'The New Republic': Bad for the Jews
We all face phenomena in life that make us crazy. If Jews have a few more of these than most groups, then perhaps our history entitles us. The trick is to keep these neuroses under control, at least in public--a challenge made more difficult by the invention of the blogosphere.
One Jew who has clearly given up the fight is the longtime owner and self-appointed editor in chief of what was once liberalism's flagship weekly, The New Republic. Under Marty Peretz's lengthy tenure, TNR has lost much of its circulation, even more of its liberalism and every last bit of its weeklyness. And while this long-term decline has many causes, much of it is due to the fact that Peretz's increasingly nasty neoconservatism, which was held in check in the past by strong editors like Michael Kinsley and Hendrik Hertzberg, has come to dominate the magazine's character as never before.
Peretz regularly employs TNR's website to publish what are inarguably racist rants directed toward Arabs and other adherents of Islam. A recitation of just his greatest hits on this score might fill this entire magazine, but here's a representative example: "I actually believe that Arabs are feigning outrage when they protest what they call American (or Israeli) 'atrocities.' They are not shocked at all by what in truth must seem to them not atrocious at all. It is routine in their cultures. That comparison shouldn't comfort us as Americans. We have higher standards of civilization than they do." Lately, Peretz has added Latin America to his collection of inferior brown-skinned civilizations he could do without. Mexico, for instance, suffers from being a "Latin society with all of its characteristic deficiencies: congenital corruption, authoritarian government, anarchic politics, near-tropical work habits."
Admittedly, all this is not exactly news, but what has gone largely unremarked is how much of TNR's ire has, of late, been directed at American Jews and in particular Jews who believe that the best way to protect Israel's long-term future would be to commit itself to finding a common ground for peace with the Palestinians.
Consider this: the young Jewish blogger and author Matthew Yglesias is widely recognized among liberals as one of the leading lights of his generation. And yet The New Republic has recently been forced to apologize to Yglesias twice for misrepresenting his views on Israel, and in both cases the topic at hand was his support for the new Jewish peace lobby J Street. (One of these apologies came from Peretz himself; the other from his widely recognized "Mini-me," James Kirchick, a former personal assistant promoted to the rank of TNR assistant editor.) An extremely reluctant apology was also forthcoming from Kirchick to another leading young liberal Jewish journalist, Ezra Klein, as well as to the not-so-young yours truly, following his repeated spewing of similarly malicious lies about our views on J Street. And yet despite the obvious embarrassment to the magazine, its editors, contributors and friends these public humiliations undoubtedly cause, the invective and personal insults continue unabated. Younger Jews with whom Peretz disagrees are "pubescent" members of a "Juicebox mafia"; older ones are "aging...ideologue[s]" and participants in a "circle jerk."
The issues here extend beyond the disturbing decline of a once-great liberal magazine. TNR is also doing damage to the cause of Israel in a multiplicity of ways. Most obvious, it is helping to push Israel down a path where it will soon face only two options: to embrace a future of antidemocratic apartheid or sacrifice its Jewish character to preserve its democracy. Withdrawal from the West Bank is the only solution to this painful quandary, as all of Israel's true friends understand. And yet Marty Peretz even complains on the magazine's website when Obama and Hillary Clinton seek to prevent Israel's revanchist leaders Bibi Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman from exacerbating this problem by expanding Israel's illegal settlements on Palestinian land.
But presidents or prime ministers tend not to care what editors of little magazines think about anything; TNR's more significant sin is its purposeful weakening of the bond between Israel and liberal American Jews--which is most of them--which derives from the constant stream of insults it spews at those who dare to disagree with Peretz's hawkish prejudices. (This barrage is occasionally directed at TNR's own editors, like the estimable liberal intellectual John Judis, and former TNR editors, like the excellent investigative reporter Spencer Ackerman.) At J Street's recent convention, the organization's self-identification as "pro-Israel" generated considerable controversy and was reported to have been rejected by its university affiliate. J Street later corrected these early false reports, but they nevertheless inspired much merriment among bloggers from TNR, Commentary and The Weekly Standard, and others who sought to discredit the group with American Jews. To be honest, this Jew was more than a little disturbed himself. But then I considered it from the perspective of J Street's young supporters. They live in a media world in which to be considered "pro-Israel" is to appear to ally oneself with the likes of Peretz, Norman Podhoretz, Abe Foxman and AIPAC. Perhaps that alone is enough to alienate any number of idealistic young Jews, even those who "love Zion" as much as Marty Peretz...
Personally, I would prefer that J Street redouble its efforts to reclaim "pro-Israel" from the Jewish jingoists, as the group represents a potentially crucial counterweight to the neocon-dominated world of American Jewish institutional politics, whatever the price to its membership. In the meantime, perhaps anyone who considers him- or herself to be a genuine friend of Marty Peretz or his magazine might suggest that he consider a long, restful vacation. It would be good for The New Republic, good for American liberalism and, believe me, good for the Jews.