Marty Peretz in Israel: New York Magazine Profiles an Editor in Exile

Benjamin Wallace-Wells' story on The New Republic's long-time editor-in-chief Martin Peretz and his "beef with the world" is worth your click-thru for the photos alone. The news:

A few weeks ago, Peretz agreed to give up his title as editor-in-chief of The New Republic. He will hold the title of editor emeritus and will continue to write for the magazine occasionally, but The Spine will be discontinued. He finds this abdication a relief. "I am," he says, "exhausted."

The scene:

Peretz is a fervent believer in Israel, but he always found the country a little small and so has often kept his trips short. Now he is here for seven months, teaching English writing to a class of eight 15-year-olds--immigrants, many of them, and poor. ...

Peretz is a born belligerent. He was anti-Stalin by the age of 7; spent half a century defending a controversial brand of Zionism in the obscure, fratricidal fights of the ideological left; and retains a decisive eye for an enemy. Now, at 71, Peretz has a broad trunk and very narrow hips, and he leaves the impression of having been stuffed into his own skin, kicking and screaming. His extraordinary capacity for charm is matched by an extraordinary capacity for anger, only partly diminished by years of therapy. "His anger has always been so much a part of him," says Anne Peretz, to whom he was married for 42 years, "that perhaps he doesn't even realize he's scaring people."

The fight, for Peretz, has always been about Israel first, and it has become particularly wrenching recently. As the Palestinian Authority began its first halting steps toward modernization, Israeli politics and society have pivoted to the right. The country's refusal 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....

Throughout, Peretz has seemed to grow only more resolute, his constitutional truculence more evident.

Peretz's reaction to the recent public criticism of his blog, The Spine:

The bigotry charge was what lingered. "I mean, it hurts," he said. We were in the dining room of the Loews Regency Hotel in midtown Manhattan, where the waiters greet him as "Dr. Peretz." At a basic level, he said, he can't be a bigot; he mentioned two close, personal black friends, one who is "so fucking smart," and then a third, a black student whom he had plucked from Harvard and made the circulation director of The New Republic. "I hired Muslims--I hired Fareed Zakaria," he added. The litany provoked a flash of self-consciousness. "I'm really demeaning myself here," he said miserably, before continuing. Peretz is enough of a liberal to realize that any scene in which a man sits in the dining room of the Regency with a reporter, listing all of his friends and associates who are black or Muslim, is a scene in which that man is drowning. And yet here he was.

Also of note:

Peretz participates now and then in a vigil in the East Jerusalem neighborhood Sheikh Jarrah, in solidarity with Palestinians threatened with eviction. The demonstration has drawn great attention in Israel, but there are at best 120 people there, he says. "Take away my friends, and there would be 115."

Read the whole thing.

Presented by

Garance Franke-Ruta is a former senior editor covering national politics at The Atlantic.

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