A Cautionary Tale: Marty Peretz's Monochromatic Support for Israel and His Penchant for Making Anti-Arab Remarks Have Led Him into a Political and Philosophical Foxhole
Alterman, Eric, Moment
I've written frequently in these pages about the damage to the character of American Jewry when the commitment to defending Israel leads us to view all of the problems of Jews or Israel through the exclusive prism of persecution. To those who doubt the wisdom of this warning, I ask you to examine the life and career of one Martin L. Peretz, until recently editor-in-chief, owner and defender of all things Israeli at The New Republic (TNR).
Peretz's story has recently been traced in detail in two exceptionally well-written and searching profiles, one in New York and one in The New York 'limes Magazine. TNR, once America's most influential liberal weekly magazine, went through many phases of liberalism, neoliberalism and neoconservatism during the 37 years Peretz controlled it. But one thing remained constant: the magazine's uncompromising and uncomplicated pro-Zionism. Whatever Israel did was right. Whatever its opponents said was wrong. Whoever failed to recognize this essential truth was bad. Upon this axis, Peretz's entire world turned.
Over the decades, Peretz's monochromatic support for Israel developed an unfortunate corollary: anti-Arab racism. Arabs, according to various Peretz quotations over the years (which I gathered for a 2007 piece on Peretz in The American Prospect), have been "violent, fratricidal, unreliable, primitive and crazed ... barbarian"; they have created a "wretched society," are "cruel, belligerent, intolerant," "murderous and grotesque" and "can't even ran a post office"; their societies "have gone bonkers over jihad" and they are "feigning outrage when they protest what they call American (or Israeli) atrocities"; they "be have like lemmings" and "are not shocked at all by what in truth must seem to them not atrocious at all"; and to top it all off, their rugs are not as "subtle" and are more "glimmery" than those of the Berbers.
Most people ignored these pronouncements until Peretz decided, in the fall of 2010, to take them a bit further. Writing on his blog, The Spine, in response to the controversy over whether to build an Islamic community center near Ground Zero in Manhattan, Peretz declared, "Frankly, Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims. And among those Muslims led by the Imam Rauf [Feisal Abdul Rauf, leader of the proposed center] 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."
This statement, coming as it did in the midst of a campaign of anti-Islam jingoism led by the likes of Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, got Peretz noticed in a way he hadn't been before. Nicholas Kristof, writing on The New York Times op-ed page, wondered whether it was "possible to imagine the same kind of casual slur tossed off about blacks or Jews? …