Cancel Culture 1996 (Al Gore)

[Summary of] “Al Gore and Me: How Marty Peretz Saved Me From Packing My Bags for Washington DC”, in Journal of Palestine Studies, Winter 1996. pp. 54-59.

In early June 1995, Richard Marius, a senior lecturer at Harvard University and a fomer head of its expository writing program, was hired by VP Al Gore to be his full time speech writer until after the 1996 elections. Two weeks before he was to report to work, he was fired. According to a Washington Post story on 19 July, Marius had been fired after Martin Peretz, publisher of the New Republic, protested to the VP that the newly appointed speechwriter as an “anti-Semite”. We asked Dr. Marius to give his account of the incident, which is as follows:

Marius had written some speeches for Gore in the 1992 presidential campaign, and was drawn to Gore by the longstanding ties of his father to Gore’s father, Albert Gore, Sr. He had briefly met Peretz at a party when he first came to Harvard and was unimpressed, a foppish and arrogant man: The only notable thing about Peretz was that his silk shirt exposed his belly-button.

There was a second indirect encounter: In April 1993, he wrote a heartbreaking speech for Gore to read to 9000 Holocaust Survivors in Madison Square Garden to commemorate the Warsaw ghetto uprising; Peretz had wanted to be the speaker and tried, and failed, to displace Marius as the speechwriter (Peretz’s speech was a “numbing farago of statistics powerless to evoke the human suffering of the Holocaust”). Peretz immediately accused Marius of being an anti-Semite to Gore’s press secretary Marla Romash. Marius, naively thinking there was some basis other than envy to Peretz’s denunciation, thought of the one paragraph he had written, years earlier in a review of a book.

That review had appeared in the March/April issue of Harvard Magazine, where Marius wrote a regular column on books called ‘The Browser’. The book, ‘Season of Stones: Living in a Palestinian Village’, by Helen Winternitz, recounted her year living in a West Bank village and the brutality of the Shin Bet, the Israeli secret police. I wrote, in part: “Many Israelis, the Holocaust fresh in their memory, believe that that horror goves them the right to inflict horror on others. Wintermitz’s account of the brutality of the Shin Bet, the Israeli secret police, is eerily similar to the stories of the Gestapo, the Geheimstaatspolitzei in Nazi-occupied territories in World War II 00 arbitrary arrests in the middle of the night, imprisonement without trial, beatings, refiner tortured, murder, punishment of the families of suspects.”

When the review was published there was a lot of angry reactions. No one disputed the truth of the account, which is confirmed by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, but no one could tolerate the comparison to the Gestapo. He was also attacked for saying that Israelis justify their human rights abuses by citing the Holocaust; yet, in the immediate wake of the assassination of PM Rabin, many commentators and newspapers in Israel made the same point.

Marius notes that many of his opinions were shaped by his visit to Israel: He stayed with Hungarian Holocaust survivors, who decried the growing fanaticism of Israeli thought (“Caught between fanaticism on both sides”).

So, Marius told Romash that he had no trace of anti-Semitism: Among his extensive writings was a book denouncing the anti-Semitism of Martin Luther. Gore did use his speech at Madison Square Garden and the response was very enthusiastic. (Marius was not paid for the speech and did not seek payment.)

Gore had always loved the speeches Marius wrote, including one when Gore went to Richmond, Virginia, “to face the enemy”, and to speak against Christian intolerance.

Then, on July 9, he was called by Gore’s new press secretary, Lorraine Voles, who told he he was fired. Peretz has threatened Gore with “unrelenting” attacks for anti-Semitism and the loss of Jewish support”. Gore surrendered, but offered Marius the opportunity to secretly write speeches for him; he refused and termed it “political whoredom”. The day after he was fired, Tipper Gore gave a speech in Nashville that he wrote, she boasted she had worked hard to write it. Later Gore would finally call him and say he tried to reach him and failed: It was untrue.

Marius says he is as proud of his review as he is of opposing the Vietnam War or standing up for the appearance of Dick Gregory at the University of Tennessee.

He concludes by saying he hopes the assassination of Rabin will make Israelis pull back from fanaticism, and will empower American politicians to speak out against torture, collective punishment, and murder, even if they are committed by Israel.