Movable Snipe: Marty Peretz Eats at My Zionism

[Movable Snipe is a Daily Shvitz feature wherein two writers spend a reading a handful of blogs and offering constructive (or savage) criticism in epistolary form. This week's Snipers: Spencer Ackerman and Melissa Lafsky.] Melissa, Now that we've dispensed with … Read More

By / November 21, 2006

[Movable Snipe is a Daily Shvitz feature wherein two writers spend a reading a handful of blogs and offering constructive (or savage) criticism in epistolary form. This week's Snipers: Spencer Ackerman and Melissa Lafsky.]


Now that we've dispensed with the inanities of Captain Ed, let's turn our attention to one of the most malignant influences on American Jewry: Marty Peretz. Marty, of course, owns The New Republic, and The New Republic for four years employed me, before Marty's chosen one, Frank Foer, shitcanned me, largely — though Frank denies it — because of my opposition to the Iraq war. So, let me say, Marty, as you sit there Googling yourself, thanks for four wonderful years of TNR. I think I'll subscribe!

Marty is an interesting figure to say the least. He surely knows he's a total joke to his staff, which laughs at him behind his back and sucks up to him when he comes in the office. (I admit my own cowardice in behaving exactly as my ex-co-workers.) But he won't let anything change his intellectual stride, and a priori, that's an admirable position. In truth, however, it's the ossification of Marty's beloved spine, as what won't change his intellectual stride are such things as facts, scruples or basic human decency. Not coincidentally, The Spine, is Marty's blog for TNR — I'm not just venting here! — and, there, all of these tendencies are on fascinating display. Several liberals of my acquaintance have told me The Spine is a must-read for them, in order to enjoy the intellectual equivalent of watching a decrepit old crank yelling at an unsuspecting supermarket cashier.

What gets me about Marty is that he eats at my Zionism. He fashions himself a defender of Israel, but what he really does is chip away at what gives Zionism its breathing soul: the universalism that demanded the same thing for the Jews as for all other nations. By that I mean his Zionism is so circumscribed and blinded that he conflates whatever a rightist Israeli government chooses for its prerogative with what is in the broader interests of the state. For instance, on the Lebanon war, he wrote yesterday:

The Lebanese war was not fought well by Israel. Not because of the fighting troops. But because the fighting men were prevented from fighting well. By the government and the top brass of the army, which put soldiers in and took them out, ordered them to fight and then not to fight, and, once they were winning and ordered something like a cease-fire (that turns out to have been a cover for Hezbollah rearmament), to fight again and then stop before the battle was won.

This used to be called the "stabbed in the back" myth, and it has an extremely ugly pedigree. In a very superficial sense, it's true that one day Olmert told the IDF to fight and the next he told them not to. But the Lebanon war was not lost because of gentleness on the part of the IDF or Ehud Olmert. It was lost because it was based on the ill-founded assumption that if Israel could inflict sufficient pain on the Lebanese, they would blame Hezbollah instead of Israel for their suffering, and thereby have the political will to crush Hezbollah from within Lebanon. It's no accident that once the Lebanese Defense Minister pledged to send the national army in support of Hezbollah to repel an Israeli invasion, Olmert started to send signals that he would accept an imposed cease-fire.

Yet the myth persists in Israel, and in right-wing quarters of American Jewry, that if only the IDF was allowed to be the IDF, Hezbollah would have been decimated at acceptable cost. Why anyone should buy this is simple to explain: it's a lot easier to stomach than the proposition that Israel can't always get what it want by virtue of its moral superiority to the vicious antisemites of Hezbollah.

That conflation of moral superiority with wisdom is what used to be called hubris, and it's what will lead to disaster for the state of Israel, either through the endless nightmare of the occupation of the West Bank or an attack on Iran or any number of other things. When a far-sighted Israeli government attempted something audacious to actually improve Israel's strategic environment — Oslo — Marty and his cohort bitched and moaned, and never looked at the failure for Israel to deliver on the expectations created by Oslo in the 1990s as a reason for its collapse. (It of course wasn't the only reason, as there was the small matter of the obstinacy and perniciousness of Yasir Arafat, but it was a reason why Arafat was able to get away with abandoning Oslo as well.) None of this has erased the fact that no one has come up with a better idea than Oslo since, and the failure of Olmert's unilateral disengagement plan demonstrates this all too well.

I would hope that one day, friends of Israel decide to agree that Israel faces more than one kind of threat, and among them is the triumphalism and near-sightedness of its so-called friends. Till then we have The Spine to remind us why that is.


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