You’ve got to give some credit to The Forward. Among the mainstream Jewish leadership, possibly the most unpopular figure alive today would have to be Jimmy Carter. As recently as the Congressional elections, the Republican Jewish Coalition attempted to demonize his allegedly anti-Israel views in order to goad on-the-fence Democrats to switch parties. The strategy backfired miserably as 88% of American Jews voted Democratic.
Another reason it backfired is that the masses of American Jews, those outside the narrow confines of the communal leadership, understand that the charges against Carter are a canard. Carter has an exemplary record as president of not only supporting Israel but achieving perhaps the only major peace agreement ever signed between Israel and an Arab nation. And Carter’s criticisms of Israel today, while they are potent, are totally within the bounds of legitimate political discourse. You hear Israeli commentators saying precisely the same thing as Carter virtually every week, if not every day. The difference of course is that Carter is an ex-President and Nobel Laureate, as such, has a bully pulpit the envy of Howard Kohr, Abe Foxman and David Harris. The only way these folks can deal with Carter is by trying to cut him down to size with these vicious and false propaganda attacks.
So, let’s give The Forward credit for bringing a supposed pariah to its pages and allowing open American Jews to hear what he has to say. Among his interesting remarks are sentiments I’ve expressed here about the paucity and impoverishment of political debate here on Israel:
…I’ve seen the coverage given to Israel’s activities in Europe and in Israel itself — a highly contentious debate over [Israel]. There is no such debate in the United States. There’s not any debate in the Congress. There’s not any debate in the White House…and in the news media of the United States there is very rarely any editorial comment that would criticize some of the practices of Israel which I consider to be deplorable — and that is the persecution of the Palestinians, and the occupation and confiscation and the colonization of Palestinian land. So there’s no open debate in this country if it involves any criticism of the policies of the Israeli government, even though many people in Israel debate and condemn some of the policies of the right-wing governments under Sharon and Netanyahu and others.
Implicit in this passage and in the question he was asked by the interviewer is a criticism of the stifling power of Aipac to close off such serious debate. Again, while Jewish leaders howl in protest at such sentiments, there is nothing in Carter’s points that people like me and Israeli commentators haven’t been saying for years, if not decades. The only difference now is that the chinks have begun to show in Aipac’s armor. It is still powerful, but no longer all-powerful. It has faced defeat in its legislative efforts thanks to a combined lobbying effort by various progressive Jewish groups to thwart its legislative agenda.
Almost everyone (except the leadership) recognizes that as long as Aipac continues along the bullying path it has pursued for decades; and as long as Israel refuses to renounce the Occupation, Aipac’s strength will continue to be tested and gradually decline. The only question is how fast it will be. It might be a slow process of erosion or it might be something like sliding downhill on a toboggan–especially if it continues getting embroiled in spying scandals and influence schemes like the recent one involving Jane Harman.
In this passage, the interviewer returns to another charge leveled against Carter, who once stated that the majority of Democrats embrace his views of the conflict:
Q: Do you think that most Democrats agree with your views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
A: If you talk about members of the Congress, I would say no, because the Congress members are almost universally silent as far as any criticism of anything that the Israeli government does. But I think that’s an anomaly among Democrats in the entire country, and, in fact, among Americans all over. I think there’s a tremendous concern that Israel has refused to accept the premise that Israel can have peace if it’s willing to define its borders along the official internationally recognized line — that is, the Green Line — modified, if necessary, and I think it would be necessary, by good faith negotiations with the Palestinians
Of course, polls show Carter’s view to be dead on. Democrats and even most Americans believe that the U.S. has shown too much favoritism toward Israel. They want America to be an honest broker and not an advocate for only one side. Even American Jews are strongly in favor of an independent Palestinian state and withdrawal from settlements in return for a secure peace. Again, all this is borne out in opinion polls. But of course this makes Aipac apoplectic. They would rather BE American Jewish opinion regarding Israel rather than measuring what that true opinion might be. Or if they would try to measure it they’d ensure that all the questions would be phrased to come up with the right answers.
When you read this passage, you will weep if you are like me in remembering the past great achievements like the 1978 Camp David Accords. You will weep because you must know that given Aipac’s stranglehold and the gagging of American political discourse, that no such bipartisan agreement in Congress could drive forward the peace process nowadays and that is precisely as Aipac would have it:
Q: Have Democrats in Congress become less willing to criticize Israel since your administration?
A: I think when I was in office, there was a lot of flexibility among Democratic members of the House, and Senate. I had great help from strong Jewish senators, like Senator Jacob Javits, and from Hubert Humphrey, who was a champion of Israel’s, and so they all supported me as I went through the process of inducing Israel to withdraw from Egyptian land, that is the Sinai, and of accepting the commitment that Menachem Begin made and the Knesset approved, of Israel’s withdrawing its political and military forces from the West Bank, and giving the Palestinians full autonomy, with the right to choose their own government. And so all of that is in the Camp David agreement, which Democrats approved both publicly and privately.