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.
Edward Abboud says
Jimmy — America’s last moral president.
Maybe you can enlighten us. How could the wall be an apartheid wall if you yourself don’t agree that the West Bank should be a part of Israel? It’s simply a border fence-the same fence that every country has a right to have. Apparently the one million Israeli Arabs don’t have a problem living in Israel as citizens under this ‘aparthied regime’. In fact they have a higher standard of living in Israel than Arabs in other countries. Apparently Jimmy Carter, one of the worst presidents this country has ever seen, doesn’t think that’s important to mention.
Richard Silverstein says
Because I am a proud Jew and progressive Zionist who’s been dedicated to Israeli-Arab peace since 1967. Because I’ve lived in Israel & studied there. Because I am a fluent Hebrew speaker and hold undergrad and grad degrees in Jewish studies. That’s why.
Any more stupid questions?
Richard Silverstein says
I don’t know where this question comes fr. There is no mention of “apartheid wall” in this post as far as I can see. But to answer yr question generally, I myself call it a Separation Wall. But I don’t have strong objections to calling it an apartheid wall. But you are right in a sense in calling it a border fence since it attempt to set an arbitrary, unilateral border with the Palestinians & in the process attempts to ratify the expropriation of large portions of formerly Palestinian land. It attempts to do this in contravention to international law.
But as for the term “apartheid,” the wall clearly is an attempt to segregate and separate Palestinians from not only Israel, but their former land on the other side of the wall (but still within the internationally recognized Green Line border). As such, it maintains Palestinians within isolated bantustan like areas within the West Bank. The fragmentation of Palestinian territory is ensured not only by the wall in one side, but by hundreds of checkpoints which act as choke points and barriers preventing travel, commerce, education & medical care.
Do you have the least knowledge of what Israeli Arabs feel about life in Israel? I doubt it from the ignorance shown in this passage. Israeli Arabs do not like their living conditions. They are 2nd, 3rd or even 4th class citizens. Their villages & towns receive per capital the lowest government subsidies in the entire State. Educational opportunities are scarce. Services are poor to nil. Police routinely terrorize or brutalize inhabitants.
And if you’re so churlish to ask a question like this: “If things are as bad as you claim, why then would they want to stay?” For one simple reason, they were born here. They’re entitled to maintain their birthright. And they’re entitled, I would even say obligated to remind Israeli Jews of how poorly they live up to the spirit of their own Declaration of Independence. Israel does not want to treat the Arabs as 1st class citizens & will do everything in its power to forget about them as much as possible. But one day this social injustice will have to be confronted & righted just as we here in the U.S. have tried to grapple with our race issues.
A bogus issue. The question should not be comparing Israeli Arab standards to those of Arabs of other countries. It should be to compare their standards to those of their fellow Jewish citizens. There you lose in yr argument. Israeli Arabs are far worse off than even the poorest Israeli Jews.
That is an absolutely lame-ass ahistorical comment. Jimmy Carter was not a perfect president. He made mistakes–even a few big ones. Bill Clinton was a better president. But Carter far surpassed many other presidents in terms of his achievements while in office. The Camp David Accord, for which you seem to forget he won a Nobel Prize (or don’t they amt. to a hill of beans where you come from?), alone was a massive achievement worthy of placing him in the top tier of presidents. The Wikipedia article on presidential ranking averages his place at 26th out of 41. One historian even ranks him as high as 19th. When he first left office he would’ve been placed lower. But as time passes his ranking gradually increases. I believe this process will continue. I’m pleased to say that most presidential historians disagree strongly w. yr judgment.
A very courageous and admirable work by Mr. Jimmy Carter at the time when most of the politicians have failed to rise up to their responsibility towards the American people and their own conscience.
Israel has been spoiled by Western states due to its influence on some pro-Israle lobbies that Israel fund from the aids they get from the same states!
More than 50 years of existence and Israel could not integrate with its neighborhood! Not even with the most pro-western regimes. I strongly believe that in less than 100 years, Israel will gradually diminish as a Jewish state in the Middle East and will become a secular state with so many Jews that would be governed by non-Jews.