Joel Fishman on Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid by Jimmy Carter

, September 5, 2007

Jewish Political Studies Review 19:3-4 (Fall 2007)

 

The 1930s: Déjà Vu All Over Again

Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, by Jimmy Carter, Simon & Schuster, 2006, 265 pp.

Reviewed by Joel Fishman

The Palestinian Arabs have found an eloquent and prestigious advocate for their cause in Jimmy Carter, the former president of the United States. His book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, should be understood in this sense, because if its author had any pretensions of writing an objective, balanced, and honest account of the Israel-Palestine conflict, he failed.

In order to grasp the book’s academic shortcomings, factual errors, lack of balance and truthfulness, one need only read Prof. Kenneth W. Stein’s analysis, “My Problem with Jimmy Carter’s Book.”[1] Prof. Stein of Emory University was once a colleague of the former president and the first permanent executive director of the Carter Center. As a fellow of the Center, he traveled extensively with the former president and worked with him at close quarters.

Stein convincingly demonstrates that Carter intentionally misrepresented his facts. If the public did not grant him a good measure of deference as former president and he were held to the accepted standards of academic scholarship, he would have been discredited. If he were a graduate student at a first-class university, a carefully documented statement from a senior professor, such as Kenneth Stein, would have led to the disgraceful conclusion of an academic career. Since Stein has done the work, there is no need to duplicate his efforts.

If this book is a work of advocacy for the cause of the Palestinian Arabs, the question is: what is its significance? If one looks at the contemporary literature of Palestinian advocacy, which is considerably more outspoken than Carter’s, some facts become evident. In September 2000, the Palestinians, under the leadership of the late Chairman Yasser Arafat, initiated the Second Armed Uprising, or Second Intifada, but failed to achieve their strategic goal, namely, to destabilize the sovereign state of Israel and to break the national consensus and its will to defend itself.

Even before the failure of the Camp David talks and Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount, the Palestinians had prepared in advance for a major armed uprising. The Israel Defense Forces were prepared, because the intelligence services had reported that the Palestinians had been stockpiling food, medicine, and weapons. The prime minister at the time, Ehud Barak, subdued this violent campaign, and for several years the Palestinians waged a terror offensive which targeted Israeli civilians. The website of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported that “from 29 September 2000 to 1 May 2006, Magen David Adom [Israel’s national-emergency service] treated a total of 7,844 casualties as follows: 999 killed, 642 severely injured, 940 moderately, and 5,263 lightly injured, among them 11 MDA staff members.”[2]

After the suicide bombing by Hamas at the Park Hotel in Netanya on 27 March 2002, which killed 27 and wounded 130 Israelis who had gathered to conduct the Passover seder, Prime Minister Sharon responded militarily by taking control of Jenin and introducing his policy of disengagement. The purpose of this policy has been to separate Israel from the Palestinian Authority, meaning that Israel would have as little as possible to do with the Palestinians.

Sharon, who kept his word not to harm the PA chairman, publicly declared that “Yasser Arafat is irrelevant!” When asked to elaborate, he staunchly refused. In retrospect, it is evident that Sharon also succeeded in making the Palestinian Authority irrelevant. A separation barrier has reduced mobility and access to Israeli population centers and in combination with a proactive policy of stopping terrorists even before they reached the checkpoints has sharply reduced the level of Palestinian terror.

For their part, the Palestinians missed their moment. They did not engage in state building, and their leadership lost the public’s confidence mainly because it is riddled with corruption. At the end of the 1980s, many had hoped that the Palestinian Arabs would construct the first Arab democracy in the Middle East. Their experiment, however, failed-not because of the Israelis, but basically because Arafat thought he could achieve his national goal through the combination of negotiation and terror, and because the Palestinian Authority under his leadership systematically deprived its citizens of many important civil liberties.[3] In fact, Arafat never abandoned his objective of destroying Israel. When the Israelis devised an effective and moderately humane means to safeguard their security in the context of the larger strategy of disengagement, the Palestinian cause hit a dead end.

In response, Palestinian propaganda revived certain themes which dated from the Soviet Cold War era and accused Israel of being a racist, apartheid state. They also changed their line, dropping the idea of setting up two separate and independent entities, namely, Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which would be the basis of a future Palestinian state. Now, instead, the Palestinians and their supporters call for a single state, comprised of both peoples, which would accept the supposed principle of Palestinian return.

This is the background of Carter’s book. Although not explicitly articulated, it is the real meaning of its title, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. The name of the country, Israel, does not appear in the title, simply because it does not fit into this vision. It is not accidental that the message of Carter’s book is basically the same as that of current Palestinian propaganda, and that CAIR, a prominent Islamic advocacy group in the United States, decided to sponsor its distribution to public libraries.

In addition, world public opinion, having become more familiar with the Palestinian Arabs, has grown less convinced of the justice and urgency of their cause. In this context, Carter quoted Martin Luther King who said that the worst thing that could happen to the civil rights movement would be that people would find it boring. Toiling in the service of “Palestinian justice,” Carter has endeavored to keep this cause before the public by presenting the Palestinian “narrative” and advancing their claims. At the same time, he disingenuously attempts to invest his partisan efforts with the authority of an impartial expert possessing the stature of a former U.S. president, Nobel Prize winner, and senior statesman.

 

Objectionable Language

Several decades ago, sociology professor William Peterson of Berkeley made an important observation about the radicals of the late 1960s: “They are defined not by whether they pay their dues to a party, but by their actions, their vocabulary, their way of thinking….”[4] Thus a person’s choice of language may reveal his or her real political identity and agenda. Carter’s application of the term “apartheid” to the Israeli situation indicates that he has chosen a slogan which the Soviet Union coined in its anti-Semitic incitement campaign of the 1970s in order to delegitimize and defame Israel. The term is still current and may be found in pro-Palestinian propaganda, notably in the language of the Durban Conference of 2001.

The following are examples of the use of the term apartheid as applied to Israel. Bernard Lewis reported an early use of this brutal term at the World Conference of the International Women’s Year held in Mexico City in late June and early July 1975. He observed that “the ‘Declaration on the Equality of Women’…repeatedly stresses the share of women in the struggle against neocolonialism, foreign occupation, Zionism, racism, racial discrimination and apartheid.”[5] In addition, in TASS (the official Soviet news agency) on 23 August 1977, N. Oleynikov wrote in Russian and, for abroad, in English: “Tel Aviv and Pretoria are akin, just as Apartheid in the South African Republic and Zionism in Israel are simply different brands of racialism.”[6] Similarly, TASS in an English-language broadcast of 5 July 1977 stated: “If in the RSA [Republic of South Africa], the black people have been herded into so-called Bantustans and under the fear of death cannot appear in white-only districts, in Zionist Israel Arab-born citizens are compelled to live in special zones, reminiscent of the Jewish ghettoes of the Nazi period” [7] (emphasis in the original).

The “apartheid” accusation clearly belongs to the lineage of propaganda slogans which advance the proposition that Zionism is racism.  Similarly, it may be found in the Declaration of the NGOs at Durban: “We declare Israel as a racist, apartheid state in which Israel’s brand of apartheid as a crime against humanity has been characterized by separation and segregation, dispossession, restricted land access, denationalization, ‘bantustanization’ and inhumane acts“[8] (emphasis in the original).

Although Carter somewhat qualifies the apartheid accusation in the book’s text, his effort is disingenuous. He uses the term in the title of his book, and its cover visually displays Carter on one side and the separation barrier on the other.

Why would a former American president use the vocabulary of Soviet incitement propaganda, the language of America’s ideological foe, a totalitarian state which suppressed human rights and held large populations in slave-labor camps? No other American presidents have availed themselves of Soviet propaganda terminology. If the choice of language defines the man, then it is fair to ask: who is the real Jimmy Carter? Where is he coming from? What is his real agenda? He should explain.

 

Georgia on My Mind

A book such as this naturally reflects the vantage point of its author. One of Carter’s references to his Georgia background shows that he came to this book with some heavy personal baggage. He confesses to having a bad conscience about the way that Native Americans were treated in Georgia:

I have to admit that, at the time, I equated the ejection of Palestinians from their previous home within the State of Israel to the forcing of Lower Creek Indians from the Georgia land where our family was now located; they had been moved west to Oklahoma on the “Trail of Tears” [ca. 1838] to make room for our white ancestors. (27-28)

Anyone doing a bit of research would discover that the history of the American government and the Lower Creek Indians was one of dispossession and broken treaties. A great injustice took place, and if Carter really wanted to do his part in setting things right, he would have to locate the descendants of the Lower Creek Indians, beg their forgiveness, and give their land back. The problem, of course, is that if he ever did so, his neighbors would tar and feather him.

The dispossession of Native Americans is an injustice in its own right, but one which has little to do with Israel and the Jews. To repackage the burden of one’s personal sense of guilt and “transfer” it to Israel’s doorstep is a personal act of denial and moral cowardice. Even so, Carter’s comparison is wrong. It was the Jews-and not the Arabs-who were originally driven off the land. They have come back to claim what rightfully belongs to them. It is the Jews and the Israelis who are the “Native Americans” of the Middle East, and their tribe has a name. It is Judah.

