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Peretz in Exile

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Peretz as target: protests at Harvard, September 2010.  

But as the magazine, in its own irregular way, grew more modern, Peretz seemed each year to grow more ancient, more fixated on his core loyalties: Israel against the Arabs, the United States against communism, and his friends against the world. In the eighties, he was for the Contras so intensely that during a furious staff meeting, an editor, according to Peretz, accused him of being a CIA agent. (The editor in question remembers it differently; he accused Peretz only of peddling CIA talking points.) The most vivid disagreements were on foreign policy. As the Cold War ended, his staff sometimes urged restraint. “I was comfortable with America running amok,” he says.

These are not the obvious commitments of a Eugene McCarthy supporter. But the most powerful elements of Peretz’s politics have always been his loyalties. “Everything with him is personal,” one former New Republic staffer told me. “Aside from Israel, he has no meaningful policy views at all.” Peretz maintained a long campaign against John Kerry—a grudge he regrets—in large part because he “distrusted his preppiness.” Earlier this month, he defended Henry Kissinger after newly released tapes of the Nixon White House revealed that the secretary of State had suggested the U.S. not intervene in the event of a Soviet genocide against the Jews. Peretz had detested Jimmy Carter and was not fond of Bill Clinton. But he believed in his former student Al Gore very deeply. The two did not precisely share views on the Middle East; Gore “trusts the international system more than I do.” But he had traveled with Gore to Israel—Gore loved the Israeli wilderness, he says. “I think Al basically understands Israel’s problem.”

Beyond Israel, he loved that Gore loved him back. When the former vice-president conceded the 2000 presidential election, the Peretzes were at home, watching on television. To them the speech was beautiful, as sober and dignified as Gore himself. The cameras lingered, eventually following Gore outside, down the steps, and into a waiting Town Car. A minute later, the phone rang in Cambridge. It was Al, calling for Marty.

Peretz has lived in the same huge house in Cambridge for more than 40 years. But now he lives there alone, and it can seem less like a home than an art gallery. In the public spaces, Peretz has hung three works by Degas, a Cézanne, and a Flinck. But in the library where he spends most of his time—a stunning, open, two-story space—there is a display case of Middle Eastern archaeological artifacts. One day earlier this month, while on a brief visit home before returning to Tel Aviv, he showed me the objects and pulled out one in particular, a stunning, 2,000-year-old blue vase. His favorite art “in the whole world,” Peretz said, is from ancient Cambodia, particularly the elemental sculptures of the human form.

There are also two paintings of Anne’s hanging nearby, artifacts of a different sort. Peretz still wears his wedding ring. “I like old things,” he says, by way of explanation. “Anne and I were together for four years before our marriage and for 42 years in our marriage. I still love her in ways. But our values—and our lifestyles—sundered us apart.” Theirs was a complicated union. “I think for Marty there’s a difference between loyalty to a cause and a place on the one hand and loyalty to people on the other,” Anne says. “When it comes to people, it’s more about generosity than loyalty. It doesn’t mean that he’s going to stay loyal to a person forever.”

The Peretzes have been separated since 2005 and divorced since 2009, and in the long aftermath of the breakup, Marty has seemed to some of his friends less rooted. He spends more time away from Cambridge, having bought an apartment in New York and rented one in Tel Aviv. He appears, to those closest to him, more compartmentalized than ever—open, almost to a fault, and yet also hidden. “Even his children, who are very hip and very much in the stream of modern life, haven’t been able to drag Marty out of this world he inhabits, which is the history of Zionism, the history of Jews, McCarthyism,” says Ajami. “Which explains why he sometimes says things in a way that sounds off-key.”

Peretz’s attachment to The New Republic has diminished, too—having lost much of his fortune, he has been forced to sell off most of his ownership of the magazine, and he has visited its headquarters in Washington, by his own estimation, no more than ten times in three years. He began his blog shortly after Anne moved out. “The separation was the removal of pillow talk,” he says, “and while my pillow talk was much gentler than the blog, it served as a kind of … unloading.”


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