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In Defense of Marty Peretz

“Taking up the ideas of John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt about the inordinate influence of the ‘Israel Lobby’ on American foreign policy,”  writes Schoenfeld, “James Fallows of the Atlantic writes that ‘[t]o the (ongoing) extent that AIPAC–the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which calls itself ‘America’s Pro-Israel Lobby’–is trying to legitimize a military showdown between the United States and Iran, it is advancing its own causes at the expense of larger American interests.” The people behind this cause, he continue ‘are not from one ethnic group in the conventional sense but are mainly of one religion (Jewish).’ “To observe this, writes Fallows, and to warn against it, ‘including the disastrous consequences of attacking Iran’ that it is seeking to bring about, is not to be anti-Semitic. And noting the ‘power and potential’ of groups like AIPAC ‘to distort policy’ simply means ‘recognizing that James Madison’s warnings about the invidious effects of ‘faction’ apply beyond the 18th century.’”

As Schoenfeld argues, Fallows himself is part of the faction “of liberals who in almost all instances oppose the use of American power abroad. This faction, too, might be thought of as invidiously ‘advancing its own causes at the expense of larger American interests.’”

Take Wells’ second paragraph, in which he blames Israel for refusing “to stop construction of new settlements; its growing hostility toward the international community and the Obama administration; its storming of an aid flotilla off the Gaza Strip in May- these postures and incidents have led some of the liberal intellectuals who have historically defended Israel to begin to edge away.”  He writes as if it was not Obama who reversed a fifty year policy of support for Israel, bowed and scraped before Israel’s enemies, snubbed Netanyahu and reneged on Bush’s pledge about allowing settlements. Obama, as most observers have noted, made it impossible for the Palestinian Authority to do any less than Obama had, and hence they demanded Israel make concessions before any negotiations. And then he describes the terrorist attempt to break a legal  blockade of Gaza as an “aid Flotilla,” rather than a blatant attempt of Hamas supporters to push Israel to the wall. Wallace-Wells, clearly, is in the Beinart-Walt-Mearsheimer camp- and is in no position to criticize Peretz for standing firm against them.

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.