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Saturday, February 3, 2007

The Carter controversy: A guide to the perplexed

Rosner's Blog

The Carter controversy: A guide to the perplexed

Short of major developments, this will be my last piece on Jimmy Carter's book "Palestine: Peace not Apartheid." I've just had enough, and so, I suspect, did many others. In his Friday column, M.J. Rosenberg conveys this impression as he describes a dinner he had with some non-Jewish friends: "No one thought that it made any sense for the Jewish community to make such a brouhaha over a book simply because it is critical of Israel and has a provocative title. Not one thought Carter was out of line. They thought the community was out of line for getting 'bent out of shape' by a book. 'He's a former president. He is entitled to say what he believes about any issue, let alone an issue relating to United States policy,' one said as everyone agreed."

So this is it. I'm done with brouhaha. And this last piece is no more than a compilation of some quotes and articles related to this book. Almost all of them critical - and, yes, written by Jewish Americans - a disturbing point I referred to recently writing "that is the only card left in his [Carter] hand, but it is a strong one, which embodies a trap from which there is no escape."


The first problem with the book is fact-related. Dennis Ross, former envoy to the Middle East in the Clinton administration, wrote about it in the New York Times:

"It is certainly legitimate to debate whether President Clinton's proposal could have settled the conflict. It is not legitimate, however, to rewrite history and misrepresent what the Clinton ideas were," Ross writes.

"To my mind, Mr. Carter's presentation badly misrepresents the Middle East proposals advanced by President Bill Clinton in 2000, and in so doing undermines, in a small but important way, efforts to bring peace to the region."

The example Ross focuses on is the maps Carter misuses in the book. But many other critical readers of the book used other examples. David Makovsky of the Washington Institute, writing for the U.S. News and World Report, brought this one up: Carter cites (p62) Yasser Arafat as telling him, "The PLO has never advocated the annihilation of Israel." In fact, the charter of Arafat's PLO states (Article 22) that "the liberation of Palestine will destroy the Zionist and imperialist presence." The Washington Post cited Arafat as saying on March 29, 1970: "Peace for us is the destruction of Israel and nothing else."

Prof. Kenneth Stein was the first Carter Center member to resign over the controversy surrounding the book, and in The Middle East Quarterly he sites many errors Carter (deliberately) made. Here's an illuminating one:

"Evidence of his slide from would-be mediator to unabashed advocate for the Palestinians appears in his partisan rendition of four UN resolutions: UN Security Council Resolution 465 (1980); UN General Assembly Resolution 194 (1948); UN Security Council Resolution 242 (1967); and UN Security Council Resolution 338 (1973). Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid is the first Carter book to emphasize UNSCR 465, in which the UN:

Determines that all measures taken by Israel to change the physical character, demographic composition, institutional structure or status of the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since 1967, including Jerusalem, or any part thereof, have no legal validity and that Israel's policy and practices of settling parts of its population and new immigrants in those territories constitute a flagrant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Carter's use of UNSCR 465 is an example of how he uses accurate information but omits part of the story to bolster his presentation. He wants to show Israel to be in violation of international law by being present in the territories. While he cites the unanimous passage of UNSCR 465 to suggest that there was universal condemnation of Israel's position with regard to east Jerusalem, he omits that two days after its passage, he himself disavowed the U.S. assent to the resolution. At the time, he said the resolution was a mistake which resulted from a "failure to communicate" between the State Department and Donald F. McHenry, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations."

A compilation of many more alleged factual errors - some significant, some minor, some open to debate - can be found here.


A lot has been written about the title Carter chose for the book - and the use of the word "apartheid." Truth is, this is the point which I find to be less sticky. Jeffrey Goldberg of the New Yorker sums it all up in one paragraph he wrote for the Washington Post:

This is a cynical book, its cynicism embedded in its bait-and-switch title. Much of the book consists of an argument against the barrier that Israel is building to separate Israelis from the Palestinians on the West Bank. The "imprisonment wall" is an early symptom of Israel's descent into apartheid, according to Carter. But late in the book, he concedes that "the driving purpose for the forced separation of the two peoples is unlike that in South Africa - not racism, but the acquisition of land."


This is, of course, the trickier part. What was Carter's motive? Why did he write such a book? I addressed this question in Is Carter an anti-Semite? (in which, by the way, contrary to what many of my readers assumed, I never concluded that he is anti-Semitic).

"Carter's distrust of the U.S. Jewish community and other supporters of Israel runs deep," writes Stein. He "sees the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the root of both U.S. unpopularity in the region and the wider problem of Middle East instability. Once the historic injustice done to the Palestinians is resolved, he believes, other issues plaguing U.S. foreign policy will dissipate, if not disappear."

But that's the rather polite explanation. Some were harsher, much more blatant. "He will go down in history: as a Jew hater," wrote Marty Peretz of the New Republic. And this weekend, Neal Sher, a New York attorney, former Director of the Justice Department's Office of Special Investigations, and former Executive Director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, published this story in the Jewish News Weekly of Northern California:

On Dec. 27 of last year I received an email from Professor Monroe Freedman, a distinguished member of the faculty of Hofstra Law School in New York. He had been the first executive director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, which had been created during the Carter administration. Working closely with Elie Wiesel, Freedman put forward a list of potential council members to the White House. The recommendations came back unapproved, and Freedman remembers the reason well: "In the top corner, in Carter's handwriting and with his initials was the notation: 'Too many Jews.'"

Last word

The newspaper of the Brandeis University students - the place to which Carter has taken both his complaints and his one apology - chose to run an opinion piece by Harriet Feinberg, an educator who taught at the University of Massachusetts in Boston.

I do not agree with her analysis, but it is worth knowing that such sentiments exist and are widespread, both in the Jewish and the non-Jewish community: "A bit of dark humor that I remember from years ago is this definition of chutzpah: A man who kills his parents and then says 'have pity, I'm an orphan.'

"Sadly, this scenario fits what has happened with Carter: We Jews have taken a gentle man who cared deeply and equally about Israel and about the Palestinians and who sought a reasonable and just political solution, and have gradually driven him away, and then complained he wasn't with us. Many Israeli and U.S. Jewish leaders who pride themselves on looking out for Israel's welfare have rebuffed Carter not only by supporting the opposite of

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors. Originally posted at Please do link to these articles, quote from them and forward them by email to friends with this notice. Other uses require written permission of the author.


  • Yossi Beilin, a former minister and current member of Israel's parliament, has reviewed President Carter's book in "The Forward".

    "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 agreement soon. 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.

    By Blogger Robert Hume, At February 5, 2007 6:11:00 PM GMT+00:00  

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