Sunday, February 25, 2007

Jimmy Carter's descent into Israel-bashing

For the past couple of months, former President Jimmy Carter has been touring the country like a rock star, touting his deceptively-titled book, "Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid." The book, which has become a best-seller, is riddled with so many factual errors that Carter's criticism of Israel loses its validity.

I commented on the book in a previous posting ("The myths about Israel," 12/17/06). At the risk of repeating myself, I feel obliged to comment again because the book is attracting so much attention. It has disseminated so much nefarious information about Israel that the book is undoubtedly influencing the views of the uninformed and providing red meat for anti-Semitic hate groups.

Emory University Professor Kenneth Stein, a Middle East expert who was the Carter Center's first executive director and collaborated with Carter on a previous book, has quit the center to protest Carter's demonization of Israel. So have about 15 other Carter Center associates and supporters.

Carter's cynical use of the book's insulting title is clearly meant to smear the Jewish state by equating the plight of of the Palestinians to the former victims of government-mandated racial separation in South Africa. Inside the book, however, Carter lamely confesses that there is "no semblance of anything relating to apartheid with the nation of Israel."

So why the title? Carter's simplistic explanation: He wants to provoke debate on the Israel-Palestine issue. He makes the offensive argument that American Jewish interests have stifled public criticism of Israel.

I was once an admirer of Carter and am stunned by his descent into Israel-bashing. The book is unworthy of a man who helped negotiate the 1978 Israel-Egypt peace treaty, for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

One of his most outrageous errors is the claim that Israel invaded Jordan in 1967 to acquire the West Bank. He forgets history: Jordan first bombarded West Jerusalem despite Israeli warnings to stay out of its war with Egypt.

Carter is also factually incorrect that UN Resolution 242 requires Israel to retreat to the vulnerable pre-1967 armistice line. Actually, the resolution calls for negotiations to determine Israel's boundaries with a Palestinian state.

Still another falsehood is Carter's charge that Israel's former Prime Minister Ehud Barak rejected President Bill Clinton's land-for-peace proposal in 2000. The fact is that Israel agreed to a Palestinian state in all of Gaza and 97% of the West Bank. Carter should have called Clinton to find out what really happened.

Criticizing Israel's controversial security fence and border checkpoints, Carter misrepresents their purpose. Israel does not seek to "imprison Palestinians," as the ex-President argues, but to keep terrorists out. Carter shows little patience for such nuances and barely recognizes that Arab terrorism is the reason for the Israeli policies he denounces.

Carter fails to acknowledge that Israel has consistently offered to surrender territories acquired in defensive wars in exchange for the suspension of Palestinian terrorism and formal Arab recognition of its right to exist. As Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni recently said: "Israel has tried direct negotiations, negotiations in steps, and unilateral moves. In the end we receive terror."

Carter's book makes the extraordinary claim that the violence has mostly been initiated by Israelis and that Palestinians have played little role in creating the mess that exists in the region.

Stein writes that Carter's book is "replete with factual errors, copied materials not cited, superficialities, and simply invented segments." For readers interested in a detailed dissection of those errors,I suggest Stein's web site ( and a site containing Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz's analysis (

I have tried to figure out why Carter's role has changed from impartial mediator into aggressive advocate of the Palestinian cause. Dershowitz has hinted that one factor could be that he has been influenced by the substantial financial support the Carter Center has received from the Arab Gulf State rulers.

I believe there is a more subtle factor in play, as an Israeli who has accompanied Carter on his visits to Israel, has suggested. Carter is an Evangelical Christian well versed in the Bible. He is also naive. I think Carter has apparently been disappointed--perhaps even disgusted--that Israel's secular leaders have failed to live up to the lofty ideals of their ancestors, the Jewish prophets of the Old Testament.

He evidently expected Israel, because of its Biblical antecedents, to be governed by an exceptional moral political code that no other nation practices and is unattainable in today's world.

In the past Carter has boasted that he is "a friend of Israel." His new book demonstrates that with "friends" like him, Israel doesn't need any more enemies.


Blogger Ginnie said...

The pedestal where I placed Jimmy Carter is crumbling and I am trying very hard to figure out where he is coming from. However I do think that the Palestinians are being short-changed in many areas. It is a very complex and difficult issue and I try very hard to stay impartial.

Sunday, February 25, 2007 2:32:00 PM  
Blogger Mortart said...

The Palestinians have indeed been "short-changed"--but by their own leaders, not by Israel, which has tried to make peace for nearly six decades. For example, look at the ungovernable chaos in Gaza since the Israelis withdrew. Just yesterday, 5 more were killed in the civil war between Fatah and Hamas. To paraphrase what I said in my post about Carter as a "friend" of Israel. With enemies like the Palestinian leadership, perhaps Israel doesn't need friends.

Sunday, February 25, 2007 3:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Mort for exposing Carter for the bigot he is. IMHO, Jimmy Carter was one of the worst US presidents our country has had. During his term in office, the US Embassy in Iran was attacked and the entire staff was taken prisoner. This action by the Iranians should have been declared and act of war according in international law. Perhaps if Carter had acted courageously back then, we would not have the problems with Iran that we now have. For a graduate of the USNA, Carter obviously did not live up to the training he received at the Academy.
D. Fox
Arnold, MD

Sunday, February 25, 2007 11:03:00 PM  
Blogger Robert Hume said...

Apparently Yossi Beilin does not think Carter is a bigot.

Yossi Beilin is a former minister and current member of Israel's parliament, and in the Jewish Weekly "The Forward" he reviewed President Carter's book.

"In other words, what Carter says in his book about the Israeli occupation and our treatment of Palestinians in the occupied territories — and perhaps no less important, how he says it — is entirely harmonious with the kind of criticism that Israelis themselves voice about their own country. There is nothing in the criticism that Carter has for Israel that has not been said by Israelis themselves."

In the context of the Israeli-Arab conflict, moreover, Carter has secured his place in history as the man who brokered the first peace agreement between Israel and an Arab nation. The Camp David summit he convened in September 1978, which resulted in the signing of the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, was a historical watershed for the entire region. It inaugurated the Arab-Israeli peace process, without which the Oslo peace process would not have been possible, nor the 1994 peace agreement between Israel and Jordan.

In light of the failure of the second Camp David summit of July 2000, Carter’s successful mediation between such starkly different leaders as Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat is all the more impressive, and his achievement — which was a truly personal achievement — all the more remarkable.

Every Israeli, and every Jew to whom the destiny of Israel is important, is indebted to Carter for breaking the ring of hostility that had choked Israel for more than 30 years. No American president before him had dedicated himself so fully to the cause of Israel’s peace and security, and, with the exception of Bill Clinton, no American president has done so since.

This is why the publication of Carter’s recent book, and perhaps more than anything else, the title it bears, has pained so many people. And I must admit that, on some deeply felt level, the title of the book has strained my heart, too. Harsh and awful as the conditions are in the West Bank, the suggestion that Israel is conducting a policy of apartheid in the occupied territories is simply unacceptable to me.

But is this what Carter is saying? I have read his book, and I could not help but agree — however agonizingly so — with most if its contents. Where I disagreed was mostly with the choice of language, including his choice of the word “apartheid.”

But if we are to be fair, and as any reading of the book makes clear,Carter’s use of the word “apartheid” is first and foremost metaphorical. Underlying Israel’s policy in the West Bank, he argues, is not a racist ideology but rather a nationalist drive for the acquisition of land. The resulting violence, and the segregationist policies that shape life in the West Bank, are the ill-intended consequences of that drive.

Of course, there is no appropriate term in the political lexicon for what we in Israel are doing in the occupied territories. “Occupation” is too antiseptic a term, and does not capture the social, cultural and humanitarian dimensions of our actions. Given the Palestinians’ role in the impasse at which we have arrived, to say nothing of Arab states and, historically speaking, of the superpowers themselves, I would describe the reality of occupation as a march of folly — an Israeli one, certainly, but not exclusively so.

But if we are to read Carter’s book for what it is, I think we would find in it an impassioned personal narrative of an American former president who is reflecting on the direction in which Israel and Palestine may be going if they fail to reach agreementsoon. Somewhere down the line — and symbolically speaking, that line may be crossed the day that a minority of Jews will rule a majority of Palestinians west of the Jordan River — the destructive nature of occupation will turn Israel into a pariah state, not unlike South Africa under apartheid."
Additional reading:

Monday, February 26, 2007 11:57:00 AM  
Blogger Mortart said...

I read Mr. Beilin's article in the Forward, and also a critical response to it by a long-time, left-wing colleague of Beilin's. The colleague was as critical of Carter's book as I am. When it comes to relations with the Palestinians, the Israeli electorate has shown that unrealistic, extreme left-wingers like Beilin are a minority fringe group far removed from the country's mainstream. I would be more optimistic about the future if there were people like Beilin and organizations like Btselem, which you cite, active in Palestinian and general Arab society. The traditional Jewish concern with social justice, which Beilin and those like him represent in the extreme, is indeed admirable. But their ultra-dovish views do not reflect the real world. I did not call Carter a bigot. He's only a naive fool currying favor from Israel's enemies.

Monday, February 26, 2007 12:51:00 PM  
Blogger Norma said...

I too used to admire him. Even his post-presidency work was admirable. As far as his Christian views, I don't think he was ever a part of the dispensationalist groups that see the modern day political state of Israel as part of the O.T. prophecies being fulfilled in our time. So there wasn't anything there for him to be disappointed about. Many evangelicals have never bought into that. I know the rest of you liberals don't like to hear it, but this is the direction your guys are going. It is more about destroying the U.S. than about Israel. Israel just has the misfortune of being our only solid ally and only democracy in the mideast.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007 6:09:00 PM  

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