Jimmy Carter is a bete noir for a certain type of American Jew who supports Israel to the hilt and sees Aipac as THE address for Israel activism in this country. Why? Carter’s views about the Mideast are probably not far from Bill Clinton’s. So why is Carter despised in some quarters and Clinton revered as a true friend of Israel? Certainly, there’s an element of Clinton’s charm and guile which prevents his enemies from laying a glove on him much in the way Reagan did. Jimmy Carter is what you’d have to call a relatively guileless politician. He said what he meant. He didn’t have time for the studied statement or the art of diplomatic doublespeak which so many American presidents have exhibited on this subject.
So what are they up in arms about this time? The book’s title for one: Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. You see “apartheid” is a treif term for the ultra-Israel crowd. You must not equate Israel with South Africa. Israel, so the argument goes, isn’t racist. The difference between the two countries is that Palestinians are a true existential threat to Israel’s existence whereas Blacks were not in South Africa. Besides, Jews find it deeply offensive in the light of the Holocaust that Israel should be accused of racism.
This article from The Forward quotes a few salient passages on this subject from the new book:
Israel’s current policy in the territories, Carter writes in the book’s summary, is “a system of apartheid, with two peoples occupying the same land but completely separated from each other, with Israelis totally dominant and suppressing violence by depriving Palestinians of their basic human rights.” In a separate passage in the advance draft, the former president stated that “Israel’s continued control and colonization of Palestinian land have been the primary obstacles to a comprehensive peace agreement in the Holy Land.”
In addition, Carter takes what is being interpreted by some critics as a swipe at the pro-Israel lobby. “Because of powerful political, economic, and religious forces in the United States, Israeli government decisions are rarely questioned or condemned,” the former president writes.
Strong stuff, yes. A bit provocative? Perhaps. But inaccurate? Certainly, the pro-Israel crowd will take deep offense at the attack on Aipac. Aipac is a group which some Jews are so defensive and protective of, that when it is attacked they circle the wagons and prepare to defend to the last Jew. But he’s absolutely right about the power of the lobby. Israel will NEVER be criticized in Congress due to Aipac’s stranglehold over Mideast policy. Israel will very rarely be criticized from the steps of the White House for similar reasons. Some see that fear and intimidation as a good thing for Israel. Carter and I don’t.
Some Israel supporters will take strong issue with Carter’s contention that Israel and the Occupation is the “primary obstacle to a comprehensive peace agreement.” I don’t. They’ll argue that Palestinians rejectionism and terror are the primary obstacles. No doubt, they are obstacles. But as obstacles they have much less obstructive power than Israel’s hand on virtually all the levers that control this conflict through its ironclad control of the Occupied Territories.
But is Jimmy Carter anti-Israel or anti-Semitic as his enemies claim? Of course not. Jimmy Carter is CRITICAL. And being critical, especially if you’re a notable world leader, is an unpardonable sin in the eyes of the ultra-Israel community. Keep in mind that you can read opinions and analysis virtually identical to Carter’s in the pages of virtually every Israeli newspaper or public affairs periodical, on TV and radio. His views are certainly not a majority there, but they are a sizable minority as they are in this country. So why shoot the messenger when it’s the message you hate?
So why all the fuss? Because Aipac can make lots more hay and lucre by having a “monster in the closet” to trot out when necessary. Iran is one of their current big monsters. Just mention their president by name and you can hear the sounds of pens scribbling lots of 0’s on donation checks. Similarly, Carter instills anxiety and fear among these folks like no other former president. He’s good for an episode of fear-mongering among the pro-Israel community.
For a final word on Carter’s supposed anti-Israel bias, does this 1977 speech sound like the words of an Israel hater?
“It’s absolutely crucial that no one in our country or around the world ever doubt that our number one commitment in the Middle East is to protect the right of Israel to exist, to exist permanently, and to exist in peace.”
Carter’s critics should pay very close attention to this statement from Aaron Miller, currently of Seeds of Peace, who served in several Administrations including Carter’s. Miller is not fully supportive of all of Carter’s current Mideast views. But nevertheless he says:
Carter has a “demonstrated track record of success,” said Miller, now a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars, referring to the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty that the former president helped broker at Camp David in 1978. “He’s the only American president that’s succeeded in brokering a permanent status agreement between Arabs and Israelis, the only one, and you know, he deserves an enormous amount of credit for that,
OK, you Little Green Footballs and Bushite types, name me a single Republican president (or any President for that matter) who presided over a signed peace agreement between Israel and an Arab nation. Can’t think of one, can you. That should tell you something.