Jewish Political Studies Review 20:1-2 (Spring 2008)
CAMERA Fights Back
Bearing False Witness: Jimmy Carter’s Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, edited by CAMERA: Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, 2007, 99 pp.
Reviewed by Sarah Schmidt
Jimmy Carter, ex-president of the United States, claims he wrote Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid in order to provoke debate. In fact he has, though perhaps not the debate he had in mind. Critics have noted his many false, incendiary, and sometimes ludicrous charges against Israel; many of the senior staff at the Carter Center in Atlanta have resigned, providing detailed accounts of the book’s misrepresentations. Neither Carter nor his publisher has been willing to acknowledge the book’s many factual errors; in television interviews and op-ed columns Carter persists in claiming that the book’s facts are accurate, blaming the “Israel lobby” for any negative reaction.
In Palestine Carter argues that his use of the term apartheid accurately describes Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, that the “segregation wall” has created “forced separation” between Israelis living in “settlements” and the neighboring Palestinian population. Curiously, he makes no mention of the Palestinian terrorist infiltrations from the West Bank into Israel that prompted the building of the security barrier, nor the subsequent decrease in deaths and injuries. Carter also charges Israel with violating international law; he insists that agreed-upon boundaries for the West Bank have existed since 1967, that United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 required Israel to retreat to these lines, and that Israel’s refusal to do so is the primary cause of the ongoing conflict.
None of this is true-and this concise collection reviews the errors both in the book and in Carter’s ongoing public appearances and frequent articles. It does so by citing, chapter and verse, the factual inaccuracies in the book, by including the letters of resignation from the Carter Center’s senior executives, by showing when and where Carter has refused to debate with knowledgeable observers, and by pointing out Carter’s religious perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as the “debt” he owes to the massive Arab financial contributions to his center.
Facts and Falsehoods
The first third of Bearing False Witness focuses on errors in Carter’s book that involve historical events, international agreements, and Israeli policies and military actions. In this heavily footnoted section Andrea Levin, executive director of CAMERA, and some of her associates first quote Carter’s contentions, then follow with numerous documented facts. Included are errors relating to Resolution 242, the Camp David agreements of 1978-1979, the 2000 Camp David and Taba negotiations, and to the events of 2006 including the Second Lebanon War and its causes.
For example, in answering Carter’s claim that “Hamas had not committed a single act of violence” since an August 2004 ceasefire, CAMERA provides names, dates, and details of the more than a dozen Israeli civilians murdered by Hamas since that time. One often, however, senses the authors’ anger in the way they frame their responses, and while their contentions are undoubtedly true, in these instances their tone lessens the impact of their presentation. When discussing the path and purpose of the security fence they write, “Carter’s many assertions…are totally spurious…[his] statements…are totally deceptive and distorted.” But they never show how “total” these deceptions and distortions are, and would have done better to stick to facts.
Dennis Ross’s article “Don’t Play with Maps” is particularly convincing. According to Ross, Carter misrepresents President Clinton’s 2000 Middle East proposals and so undermines “in a small but important way, efforts to bring peace to the region.” Ross, who at the time was Clinton’s principal adviser, had commissioned maps to illustrate the boundaries of a prospective Palestinian state. In his book Carter produced maps but, according to Ross, mislabeled them, calling one the Palestinian interpretation and the other the Israeli interpretation. In fact, both were American ideas, and Ross believes Carter was attempting to “rewrite history and misrepresent what the Clinton ideas were.” He suggests that this allows Carter to contribute to the “mythologies” of who is responsible for the conflict; as long as facts are misrepresented, Ross asserts, each side can blame the other and “no one will have to face reality.”
Kenneth Stein was Carter’s longtime aide on Middle Eastern affairs, the first executive director of Emory University’s Carter Center, and Carter’s collaborator on an earlier book. Stein resigned immediately after the publication of Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid; in a letter explaining his action he cited the “factual errors, copied materials not cited, superficialities, glaring omissions, and simply invented segments.”
Bearing False Witness includes a lengthy article Stein published in the Spring 2007 issue of Middle East Quarterly. Apparently Carter’s list of criticisms vis-à-vis Israel began from the time he was president and include his distrust of the American Jewish community. Stein cites Carter’s belief that had the American Jewish community contributed more money to his 1980 presidential campaign he would have been reelected and then, with “missionary zeal” would have ended the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It appears that Carter’s willingness to condone the killing of Israelis and cast Hamas as a moderate, peace-seeking partner stems from longstanding grievances, which allow him to distort facts and resist contrary evidence.
The biggest surprise in CAMERA’s constellation of articles is the chapter “Religious Overtones.” Journalists both in the United States and Israel believe that Carter’s purpose in writing this book was “to convince American Evangelicals to reconsider their support for Israel.” CAMERA’s Christian media analyst Dexter Van Zile maintains that Carter believes a Jewish homeland must be based on its people’s adherence to religious observance as outlined in the Old Testament. Carter, in fact, sees himself as the judge concerning obedience to these obligations. In Palestine Carter recounts a conversation with Golda Meir in which he commented that “a common historical pattern was that Israel was punished whenever the leaders turned away from the devout worship of God.” Meir’s response- a shrug and a laugh-deeply disturbed his Christian sensibilities and led him to wonder if the Jews really deserved their state.
Truth Will Out
Carter has insisted that Palestine was carefully fact-checked. Apparently the fact-checkers were a college senior majoring in Japanese and international affairs, supervised by someone whose academic focus is the American presidency. Neither had any expertise in the book’s subject matter.
CAMERA has provided a much-needed corrective to Carter’s book. Its emphasis on facts, and its refutation of Carter’s fictions, will in the long run provide a more realistic context for negotiating a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
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DR. SARAH SCHMIDT is senior lecturer in modern Jewish history and Zionist history at the Rothberg International School of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where she also teaches an honors seminar, “The American Jew and the Israeli Jew: A Comparative Analysis.”