Little of this survived Peretz’s remaking of the New Republic. Within a year of gaining control he fired most of the staff and shifted the editorial direction toward the center/right. The new New Republic supported Reagan’s foreign adventures, including alliances with terrorists such as the Contras, and later both Persian Gulf wars. Sometimes the magazine would selectively back Democrats. It backed Al Gore (a personal friend of Peretz) for president and waxed elegant about the likes of Joseph Liberman. One progressive policy the magazine decided to support was universal health care. Peretz claims to be a life-long supporter of the Democratic Party but that has not stopped the ultra-conservative National Review from touting the New Republic as "one of the most interesting magazines in the United States".
One of the reasons we can get this mixed bag of positions from Peretz’s New Republic is because domestic policy is but a secondary interest of the editor-in-chief. "I care most about foreign policy," Peretz admits, and there is one aspect of foreign policy toward which he is down right obsessive. That aspect is US-Israeli relations. In more ways than one he keeps declaring that "I am in love with the state of Israel". And how does he tell the world of his love? Mainly through the pages and blog of the New Republic. He has made it into his mouthpiece, his vehicle for declaring his abiding passion for "Zion."
Peretz in love
It should be made clear that Peretz’s love of Israel is no ordinary love. It is not like, say, the love the founding fathers must have held for the new United States. No, Peretz’s love is of another order of intensity. It is that sort of passionate and blinding love that defeats reason. For instance, it has caused him to get Israel and the US all mixed up. According to Peretz support of Israel is a litmus test of American good citizenship: "Support for Israel, is deep down, an expression of America’s best view of itself." I suspect that he got this sentiment from Louis Brandeis, the first leader of the Zionist Organization of American as well as the first Jew appointed to the Supreme Court. Back in 1918 Brandeis declared that to oppose Zionism was to be disloyal to the US (see Lawrence Davidson, America’s Palestine, page 225, note 23).
One fellow who failed the litmus test is Charles W. Freeman Jr., the man Barack Obama momentarily considered for his chief of the National Intelligence Council. Peretz wrote at the time that Freeman was utterly unsuitable for the post. Why? Because he had raised questions about America’s uncritical support of Israel–an act which Peretz characterized as "an offence". By committing this "offence" Freeman had "questioned the loyalty and patriotism of not only Zionists and other friends of Israel", but also "the great swath of American Jews and Christian countrymen who believed that the protection of Zion is the core of our religious and secular history..." This is the way Peretz sees the world. And it is, of course, a severely distorted view. When you get so intense about, so in love with, a foreign nation that you insist this outside entity represents "the core of our religious and secular history", you have, as the saying goes, really gone over the top. Peretz has turned the United States and its national interests into a suburb of Tel Aviv.
In some of my earlier analyses I tried to show that "Zion" is in fact a racist place that does not resemble contemporary America, but rather America before the introduction of civil rights legislation. In today’s Israel, Arab Israelis are systematically discriminated against. Yet, a person who loves blindly will fail to see the faults of his or her lover. He or she may well adopt those faults as virtues and spend an inordinate amount of energy justifying the lover’s sins and castigating all who would be critical. And so it is with Martin Peretz. One way he has shown his perverse and obsessive love of Israel is by taking its anti-Arab line as his own. That has turned him into a bigot.
Back on 6 March 2010 Peretz said, "I can’t imagine any venture requiring trust with Arabs turning out especially well. That is, you will say my prejudice, but some prejudices are built on real facts, and history generally proves me right. Go ahead, prove me wrong." Such wholesale stereotyping is, to use Peretz’s term, an offence against everyone who has ever had a good Arab friend, who is successfully married to an Arab man or women, and to the very long and successful diplomatic relations the United States has had with such countries as Saudi Arabia and Jordan. And by making this common sense observation I have, at least strongly suggested, that what Peretz spouts is indeed wrong, and grievously so. But there is no doubt that this nonsense reflects his true feelings. And, it is his obsession with Israel that makes him see the world in this way.
On 4 September 2010 Peretz, again using the New Republic blog, returned to his prejudicial ways. "But frankly, Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims. And among those Muslims led by the Imam Rauf [leader of those seeking to create the Islamic cultural centre near ground zero] 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 honuor 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." Here, Martin Peretz presents himself as a walking and talking example of how one is almost always wrong when one indulges in gross simplifications and categorizations from the "gut’ or otherwise.
1. Imam Rauf has consistently demonstrated himself to be a moderate and sensible man. He has publically denounced radicalism in all religions and called on moderates to keep control of the leadership of religious movements.
2. How does Peretz know that hardly anyone of the imam’s supporters "has raised a fuss" about violence? Those supporters number in the thousands, and perhaps tens of thousands. Has he checked them all out?
3. The notion that "routine and random bloodshed ... defines their [Muslim] brotherhood" is just the lowest sort of stereotyping. If I asserted that the quite routine and random bloodshed caused by Israeli settlers in the occupied territories defined the "brotherhood" of Judaism, Peretz would go ballistic. Both statements can be properly labelled specious nonsense.
4. Martin Peretz has the First Amendment right to wonder out loud in a fashion that can only undermine the First Amendment. He can even legally do so in an atmosphere of growing and volatile Islamophobia, although in my estimation that is a bit like yelling fire in a crowded theatre. Such public assertions certainly put him in the running for the title of demagogue, but he is probably to impassioned to care. Occasionally, when he is called to task by a major national medium like the New York Times he will back off in a sort of resentful and ill-tempered way, like a little bully confronted by a schoolmaster. But you know that he does not mean it when he says he is sorry. You know he is insincere because, by consistently speaking first and thinking later (if at all), he wears his feelings on his sleeve.
The Harvard connection
This latest outburst of Peretz happens to coincide with a ceremony in his honour planned by Harvard University. It seems that Peretz was once an assistant professor at the prestigious school and that money plus contacts have subsequently taken him beyond that to the status of a school benefactor. We are here reminded of the recent conference on anti-Semitism held at Yale during which radical Zionists put on a display of bigotry disguised as academic research. Now it is Harvard’s turn to host a bigot. It might well be that some of the Harvard bureaucracy are embarrassed at having to fete Peretz (though they did choose Lawrence Summers as their president) but they seem to feel they are stuck with him, and so they cover their position with appeals to free speech. Even Harvard has a First Amendment right to reward a man whose stated desire is to deny the First Amendment rights of an entire American religious minority. According to Harvard’s publicly issued defence, going ahead with the ceremony makes the place "ultimately stronger as a university" engaging in "the robust exchange of ideas". Well, its their party.
Martin Peretz is a good example of that subset of Americans whose single-minded dedication to Israel makes them, for all intents and purposes, agents of a foreign power. Indeed, in his willingness to pronounce his affection in the most indiscrete way, Peretz can be seen as their spokesman. These folks get very upset when you describe them this way, but that is because they have so mixed up America and Israel that, in their minds, there is no real difference between the two. As the Bard once said, "love is blind and lovers cannot see what petty follies they themselves commit". Alas, these follies are far from petty.
I once had the dubious pleasure of appearing in a debate with Peretz. I remember him as a small man of nervous temperament. He had a tendency to handle challenges to his position by speaking very fast and very loudly so that you could not get a word in edgewise. Based on this behaviour "I had in my gut the sense" that he was quite capable of going hysterical. Such people usually self-destruct over time and maybe that will be Martin Peretz’s fate. I do hope so.
Lawrence Davidson is professor of history at West Chester University. He is the author of numerous books, including Islamic Fundamentalism and America's Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood.