Sunday, February 4, 2007

Lipstadt in Jewish Chronicle on Jimmy Carter

Here is my Oped from this week's London Jewish Chronicle Since you can't get it online unless you subscribe, here it is:

Britain will get Cartered too

Deborah Lipstadt says an ex-president’s factually flawed book on Palestine is our problem too

The critiques of Jimmy Carter’s latest book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, have been ferocious. The Washington Post described it as “cynical”; The New York Times as a “distortion”; and Slate, the online magazine, as “moronic”.

The book lays the responsibility for the Israeli-Palestinian crisis solely at the feet of Israel. Although Israel has committed grievous wrongs over the years, Carter bends over backwards to ignore Arab failures and misdeeds and condemn Israel.

UK Jews seem to consider this as a distinctly American affair, one in which they have, at best, an ancillary interest. This is a shortsighted view.

First, however, some of the book’s egregious rewritings of history (space does not permit a full exposé). Carter claims that Camp David II, the meetings Clinton held with Arafat and Barak, failed because Israel refused to accept the offer on the table.

The problem with this rendition is that both President Clinton and Dennis Ross, chief negotiator on the Middle East in both the first Bush and Clinton administrations, lay complete responsibility at Arafat’s feet. Writing in The New York Times, Dennis Ross dismisses Carter’s version as “simply untrue”. Despite not having been there, Carter insists he is correct.

Hafez el-Assad, the former president of Syria, quoted uncritically for an entire chapter, is presented as a man of peace who was willing to make serious territorial compromises for the sake of peace.

The problem is that, after his meeting with Assad, Carter never said that Assad was willing to make such concessions. Carter quotes, without correction, Assad’s claim that Israel started the 1967 war as a means of gaining more land. He ignores Assad’s record as a murderer of 15,000 people in Hama, something which made him a less-than-reliable conversation partner.

Some of Carter’s animosity towards Israel may have religious roots. He writes of an early trip to the Galilee where he met Christians who “complained to us that their holy sites and culture were not being respected by Israeli authorities — the same complaint heard by Jesus and his disciples almost 2,000 years earlier”.

The New Yorker writer, Jeffrey Goldberg, observed: “There are, of course, no references to ‘Israeli authorities’ in the Christian Bible. Only a man who sees Israel as a lineal descendant of the Pharisees could write such a sentence.”

Carter “equate[s] the ejection of Palestinians from their previous homes within the State of Israel to the forcing of Lower Creek Indians from the Georgia land where his family farm is now located.” Rich Richman in the American Thinker, notes: “So far… he apparently has no plans to give any portion of his farm back.”

Since the book’s publication, Carter’s behaviour has been equally egregious. On the MSNBC news site, he claimed that the Palestinians were experiencing “one of the worst examples of human-rights deprivation” in the world. The surprised interviewer asked: “Worse than Rwanda?” Carter dismissed Rwanda as “ancient history”. Maybe Carter wanted to focus on a contemporary crisis. Can one say that the Palestinians’ situation is comparable to Darfur?

As I noted in The Washington Post, Carter has derisively dismissed the critiques of the book as having been “written mostly by representatives of Jewish organisations”. In fact, the critics include professors from Harvard and Emory, a writer from The New Yorker, the deputy foreign editor of The New York Times, Ambassador Dennis Ross, and the publisher of The New Republic. All are Jews. Does that invalidate our criticism or make us “representatives of Jewish organisations”? In Carter’s eyes it apparently does.

Carter claims that the media have been “intimidated” and “silenced”. Yet he has appeared on every major American news outlet. Who is being silenced?

But why should UK Jews care? For the past few years there has been an attempt on both college campuses and in the churches to divest from Israel. The model for this policy is drawn from the struggle against apartheid. Carter describes Israeli policy in the Palestinian territories as “worse than apartheid”. Though he protests that he is talking about land acquisition in the occupied territories and not racial policy in Israel, the distinction has been lost on the general public.

Carter has given those who support divestiture a needed imprimatur. No longer can supporters of Israel say that, whatever you think of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, it is ludicrous to compare it to apartheid. Carter has.

The ludicrous nature of the apartheid comparison is exemplified by the fact that an Israeli Muslim is now Minister of Science. This portfolio gives him access to some of Israel’s most important state secrets, e.g. weapons research. It is hard to imagine a black person treated as an equal to government ministers in apartheid South Africa, much less having access to classified information.

So begins a new stage in the assault on Israel’s legitimacy. It is serious and frightening — and I don’t frighten easily. I have no doubt that it will soon migrate to these shores.

Professor Deborah Lipstadt’s most recent book is History on Trial: My Day in Court with David Irving (Ecco, 2005).

1 comment:

Unknown said...

On the other hand Yossi Beilin wrote recently 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."


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.