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Judging a Book by Its Cover and Its Content
A review of “Palestine Peace Not Apartheid” by Jimmy Carter
(Simon & Schuster, November 2006)
Posted: November 13, 2006

By Abraham H. Foxman

One should never judge a book by its cover, but in the case of former President Jimmy Carter’s latest work, “Palestine Peace Not Apartheid”, we should make an exception. All one really needs to know about this biased account is found in the title.

It is truly shocking, at a time of Islamic extremism running rampant, of suicide bombs polluting cities in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, of Iran publicly stating its desire to wipe Israel off the map and building nuclear weapons to achieve that end, of the missile and rocket attacks by Hezbollah and Hamas on Israel, that Jimmy Carter can to a large degree only see Israel as the party responsible for conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

In some ways, Carter’s book reminds me of the outlandish paper on “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy” by professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, though he doesn’t go to their extremes. Like them, his examination of almost every issue concerning the conflict results in blaming Israel for most or all of what has gone wrong.

Listen to his conclusions: “Israel’s continued control and colonization of Palestinian land have been the primary obstacles to a comprehensive peace agreement in the Holy Land.” And, “The bottom line is this: Peace will come to Israel and the Middle East only when the Israeli government is willing to comply with international law, with the road map for peace…”.

In order to reach such a simplistic and distorted view of the region, Carter has to ignore or downplay the continuing examples of Palestinian rejection of Israel and terrorism, which have been part of the equation from the beginning and which are strong as ever today. He has to minimize or condemn all the instances of Israel’s peace offers and withdrawals, most particularly former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s initiative at Camp David in 2000, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s disengagement from Gaza in 2005 and current Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s campaign pledge to withdraw from the West Bank. And he has to frame every example of Palestinian distress as simply the product of Israeli repression instead of Palestinian extremism, e.g., the economic condition of the Palestinians, which has much to do with the continued terrorism against Israel.

Much as in the paper of Mearsheimer and Walt, one doesn’t have to be a pro-Israel advocate to recognize that the issues in the long conflict are a lot more complicated than Carter would portray. It’s particularly revealing, that at a time when even many Arab leaders are recognizing the destructive and dangerous policies of the Palestinians, Carter can hardly bring himself to speak to such matters.

It is not the goals that Carter seeks that are so troubling -- he calls for a two-state solution, with Palestinians and Israelis living securely in two states, which, of course, is the policy of Israel -- but his obsession with blaming Israel for these goals not being achieved.

The problem with this approach is two-fold. He unjustly encourages Israel-bashers around the world. The legitimizing factor of being able to quote a former President of the United States and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize cannot be overestimated.

Secondly, this gives comfort to the extremists on the Palestinian side who are reinforced in their extremism by this kind of “analysis.” In the end, it is the Palestinians themselves who are hurt by such a biased approach because they become even further entrenched in their illusions about weakening Israel and the need not to change.

As disturbing as Carter’s simplistic approach is, however, even more disturbing is his picking up on the Mearsheimer -Walt theme of Jewish control of American policy, though in much more abbreviated form and not being the focus of his work. Referring to U.S. policy and the “condoning” of Israel’s actions, Carter says: “There are constant and vehement political and media debates in Israel concerning its policies in the West Bank but because of powerful political, economic, and religious forces in the U.S., Israeli government decisions are rarely questioned or condemned, voices from Jerusalem dominate our media, and most American citizens are unaware of circumstances in the occupied territories.” In other words, the old canard and conspiracy theory of Jewish control of the media, Congress, and the U.S. government is rearing its ugly head in the person of a former President.

It is sad that Mr. Carter would attempt to use his influence in this way. It is dangerous because he will be used by elements that want to undermine support for Israel in this country.

Ultimately, we have faith in the good sense, fairness and understanding of the American people. They know that life in the Middle East is much more complicated and will require seeing all sides of the issue, something President Carter doesn’t seem to be interested in doing.

Abraham H. Foxman is National Director of the Anti-Defamation League and the author of Never Again? The Threat of the New Anti-Semitism.

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