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Jimmy Carter vs. Israel


Photo: Michael Williamson for The Washington Post

Former president Jimmy Carter, still going strong at 82, has stirred up attacks here in the U.S. on his new book, which criticizes the Israeli occupation of Palestine and calls this an “obstacle” to peace in the Middle East. He is being criticized even for the book’s title, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, referring to the policy of territorial segregation practiced in South Africa before the historic deal that brought Nelson Mandela to power. People are saying this is sloppy use of language, because what Israel is doing to the Palestinians isn’t racism (both are “Semetic” peoples, thus the same “race”) but Carter says this misses the point:

    Carter…stands by his use of the word, and cited the sprawling complex of fences, electric sensors and concrete slabs that Israel built along the West Bank as an example of the divide. “I think it’s worse, in many ways, than apartheid in South Africa,” Carter said.

As he explained in an interview with Tim Russert on Meet the Press:

    …the apartheid that is perpetrated now on the Palestinians in the occupied territories is not based on racism. It’s based on a desire by a minority of Israelis for Palestinian land.

On Good Morning America he explained why this is a problem:

    Contrary to the United Nations resolutions, contrary to the official policy of the United States…this occupation and confiscation and colonization of land in the West Bank is the prime cause of a continuation of violence in the Middle East.

So why take this on himself? Why make himself a focus of attack at his age? He could have stayed on his Georgia farm enjoying his sunset years with his family. But the broker of the Camp David agreement and Nobel Prize winner isn’t one to shy from controversy in the service of a higher good. He points out that there is more debate and criticism of Israeli policies within Israel’s own press and government than there is in the United States. He wants Americans to finally and have a frank discussion of this issue. As he said to Tim Russert, “I don’t look on provocative as a negative word.”

    It’s completely—almost completely unacceptable in this country for any public official to criticize the policies of Israel, even if they are horribly abusive against the Palestinians and violate human rights. [...] The Jewish lobby may be part of it. I didn’t say that in the book, but I think that’s part of it.

Or as he put it in an interview with the Associated Press:

    It’s almost a universal silence concerning anything that might be critical of current policies of the Israeli government. [...] There’s a tremendous intimidation in this country that has silenced our people. And it’s not just individuals, it’s not just folks who are running for office. It’s the news media as well.

Carter wants to tear down the “impenetrable wall” that keeps the American public from understanding the conditions in which Palestinians are living. When nineteen people, mostly women and children, were recently killed in their sleep in Gaza, pictures were seen around the world but mirculously, did not appear in the American press. That is just one example of what he is talking about. Fortunately we have the internets to tell it like it is in the Middle East, such as this one (Palestine), this one (Iraq) and this one (Egypt).

I congratulate our former president for the having the courage of an elder statesman, a man whose only ambition now is to get it right for the history books. It was the Islamic Revolution in Iran that cost Jimmy Carter a second term as president, and he says now that if had remained in office, he would have kept pressuring Israel to live up to their commitments to peace. Ironically, it may be thanks to Ayatollah Khomeini that the Palestinian people are still suffering today.