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Peretz Agonistes

The ‘TNR’ editor heads for the Holy Land

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Martin Peretz during earlier, awesomer times.(New York)

The most surprising thing you learn in New York’s generally fantastic profile of longtime New Republic owner, editor, and all-around maven Martin Peretz—assuming you know something of Peretz’s politics and recent controversies (and chances are, if you have already read the profile, you do)—is that he has been known to attend the protests in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, “in solidarity with Palestinians threatened with eviction.” This is astonishing, given that these protests have become something between a rite of passage and a shibboleth for the Israeli left (Todd Gitlin gave his first-hand account of the ritual earlier this month in Tablet Magazine) and that, on the question of Israel, Peretz is, shall we say, no dove.

But the profile depicts someone much more complex than the caricature of Peretz, furthered by his enemies but buttressed by his own blogposts, as a ranting, right-wing, and—there’s really no denying it—occasionally racist pundit. Partly, this more balanced view of Peretz is the result of a peace process so stagnant that someone on the right cannot help but seem like a moderate (Palestinian President Salam Fayyad is “a very modernizing person, but I would doubt that he commands loyalty,” Peretz says, and one can easily imagine someone with opposite views nodding in agreement). And partly, this more balanced view of Peretz may also be the result of the fact that Peretz—despite being, as the article’s title has it, “in Exile” from most of the things that have defined his seven decades (the United States, Harvard, his now-ex-wife, The New Republic)—cooperated with the profile and so presumably had some ability to craft the narrative it tells. This is not pure supposition on my part: Earlier this fall, a reporter on assignment for Tablet Magazine tried to interview Peretz about his participation in an English-language teaching program in Jaffa (which the profile opens with), only to be told Peretz wanted nothing written about his trip.

The article’s most important contribution to the public record is its filling in of the recent controversy surrounding Peretz’s remark, “Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims,” and the brouhaha it led to at Harvard. There good reporting about his unhappy childhood and about his long, tapering, and finally finished marriage. There is some choice inside-baseball stuff (longtime literary editor Leon Wieseltier remains a close friend of Peretz’s, but they no longer discuss Israel, which makes sense; TNR writer John Judis “knows zero” about Israel, Peretz opines, which isn’t true). There is one timeless line—“I mean, fuck these fancy Upper West Side rabbis,” Peretz complains—and another, from the writer Fouad Ajami, that seems really to get at the man: “Arabs understand Marty. He has that Middle Eastern quality: me against my brother, me and my brother against my cousin, me and my cousin against the world.”

And yet the true defense of Martin Peretz (besides the fact that he and his wife funded the presidential campaign of maybe the most worthy politician of the past fifty years, Eugene McCarthy) comes in one of those indelibly New York-y sidebars that runs alongside the article. It depicts the chronology of The New Republic’s editors: Michael Kinsley; Hendrik Hertzberg; Andrew Sullivan; Peter Beinart; Frank Foer. Those are some of the best and most important journalists of the past quarter-century, and Peretz sponsored them all, and in certain cases discovered them. You could add in a dozen or two-dozen more writers—Charles Krauthammer; Margaret Talbot; Jonathan Chait; Hanna Rosin; James Wood; Ruth Franklin—whom we perhaps would not have heard of were it not for Peretz. This is to say nothing of Wieseltier, whom Peretz has given rein to run the back of TNR’s book for 30 years, to nearly everyone’s benefit (I say “nearly” because one is obliged to spill a drop for some of the writers reviewed there).

Peretz’s legacy is his magazine. And so the best news the article brings is that Peretz’s magazine will soon discontinue the worst thing about it—Peretz’s blog.

Peretz in Exile [New York]
Related: Facts on the Ground
Earlier: Harvard Cancels Peretz Speech

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Yes, Peretz understood that the very best kind of magazine contains many very different voices, each outstanding in its own way, and none of them quite agreeing with any other–rather than the more common formula, in which an editor assembles a homogeneous stable of like-minded, same-sounding colleagues, with at most a couple of outliers for flavor.

Perhaps a certain online magazine should take note…

allan siegel says:

Peretz’s Legacy is similar to David Horowitz. Although Peretz relished being a wheeler-dealer in 60′s and knew how to connect the financial dots. When push came to shove these guys knew how to butter their bread; smarts guys but opportunists and with a constantly morphing sense of integrity.

I am honored to be compared to Marty Peretz who is currently undergoing a purge by the left — one of its periodic witch-hunts of individuals who fail to toe the party line. Peretz sin — like mine — is hardly opportunism. He is being punished for attempting to tell hard truths. In the Middle East, particularly in Gaza and the West Bank where suicide bombers are national heroes and saints, and a death cult has been spawned in kindergartens and the government media, Muslim life is obviously cheap and cheap for Muslims. But Peretz has been crucified for blurting this out. The worst aspect of this public burning is the silence so far of all the writers and editors of the left whose careers he nurtured and launched. It just exemplies, what I know from my own experience, that the left has no heart for people, for the individuals who serve it. It only cares about the purity of its ideas.

