It often reads as a particularly pained unloading. There are some isolated moments of levity and self-awareness, such as when he referred to the Salahis—the White House party-crashers—as “Palestinian agitators.” But much of The Spine has been limited to grim reports on the intransigence of Arab or Muslim culture. One week before my visit to Cambridge, Peretz had posted a quote he called an Arab maxim: “A black face begins a black day.” One of the commenters on his site had searched and could find no record of this maxim, other than previous instances in which Peretz himself had cited it. Peretz told me he is not guilty on this small charge of fabulism: Years earlier, in the Arabian desert, he had been watching the Clarence Thomas hearings with a Saudi prince who “was always scratching his balls—I imagine he had lice,” when the prince uttered those words.
Over this past year, Peretz’s distance from the magazine has been extreme. Even to many within The New Republic, where he has been known mostly as a bullying voice on the phone, Peretz has come to be seen increasingly through the lens of The Spine. “When Marty’s name came up at TNR, it was more often than not in a mocking context,” says one former staffer. “People made fun of his blog items for being bigoted and for being incoherent.” After the controversy over his September blog post, some on the staff started pushing for Peretz to give it up.
Perhaps understanding the threat to Israel’s security requires an especially fixed lens. “The depth of the issue is—look, Ben-Gurion airport is two miles from the West Bank,” Peretz says. “The Jordan Valley”—the region separating Jordan from Israel—“is a dividing line between two Palestinian populations. What happens when there is no longer a king in Jordan? Obama has committed himself to a contiguous Palestine: Gaza and the West Bank. That means a discontiguous Israel.”
Peretz supported Obama in the election, but he has come to see him as a foreign-policy disaster. “I think he has set his major emotional goal to make peace between America and the Muslims,” says Peretz. “I think the American conflict with the Muslims is too complicated to make peace with in a three-point program.”
For Israel, Peretz believes in a two-state solution. But this is complicated by the fact that he also believes, and says loudly and repeatedly, that Palestine is not a real state—“an utter fiction,” a “fraudulent nation-state.” The Palestinian prime minister, Salam Fayyad, has embarked on a state-building program—highways, an airport, police, a stock market—that has inspired some cautious confidence. “I am of course skeptical,” says Peretz. Fayyad is “a very modernizing person, but I would doubt that he commands loyalty.” I ask whether there is anything Fayyad can do to convince him that Palestine is a nation. It is a “very justified question,” he says. “I’m too quick to be content with the denial of being a state.”
He thinks for a minute. “Do you think that the hatred which has been polled again and again and again can be dissolved? I don’t have an answer. Maybe. Maybe.” There is another long pause. “And you have Hezbollah, I think, about to attack. Could you assume that established Palestine would not help Hezbollah? This is a question. Maybe. Maybe they would be so thrilled by having a state. But since there is really no one voice in Palestine …” Peretz’s voice trails off. He shrugs a couple of times. Then he considers the shrugs. “I mean,” he says, “a little too much of my argument is a shrug.”
“There is a level of generalization that is just wild,” says a friend of his, shaking his head. “And a certain degree of ignorance.” The Druze, a Middle Eastern people, are “congenitally untrustworthy”; “Arab society is, well—how do I say this?—hidebound and backward.” But these divisions, to Peretz, matter very much. The trouble with the progressivism of his children’s generation, he says, is that “it believes in diversity but doesn’t believe that people are really different. I believe that people are very, very different.”
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.”
Peretz has never belonged to any synagogue. “I don’t know that world,” he says. His children like the liberal congregation B’nai Jeshurun, on 88th Street and Broadway, and so Peretz goes now and then. He went for Yom Kippur this year and found that during the Al Chet prayer—the traditional confession of sins—the congregation had added some of its own. “I lie, I cheat, I steal”—this part is standard. “They added, ‘I’m homophobic. I’m lookist.’ Do you know ‘lookist’? We look at good-looking people. ‘I am ageist.’ And”—here was the breaking point for Peretz—“we crawl to peace and rush to war.” He shook his head. “I mean, fuck these fancy Upper West Side rabbis.”