Howard Kurtz of The Washington Post suggested that if “Thomas had said the opposite thing about the Palestinians, she’d still have her job.’’ Journalist Jeffrey Goldberg disagreed. “If you gave this long diatribe about [how] the Palestinians don’t exist, which is sort of the equivalent argument, I don’t think you’re going to last that long in the mainstream press.’’
But recent events allow us to test Goldberg’s hypothesis. Martin Peretz, the longtime owner and editor-in-chief of The New Republic, mused on his blog, The Spine, whether Muslim Americans “are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse.’’
Coming under criticism, Peretz backtracked. “I wrote that,’’ he acknowledged, “but I do not believe that.’’ However, Peretz reiterated his equally offensive claim that “Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims,’’ which he called “a statement of fact, not value.’’ Nor did he apologize for writing that the Palestinians are “a fictional people.’’
Over the years, Peretz has regularly denied the existence of Palestinians as a real people with national claims worth acknowledging. For example, he has written:
■ “The defeat of the Arabs of Palestine and the five warrior Arab states in 1948, 1967 and 1973 made a fictional people into a political force. We do not yet know whether this political force will mature into a real people. Or nation. My bet is ‘no.’ ’’
■ “The Palestinians may not be the Palestinian nation. But they are who they are. It is not Washington that makes them fantasists.’’
■ “Only if you are ‘Eyeless in Gaza’ can you believe that these people [the Palestinians] are a ‘nation.’ ’’
Peretz’s writing career has essentially been a series of, to quote Goldberg, “long diatribe[s] about how the Palestinians don’t exist.’’ Yet he continues to receive a special dispensation for these libels, while Thomas received public condemnation and a pink slip for her single denial of Jewish national claims.
What can explain this? Certainly some of it has to do with money and power. As editor-in-chief of a prominent political magazine, Peretz maintains relationships with, and cuts checks to, a number of writers, most of whom would like to be paid by him again, and are therefore inclined to hold their fire (and, one assumes, their noses) as they continue to write for him. Indeed, former New Republic editor Andrew Sullivan and Slate’s Jack Shafer have criticized Peretz for his recent remarks but have also suggested that his stewardship of the magazine should mitigate his years of open bigotry. It’s interesting that none of Helen Thomas’s own path-breaking accomplishments were allowed to distract from her defenestration.
What explains the difference between the two cases is, precisely as Kurtz suggested, the double standard that exists with regard to Jews and Israel on one hand, and Palestinians on the other. Statements that would never be tolerated against Jews or Israel are regularly made and tolerated against Palestinians.
Take, for example, former presidential candidate and Fox News host Mike Huckabee, who was caught on camera telling two students that “there’s really no such thing as a Palestinian,’’ and has also advocated population transfer, suggesting that the Palestinians should be made to find a homeland “elsewhere.’’ No, you didn’t miss the uproar over those remarks. One never occurred.
Noting his strong criticism of Thomas, the UK Guardian asked Kurtz “why the mainstream media has largely ignored Peretz’s views over the years.’’ Kurtz replied: “I’m afraid I just haven’t focused on the subject.’’
Condemning Thomas’s remarks, Jeffrey Goldberg wrote that they were “rooted in the same grotesque motivation’’ as Holocaust denial: “To deny to Jews the truth of their own history.’’
This is, of course, precisely what Peretz attempted to do to the Palestinians for years, yet Goldberg has, to date, issued no similar condemnation.
By upholding a double standard for these slanders, or simply ignoring them, too many journalists have effectively abetted them.
Matthew Duss is national security editor at the Center for American Progress.