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Have former US president Jimmy Carter's recent statements crossed the line from legitimate criticism of Israel to illegitimate anti-Semitism? In his book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, Carter unfairly, one-sidedly, a historically - even indecently - condemns Israeli policies, but in my view he does not cross the line into overt anti-Semitism. His book is riddled with factual errors, virtually of them unfavorable to Israel. His history is all wrong.
He claims that Israel launched a preemptive attack against Jordan. Historians all agree that Jordan attacked Israel first.
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Israel tried desperately to persuade Jordan to remain out of the war with Egypt and Syria, and Israel counterattacked after the Jordanian army surrounded Jerusalem, firing missiles into the center of the city. Israel then captured the West Bank, which had been occupied by Jordan for nearly 20 years, and which Israel was willing to return in exchange for peace and recognition from Jordan.
Carter repeatedly condemns Israel for refusing to comply with Security Council Resolution 242, which called for return of captured territories in exchange for peace, recognition and secure boundaries, but he ignores that Israel accepted and all the Arab nations and the Palestinians rejected this resolution. The Arabs met in Khartoum and issued their three famous noes: "No peace, no recognition, no negotiation." But you wouldn't know that from reading the Carter version of history.
Carter faults Israel for its "air strike that destroyed an Iraqi nuclear reactor" without mentioning that Iraq had threatened to attack Israel with nuclear weapons if it succeeded in building a bomb and that the UN refused to intercede
Carter, who thinks Israel isn't religious enough, faults Israel for its administration of Christian and Muslim religious sites, when in fact Israel is scrupulous about ensuring those of every religion the right to worship as they please - consistent, of course, with security needs. He fails to mention that between 1948 and 1967, when Jordan occupied the West Bank and east Jerusalem, it destroyed and desecrated Jewish religious sites and prevented Jews from praying at the Western Wall. He also never mentions Egypt's brutal occupation of Gaza between 1949 and 1967.
Carter blames Israel for the "exodus of Christians from the Holy Land," totally ignoring the Islamization of the area by Hamas and the comparable exodus of Christian Arabs from Lebanon as a result of the increasing influence of Hizbullah and the repeated assassination of Christian leaders by Syria.
Carter blames Israel, and exonerates Yasser Arafat, for the Palestinian refusal to accept statehood on 95 percent of the West Bank and all of Gaza pursuant to the Clinton-Barak offers at Camp David and Taba in 2000-2001. He accepts the Palestinian revisionist history, rejects the eyewitness accounts of president Bill Clinton and Dennis Ross and ignores Saudi Prince Bandar's accusation that Arafat's rejection of the proposal was "a crime" and that Arafat's account "was not truthful" - except, apparently, to Carter. The fact that Carter chooses to believe Arafat over Clinton speaks volumes.
Carter also uses maps derived from Dennis Ross's book The Missing Peace without attribution. He mislabels one of the maps as representing "the Israeli interpretation" of the December 2000 Clinton parameters, when in fact the map represents the actual US proposal, as drawn up by Ross, which was understood by all parties, accepted by the Israelis and rejected by the Palestinians.
THESE ARE all grievous and one-sided errors, especially for a former president who has easy access to the historical facts. And there are more - too many to list here. Yet they do not qualify as anti-Semitic.
Since the publication of the book, however, Carter has been on a whirlwind tour featuring television, radio and print appearances. In his interviews - and without the benefit of the kind of reflection and self-restraint that comes with the writing and editing process - Carter has gone well beyond what he says in his book and may have crossed the line into bigotry. I will lay out the facts and leave it to the readers to decide.
First, Carter has strongly implied - based on an entirely false factual premise - that Jews control the media, academic and political process in the United States. In interview after interview, he has stated - quite categorically and quite falsely - that the plight of the Palestinians in the West Bank is "not something that has been acknowledged or even discussed in this country... You never hear anything about what is happening to the Palestinians by the Israelis."
This, of course, is entirely false. The situation with regard to the Palestinians has become the number one human right issue on American university campuses - exceeding the attention paid to Rwanda, Darfur, the former Yugoslavia, Tibet, Chechnya and other places where actual genocide has taken place. The West Bank and Gaza are regularly and extensively covered by all major US newspapers. The indisputable fact is that more space per capita is devoted to the Palestinians than to any other occupied or victimized group in the world.
Why, then, would Carter promote this canard? There is only one answer: to play into the old anti-Semitic stereotype of Jewish control of the media. When Carter has been asked why does he think there has been no media attention paid to the Israeli aggression against the Palestinians, he smiles and says, "I don't know," but goes on to say that he has "witnessed and experienced the severe restraints on any free and balanced discussion of the facts" - thus implying that someone or some group is restraining free discussion. In his appearance on Meet the Press, Carter pointed to "the Jewish lobby" as "part" of the problem. What exactly the "Jewish" lobby - as contrasted with the Israel Lobby - is, Carter, never explains.
In a recent op-ed article, Carter was even more specific - and more nonfactual: "Book reviews in the mainstream media have been written mostly by representatives of Jewish organizations..." Again, total nonsense. Whose reviews is he referring to? Certainly not mine, which was among the first to appear and which has been used by several interviewers to challenge Carter. I am not a "representative of Jewish organizations." I am a longtime supporter and admirer of Jimmy Carter, and I speak for no one but myself.
Nor are the other reviewers, who have blasted his book as "moronic" (Michael Kinsley, Slate) and "cynical... anti-historical" (Jeffrey Goldberg, The Washington Post), representatives of any Jewish organizations - except in the warped eyes of Jimmy Carter. Despite its demonstrable falsity, Carter has repeated this claim about "Jewish organizations" on recent talk shows.
