UMass scholar Robert Paul Wolff participated in the Social Studies celebration at Harvard this weekend at which the Marty Peretz controversy burgeoned. Wolff has urged Harvard to refuse the scholarship given in Peretz’s name. The following account of one event is from Wolff’s blog. The excruciating/bizarre Michael Walzer moment to which Wolff refers is on the video above, at about 6:30. Notice the frank Israel lobby stuff in Wolff’s post. (thanks to Jeet Heer)
In the afternoon panel, several of the speakers alluded to Peretz, and many of the questioners from the floor brought it up. The defense of Marty was, I found, simply incredible. One person after another said that he was a much-loved teacher, as though that somehow excused thirty years of ugly, racist outbursts. The attitude was, if I may put it this way, as though Marty was a fine fellow with the unfortunate habit of farting in public. It was not until the very end of the afternoon session that a young women asked a question that should have been center stage throughout: How did Peretz’s appalling views affect his teaching?
The absolute low point of the day, for me, was Michael Walzer’s defense of his old friend. Walzer began by telling the audience that in 1969, when Harvard students seized the administration building in an anti-war protest, he and Marty formed a committee to defend them, and most of the advocacy for the students was carried out by Marty. This, we were supposed to conclude, earned Peretz a pass on four decades of ugly racist rants. Then Walzer, widely considered one of the preeminent political philosophers of the present day, sank to a really appalling low. He looked at one of the questioners who had attacked Peretz and said, “Have you examined every writing and footnote and every email of each member of the Standing Committee?” At that, the audience groaned, and he shut up.
What was really going on? I tried to explain this to the Crimson reporter, and a quote from me on this may appear in the story [in the middle of last night, the reporter emailed me to check the quotes before the story was put in final form.] Let me back up a bit and try to get some perspective. This was a gathering of more than four hundred former and present Social Studies majors — possibly the largest assemblage of sophisticated social theorists since the last garden party of the Frankfort School for Social Research. These are people who think nothing of discerning the deeper ideological meaning in Afghan popular music or Tibetan architecture, or teasing out the epistemological filiations between Foucault and Montesquieu. And yet, confronted at their own conference by a massive protest, the best they could come up with was “Marty is a nice guy.”
It is not at all difficult to figure out the real sources of the vast corpus of disgusting statements by Martin Peretz. The answer requires only one word: Israel. Why is it that while these high-powered social theorists were extolling Social Studies’ fruitful union of historical research and theoretical analysis, none of them could find a moment to refer to the transformation of left-wing Jewish social theorists into Neo-cons and Peretz’ transformation of The New Republic from a liberal journal into a right-wing apologist for war against Muslims?…
I have already told the story in my Memoir of my 1973 phone call to Michael Walzer, and the discovery that he and Peretz were supporting Nixon in the impeachment controversy because Nixon was a strong supporter of Israel. Well, here we were in this huge, elegant auditorium in Harvard’s Science Center, and the assembled intelligentsia, a great many of whom are indeed Jewish, evinced not the slightest interest in the historical and political roots of the controversy kept by Harvard’s security forces from intruding on their happy reminiscences.