Andrew Sullivan made the Bell Curve the cover story for The New Republic. This is from a piece by Bob Herbert, located thanks to Wikipedia:

“Mrs. Maxwell comes to mind whenever I think (angrily and scornfully) about Charles Murray and his book “The Bell Curve,” a scabrous piece of racial pornography masquerading as serious scholarship.

Now, in middle age, Mr. Murray gets his kicks by thinking up ways to drape the cloak of respectability over the obscene and long-discredited views of the world’s most rabid racists. And so “The Bell Curve,” written with Richard Herrnstein, who died last month, promotes the view that blacks are inherently inferior to whites.

It’s an ugly stunt. Mr. Murray can protest all he wants, his book is just a genteel way of calling somebody a nigger.”

Sullivan has since written approvingly of this viewpoint. So where are the calls from liberal stalwarts for Sullivan to relinquish his position? Where were they when he tarred parents who choose to have their children circumcised ‘mutilators of boys’?

I’m not contending that Martin Peretz hasn’t made racial remarks. But we are giving ourselves false comfort if we subscribe to the erroneous belief that the outcry over his statements is about racism. It’s about Israel, and the fact that he has been an outspoken, uninhibited advocate for it.

elixelx says:

To have reached the age of three score and ten–there’s not that much time left, Marty!–and STILL not to know which side of the fence to come down on–well that’s just a dereliction of duty, not to mention your own personality, Marty…
Couldn’t you at least give him some advice about taking a definitive position on ANYTHING, Marc?! After all, anybody who thinks that Peretz’s most quotable quote was an F-bomb dropped on Rabbis, and that McCarthy was “the most worthy politician of the past fifty years..” must surely have some advice on stupidity worth sharing!
Finally, Marc, and just to demonstrate how age blunts good judgement, is the list of TNR Editors and Writers; notice the drop-off in quality, becoming increasingly steep as Marty gets more senile?
But at least he has senility to blame for the rotten choice! What’s your excuse, Marc!

elixelx says:

“What’s your excuse, Marc?” elixelx
Please don’t bother to answer! It’s rhetorical! And I already know the answer…Marc is a (Ann-Coulter described) LIBERAL!

Rachel says:

Did anyone else read the Tablet article cited by Mr. Tracy and find it utter blather?

Mr. Gitlin goes off into an extended flight of utter fantasy, imagining what was going on in the minds of the ultra-Orthodox Jews in his essay, painting them as bigots and misinterpreters of the Torah (I mean really, what would ultra-Orthodox Jews know about their own Torah?). He ends up by calling them “stiff-necked.” It never occurred to him to ask them what they thought about the demonstrators, themselves, or Numbers 15:16. Heaven forfend he should be open to learning new things or or risk having his cherished ideas proven wrong. What’s really scary is that someone this prejudiced and with this closed a mind is a professor at a prestigious university, molding the minds of our kids.

n defense of Peretz: Who in blog land is like him today with such a warts and all sensibility? The mistake is not to take him all in all and so not see the good and great for the bad and worse.

The good: smart, widely read, widely studied and learned, widely lived, widely associated with so much deserved eminence, a spit in the eye of political correctness, asking no quarter in the giving of no quarter, in your face fearless stating without equivocation what he thinks and feels for better and for worse, a lightning rod of provocativeness, bellicose but engaging in a larger than life way, passionate, stimulating and never tedious, marked by liberal and compassionate impulses, diverse interests, getting what you see and hear, beloved and feted by his students, outsized generosity, now teaching kids in Israel, alarmed by the right wing trends there as evident in last pieces on Jonathan Pollard and before on Avigdor Lieberman. Know him by his accomplishments. Know by his modest self-deference in the better interest of TNR. Know him by the mighty careers he helped launch. Know him by his friends. Know him by knowing that you won’t soon see his like again. Not to enfold his warts, which he wears like a badge of honor, into the wholeness of the man, not to see past the patina of his political incorrectness, is to miss a sum that is so much greater than sum of its bad and worse parts.

I rest my case.

Ken Besig, Israel says:

Too bad Peretz is the consummate bigot, no not towards the Palestinians whom he seems to deeply admire and respect, rather Peretz reserves his bigotry for his own People, the Jews. His rather puerile and shallow magazine, the New Republic, is known for it’s even handedness, just as Peretz is, often managing with amazing agility to equate Jewish and Israeli self defence with the terrorists trying to kill us.
Peretz is that bizarre form of Jew who constantly anguishes over how Israel has failed in it’s mission to be a “light to the nations” while unfailingly explaining to his readers how the neighboring Palestinians, while they may have their problems, only behave the way they do because of Israeli, and of course, Jewish provocation.
That Peretz has decided to make his home in Israel comes as no surprise. This is because now when he bashes Israel he can claim that he is only doing so as a committed citizen who is trying to save us from ourselves.
Well, Martin, no thanks!

Holly Robinson says:

I will greatly miss Marty’s blog ‘The Spine’ as it is generally right-on. This liberal has become a great fan of Marty Peretz as a truth-teller.

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Peretz Agonistes

The ‘TNR’ editor heads for the Holy Land

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