CARTER GOES on to complain about Jewish control - this time over universities:
He is referring there to Brandeis University, whose president said he could speak if invited by a faculty member or student group - which he has been - and that the president of Brandeis would extend an invitation if Carter would agree to discuss his book publicly with a knowledgeable critic. Carter declined, insisting on speaking alone with no one presenting an opposing view. Why would Carter distort the truth of this conversation? To make a point about Jewish control over academic freedom at universities "with high Jewish enrollment"?
Carter then moves on to the political process, where he overstates the reality even more:
It would be almost politically suicidal for members of Congress to espouse a balanced position between Israel and Palestine, to suggest that Israel comply with international law or to speak in defense of justice or human rights for Palestinians. Very few would ever deign to visit the Palestinian cities of Ramallah, Nablus, Hebron, Gaza City or even Bethlehem and talk to the beleaguered residents.
Again this is total nonsense. Many American political figures have visited Palestinian cities. I know. I have seen them and spoken to them about their visits. Why would Carter so overstate the truth and play into the stereotype of undue Jewish influence over the political process?
By promoting these false stereotypes - Jewish control over the media, academia and politics - Carter has contributed to the growing acceptability of anti-Semitism around the world. But he does even worse. By exaggerating the evils of the Israeli occupation and casting the blame for Palestinian suffering almost exclusively on Israel, he has legitimated the comparison - often made by the most extreme anti-Semites - between the Jewish state and the world's worst human rights offenders.
Asked whether he believed that Israel's "persecution" of Palestinians was "[e]ven worse... than a place like Rwanda," Carter answered, "Yes. I think - yes." The comparison is absurd. Hutu militias slaughtered an estimated 800,000 Tutsis (and raped thousands) in an attempt to eradicate those people from the country. During any comparable period, the number of Palestinian casualties has never exceeded the hundreds, and for the most part, they have been either combatants, human shields or civilians inadvertently killed in efforts to kill combatants.
Further, the Tutsis never had a chance to prevent their slaughter, whereas the Palestinians initiated the violence against Israel and repeatedly refused - and continue to refuse - to agree to any sort of peace agreement, be it the Peel Commission, the UN partition plan or the 2000 Camp David proposals.
The idea of uttering Israel and Rwanda in the same sentence - and citing Israel as the greater offender of human rights - is obscene. It is also deeply insulting to the memory of those Rwandans who were murdered, raped and mutilated in what could only be characterized as genocide.
This is precisely the sort of exaggeration that caused Congressman John Conyers, a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus, to take Carter to task for using the word "apartheid" in the title of his book, thereby belittling the horror of real racial discrimination and apartheid. As Conyers said, accusing Israel of apartheid "does not serve the cause of peace, and the use of it against the Jewish people in particular, who have been victims of the worst kind of discrimination, discrimination resulting in death, is offensive and wrong." (By the way, Conyers does not represent any "Jewish organizations," to my knowledge.)
To be sure, Carter seems to have backed away from his comparison to Rwanda, just as he did with the comparison to apartheid - but only after first making a splash. He said he doesn't want to go "back into ancient history about Rwanda." But this is disingenuous. Rwanda, when invoked in the context of a human rights discussion, stands for genocide, just like apartheid stands for the oppressive discriminatory and segregationist practices in pre-1990 South Africa. Everyone understands these symbols, and Carter recklessly traffics in them, until someone calls him out and he's forced to backtrack.
HE ALSO claims, despite his book's title, that there is no apartheid in Israel, only in the Palestinian territories, but that is not the impression the reader gets, nor the one apparently intended by the author's invocation of this powerful symbol of oppression. And, in fact, in a recent PBS interview, Carter re-avowed the canard: "I would say, in many ways [Israel's treatment of Palestinians is] worse than the treatment of black people under apartheid. It's worse!"
At any rate, the important point is that Carter's immediate answer - his true instinct - is to accuse Israel of crimes worse than those committed in Rwanda. Carter has become so unhinged in his campaign against the Jewish state that he is now parroting - and legitimizing - the campus activists who delight in calling Israel a genocidal terrorist state and comparing it to Nazi Germany and apartheid South Africa.
In my book, The Case for Peace, I argued that criticism of Israel - even unfair and strident criticism - should not be equated with anti-Semitism. I went on to list a series of criteria for determining whether the line had been crossed into the abyss of anti-Semitism. Among these criticisms are:
* Employing stereotypes against Israel that have traditionally been directed against "the Jews."
* Characterizing Israel as "the worst," when it is clear that this is not an accurate comparative assessment.
* Singling out only Israel for sanctions for policies that are widespread among other nations, or demanding that Jews be better or more moral than others because of their history as victims.
* Emphasizing and stereotyping certain characteristics among supporters of Israel that have traditionally been used in anti-Semitic attacks, for example, "pushy" American Jews, Jews "who control the media" and Jews "who control financial markets."
* Accusing Jews and only Jews of having dual loyalty.
* Blaming Israel for the problems of the world and exaggerating the influence of the Jewish state on world affairs.
* Falsely claiming that all legitimate criticism of Israeli policies is immediately and widely condemned by Jewish leaders as anti-Semitic, despite any evidence to support this accusation.
* Seeking to delegitimate Israel precisely as it moves toward peace.
* Circulating wild charges against Israel and Jews.
I invite you, the readers, to review these factors and to decide for yourselves whether you believe Carter's post-publication remarks have crossed the line from legitimate criticism of Israel to illegitimate anti-Semitism.