Moreover, a relevant piece of Georgia heritage is not mentioned in the book. Carter insinuates that the American Jewish lobby curtails freedom of speech by using intimidation: “because of the powerful political, and religious forces in the United States, Israeli government decisions are rarely questioned or condemned, voices from Jerusalem dominate in our media, and most American citizens are unaware of circumstances in the occupied territories” (209).

The situation which he describes is not exactly true, because the United States Constitution has the First Amendment which guarantees free speech, and Americans make good use of this right. However, the state of affairs which Carter finds so objectionable dates back partially to a heinous crime which took place in 1915, when a lynch mob in Marietta, Georgia, murdered Leo Max Frank, an American Jew and martyr to American anti-Semitism. This horrific act brought the world’s attention to the problem of anti-Semitism in the United States and resulted in the establishment of the Anti-Defamation League.[9]

By founding this type of defensive body American Jewry devised a constructive but not totally effective response to a very dangerous situation. If a lynch mob in Georgia had not martyred Leo Frank, perhaps there would have been no need for the Anti-Defamation League, and American Jews could feel more secure as citizens in American society. Unfortunately, Jimmy Carter’s book demonstrates the continuous need for organizations such as the ADL. According to Prof. Alan Dershowitz, “the Anti-Defamation League has documented the extraordinary number of hate sites that are featuring Carter’s book and the outrageous statements he has made about ‘the Jews’ in his media interviews.”[10]

 

A Problem with the Book and a Problem with the Man

Even as advocacy literature for the Palestinian cause, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid is undistinguished. Can anyone indeed write a decent book presenting the Palestinian cause without omitting key facts, distorting them, or just plain misrepresenting them? For example, Carter omits any reference to the ex-Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, who enthusiastically collaborated with Hitler and actively supported his program of genocide by working to prevent the escape of Jews from Europe. Perhaps the main value of the book lies in the fact that it is Carter’s personal statement, an “ego-document,” to use the term coined by the late Prof. Jacques Presser of Amsterdam. From this point of view, Carter, the one-term president, represents the essence of the problem.

Beyond the immediate scope of the book, the late Congressman Tip O’Neill of Massachusetts, who was Speaker of the House in Carter’s time and a capable observer, noted that “when Carter’s people came north to Washington, they just didn’t understand Irish or Jewish politicians, or the nuances of city politics.”[11] When one reads a statement such as this, it prompts the question: if Carter could not find his way among the Irish and Jewish politicians in Washington, how could he ever presume to understand Arabs and Israelis?

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Notes

 

[1] Kenneth W. Stein, “My Problem with Jimmy Carter’s Book,” Middle East Quarterly, Spring 2007, www.meforum.org/article/1633.

[2] www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/Terrorism-+Obstacle+to+Peace/Palestinian+terror+since+2000

/Victims+of+Palestinian+Violence+and+Terrorism+sinc.htm.

[3] See Joel S. Fishman, “The Broken Promise of the Democratic Peace: Israel and the Palestinian Authority,” Jerusalem Viewpoints, 477, 1 May 2002, www.jcpa.org/jl/vp477.htm.

[4] Eugene H. Methvin, The Riot Makers (New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House, 1971), 223.

[5] Bernard Lewis, “The Anti-Zionist Resolution,” Foreign Affairs, October 1976, 54.

[6] Institute of Jewish Affairs, Soviet Antisemitic Propaganda (London: Institute of Jewish Affairs, 1978), 57.

[7] Ibid., 65.

[8] Article 162, WCAR NGO Declaration, 3 September 2001. See also Joel Fishman, “The Cold-War Origins of Contemporary Anti-Semitic Terminology,” Jerusalem Viewpoints, 517, 2-16 May 2004, www.jcpa.org/jl/vp517.htm.

[9] “The Lynching of Leo Frank,” American Jewish Historical Society, www.ajhs.org/publications/chapters/chapter.cfm?documentID=284.

[10] Alan Dershowitz, “Ex-President for Sale,” Part 6, www.gather.com/viewArticle.jsp?articleId=281474976909047.

[11] Speaker Tip O’Neill with William Novak, Man of the House (New York: St. Martin’s, 1987), 364.

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DR. JOEL FISHMAN is a fellow of the JCPA and chairman of the Foundation for the Research of Dutch Jewry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is carrying out research on political warfare, particularly media warfare and propaganda.

About Joel Fishman

Joel Fishman received his doctorate in modern European history from Columbia University in the City of New York. He received a post-doctoral fellowship at the Netherlands State Institute for War Documentation where he carried out pioneering work on the postwar era in the Netherlands. More recently, he has published on political warfare, incitement to hatred and violence, and political anti-Zionism. Fishman is a Fellow of the Jerusalem Center of Public Affairs and editor of the Jewish Political Studies Review.