidels' only then can you have a valid point in your defense of the muslims. And racism has nothing whatsoever to do with it.

      The koran is what created saudi arabia and is the same source for the actions of Palestine. Without knowing it, you are contradicting yourself in defending Israel's enemies.

    • Chris

      Dont bother 'scum'. Politically correct progressives hate Israel and fundamentally agree with the Muslims that Israel should be wiped off the map. But diversity of opinions (such as non-antisemitic opinions) are not allowed by the left.

  • Hev

    I read the New York mag article with great interest, noting the intentional suggestion that he had somehow become non compos mentis, and wondered why a man like Peretz lasted so long on the left. The J Street lemmings and associated leftist Islamist supporters would never allow this: a man of liberal principles with neo-conservative leanings in a power position. Did Peretz not see this coming? It's the Juan Williams story all over again. Reminds me of the old Woody Allen joke, and I paraphrase, What do you get when you cross Dissent and Commentary? Dissentary!

  • Roland

    Peretz does not understand nor appreciate the fact big government is the path to tyranny and those who support the advance of tyranny always do so under the banner of social justice.

    This failure has led to his being an important player in maintaining the legitimacy of the modern left. It would have been better if there had been no Marty Peretz and no TNR, so the modern left and the Democrat Party could be seen earlier for what they really are.

    I have no sympathy for the man. Tear him down. Even better, let his vile 'friends' tear him down.

  • Alex Bensky

    I guess it's a side issue, but if criticizing Muslims is "racist" then the word "racist" has no meaning other than that the speaker dislikes something someone else has said, Muslims ranging from black sub-Saharan Africans to Asians of various hues and Balkan Muslims who are blond and blue-eyed. The left may gain some tactical advantages here and there by smearing everyone with whom it disagrees as racist. But in the long run, I wonder whether draining the word of any real meaning is a benefit to genuine anti-racism.

    Meanwhile, I did feel guilty to a certain extent when I let my New Republic subscription of many years lapse and took up The Weekly Standard, but I did it anyway.

    And yet again we see that the side that loses no opportunity to tell you how broad-minded, tolerant, and diverse it is reacts in heat and anger at any actual dissent.

  • Harry Kirmon

    When you lay down with dogs, you get flies. Peretz is like a naive guy deliberately and desperately trying not to see reality. A man who marries a prostitute is surprised when she is turning tricks and betrays him. Rather delusionary.

  • efffrem

    "Martin Peretz has been a pillar of responsible liberalism since buying The New Republic magazine in 1974."

    Responsible liberalism?!

    • Dechem

      We seem to be on a lot of the same sites… almost everywhere I go I see your name in the comments… I assume it's always you, anyway, because the spelling of your screen name stands out.

      You seem really stressed out, easily upset, and prone (even eager?) to making contentious comments. Politics aside, I can't imagine this is healthy. Add politics to the mix and you're heading toward an ulcer or an aneurysm. The last 5 or so times I've seen your name, I was able to predict almost exactly what you were going to say before reading your comment. I'm guessing you have more to offer, but right now what is coming out is just more whistling in the wind… which isn't the same thing as having a voice.

      Cynicism is easy. Coming up with useful strategies and observations, less so. I challenge you to focus on making the world a better place. I challenge you to consider that divisive rhetoric is what got us into this mess in the first place. I challenge you to take responsibility for the effect you have on the people you meet. But mostly I challenge you to be healthy.

  • meira

    Marty Peretz supported the Oslo give-away to terrorists, supported Israel's withdrawal from South Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, give-away to terrorists. Peretz refused to support a pardon for Pollard. His hatred of Jewish settlers is well-known. Now he gets hit from his own Leftist buddies; well-deserved!

  • dawning

    Taqiyya scum is pure taqiyya. ANYONE seriously reading and writting here who dosn't understand that ALL islam is dedicated to destroying ALL that which isn't islam is so ignorant as to be ignored or they are pure taqiyya. …."responsible liberalism" is an oxyMORON

  • Guest

    Two cents on Martin Peretz: 1) He has dedicated a lifetime to calling out abuses of human rights. At root is an uncommon knowledge of what rights are along with the belief that we as human beings actually have rights–a belief at odds with the spirit of autocracy in China, Russia, Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere. States were often targeted in his blog writings, but Peretz's main enemy was the idea that human beings have no rights at all. It’s this idea that was embodied in his targets and which he viewed as a deadly virus. It's for his Huntingtonian alarm of autocratic cultures that conservatives find Peretz both old-fashioned and prescient. 2) Martin Peretz was considered to be the arch-Zionist, however that title confused people because Israel was poorly understood by the U.S. national media. Yes, he did bear the standard of Zionism, but perhaps it is better to think of Peretz as Jew political philosopher and, more importantly, a man of his times. In this, Peretz's historical studies confirmed what he probably always thought: the Enlightenment, which brought scientific method and modern republicanism to a dark and petty world, was spawned by the Judeo-Christian tradition, and the myths of the Jews, that their land was promised to them by Yahweh God who had chosen them to bless many nations, were essentially true. It was in this light that radical Islamism became his Moby Dick, and the New Republic was Ishmael.

    Many people should feel pleased with what happened to Marty Peretz. I don't. I'm hoping he will be back for another act.