Jimmy Carter, James Baker and George H.W. Bush are in the news. Carter has a new book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. Baker is crafting a new Middle East policy for America. Papa Bush's "realist" foreign policy is being vindicated by his son's misadventures, and his men are moving back into power in Washington. Naturally, Israelis are filled with dread. As far as they're concerned, the title of Carter's book tells you everything you need to know about how he feels toward Israel. As for Baker, didn't he say "F--- the Jews" or something like that? And Bush the First refused Israel those loan guarantees, which shows how much of a friend he is. Israelis don't like American leaders trying to tell them what to do, and they especially don't like American leaders protesting the way they treat Palestinians. So Carter is widely viewed in this country as an anti-Semite, while Baker and H.W. are thought of as "Arabists," which is a euphemism for anti-Semites. In my view, this is redneck thinking, Israeli Archie Bunkerism. Not only don't I see Carter, Baker and the first president Bush as anti-Semites, I appreciate them all as proven friends of Israel. They just dared to be friends of the Palestinians, too, and this Israelis won't accept. It's not enough to be pro-Israel, you have to be both pro-Israel and anti-Arab - like Bush the Second - to be our friend. Helping us try to make peace with our enemies - like Bill Clinton did - doesn't get you anywhere with us. Helping us make war against our enemies - that's the litmus test of friendship around here. Jimmy Carter brokered, he enabled Israel's peace treaty with Egypt; it wouldn't have happened if he hadn't dragged Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin into signing it. That peace treaty has kept the Middle East from blowing up any number of times; it's one of the most valuable political assets Israel has - and the majority of Israelis couldn't care less. The Egyptians hate us, and Carter hates us, all he cares about is the Palestinians - that's the mainstream Israeli view. Here is a quote from Carter's interview with The Forward last week: "I've been teaching the Bible and my belief is that God ordained that the Jews should have a homeland there, and I think that international law beginning in 1948 says the same exact thing, and that's what I believe." Is this an anti-Semite, an Israel-hater? No. But that's what most Israelis think as soon as they see the word "apartheid" associated with the word "Palestine." (For many, use of the word "Palestine" by itself is proof of anti-Semitism.) BUT I'M terribly sorry, while there are important differences between the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the former apartheid regime of South Africa, after 39 years of occupation the similarities have come to outweigh the differences. The Palestinian majority in the West Bank lives under the harsh, frequently brutal rule of the Israeli army, while Jewish settlers are the lords of the land. If comparing the occupation to apartheid makes one an anti-Semite, then Carter has company, for example, in Labor MK and former navy and Shin Bet chief Ami Ayalon, as well as Yediot Aharonot columnist Nahum Barnea, the country's number one print journalist. But this is a comparison Israelis don't have the courage to hear, so they hate the messenger, even if he made peace between Israel and its worst enemy. As for George H.W. Bush, what Israelis remember most about him is that he refused us $10 billion in loan guarantees because some of that money would have been used by prime minister Yitzhak Shamir to build settlements. The consensus view here is that Bush was meddling in Israel's affairs. Somehow Israelis think America is required to finance our settlements, even if these settlements are the bane of the Palestinians' existence, because Israelis think America is required to obey Israel's policy toward the Palestinians. So George H.W. Bush is branded as anti-Israeli. It doesn't matter that most Israelis have become totally fed up with the settlements and only wish they could wash their hands of them. Even Bush's extraordinary conduct of the first Gulf War, which stopped Saddam Hussein and thereby did a tremendous service to Israel, fails to win him any points in this country. He didn't finish the job, we say, he didn't get rid of Saddam once and for all like he should have. We prefer his son's way - which turned into a disaster whose end can't even be imagined. Again, no matter. If H.W. knew the limits of force and W. doesn't, that's just another reason why Israelis love W. and don't care for his dad. REGARDING James Baker, his close partnership with Bush in getting the world's support, including Arab support, for the first Gulf War means less than nothing to people in this country. What Israelis remember is that he sat there in Congress and had the shameless, Arabist, anti-Semitic gall to read out the State Department's telephone number and suggest that the Shamir government call it - if and when that government ever got "serious about peace." And if anybody here still had any doubts about Baker, they didn't after he said "F--- the Jews!" So here is why I'm glad Baker is the man drawing up a new American policy in the Middle East, and why I think that if anybody is going to bring peace to Israel, it's him. When Baker said the Shamir government wasn't serious about peace, he was 100 percent right, as most people who aren't members of the Yesha Fan Club now realize. But again, Israelis don't have the courage to hear this message, so they take it out on the messenger. As for saying "F--- the Jews!" - he never said it, with or without an exclamation point. People who don't know the story imagine Baker must have been sitting in Riyadh with his oil sheikh friends, and the heady atmosphere got to him and he lost his inhibitions, stood up and shouted, "F--- the Jews!" Not exactly. What happened was that Ed Koch, the former New York mayor, wrote a newspaper column in which he quoted an anonymous source who said he was present at a meeting in which Baker proposed some policy regarding Israel, to which someone at the meeting suggested that it wouldn't go down well with the American Jewish community, to which Baker said, "F--- em. They don't vote for us anyway." The State Department said the whole story, including the quote, was "garbage." Koch, for his part, has never named his source. Doesn't this all sound a little less sinister than the "F--- the Jews!" story about Baker that has since lodged in so many pro-Israel minds? Even if Baker really did say, "F--- em. They don't vote for us anyway," as Koch claims, would that make him an anti-Semite? To my mind, it would only make him a politician. WHAT'S REALLY important about Baker, as far as Israelis should be concerned, is that he got European and Arab countries, including Syria, to join the coalition against Saddam in the first Gulf War. What's important is that he got Israel together with the Palestinians, Syrians and Jordanians at the Madrid peace talks, even if those talks didn't go anywhere until the Rabin-Peres government, on its own, began talking with the PLO, for which Baker deserves neither credit nor blame. What's important is that Baker has a very keen sense of when it's time to shoot and when it's time to talk, and he understands that now is a time to talk - something the Olmert government and most Israelis doesn't understand and don't want to hear about. Israelis don't like it when American leaders tell them what to do, or criticize the way they treat others, which is why they're so antagonistic toward Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush and James Baker. But if not for them, Israel would still be at war with Egypt and there's no telling how powerful Saddam would have become. These three are Arabists or anti-Semites only in the eyes of Israeli rednecks. Everybody else in this country ought to listen to what they have to say. In the case of Baker, I think we're going to have to listen fairly soon. The way things are going around here, I'd say the sooner the better.