Shafer Takes Down Peretz

This piece is 6 months old. I missed it when it came out. Moreover, in it, Jack Shafer reprints a piece he wrote in 1991 on Martin Peretz, but it’s worth reading.

[Peretz is] an insufferable name-dropper, he’s gratingly pedantic (he can’t avoid the word “perfervid,” using it five times in those 40 columns), and he’s so enamored of his own wit that he can’t resist recycling his previously published punch lines. “If [Amin] Gemayel is a researcher on anything, I am an astronaut,” he wrote in the May 8, 1989, New Republic. Six months later, in a dispatch from Paris, he wrote, “[I]f the Palestinians are any closer to actual independence in the West Bank and Gaza than they were a year ago, then I am an astronaut.” OK, Marty! OK! You’re an astronaut!

Peretz’s view from space is easily summarized. The Arabs are an undifferentiated mass, consumed by antique tribal hatreds, fated to fratricide, torn asunder by their religious sectarianism. The “general afflictions of Arab politics,” he wrote March 14, 1988, are “the principal resistance to compromise, the intoxicating effects of language, the endless patience for vengeance.” How about that for a MacNeil/Lehrer conversation-stopper? “[The Lebanese] fight simply because they live. And the culture from which they come scarcely thinks this is odd. Their men fight on and on, and the women and children bleed” (March 19, 1990). Has a guest slot opened up on Washington Week in Review? The moderate Arab “is a figment of the imagination” (May 7, 1984). Has Oprah called yet?

One definite Peretz theme that clangs in column after column is that there are no Arab nations. The partisan of Zion hasn’t staked this position for the convenience it lends in delegitimizing the call for a Palestinian state. Nor has he adopted it to make it easier to repel the arguments of those who would paint the nation of Israel as a counterfeit creation of Western imperialism. Peretz actually believes what is in his clips.