January 5, 2011

Peretz in Exile


New York magazine this week profiles Martin Peretz, who stepped down as editor of The New Republic, which he has edited and co-owned since 1974, on January 1st. Peretz has for months been the subject of harsh criticism for comments he made in his New Republic blog, “The Spine,” in particular for a post that concluded that “Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims” and questioned whether all Muslims deserve the “privileges of the First Amendment.” (A sentence he later apologized for. Though he has been making similar anti-Arab comments for 20 years.)

The magazine profile reports that Peretz is spending a lot of time in Israel these days and feels deeply “exhausted.” Perhaps the most interesting part of the profile concerns Peretz’s response to his critics:

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.

Kelly Burdick is the former executive editor of Melville House.