By hap, I received an e-mail from a colleague of mine about the book. He asked me:
Happy New year! And I hope this brief note finds you well.I responded thus:
I should start by confessing that I have not yet read Jimmy Carter's recen controversial volume on Israel and Palestine. I intend to do so. So perhaps my communication and question to you is premature.
But I recall your last email to me and others, where you indicate that you remain severely critical of Israel while insisting that many of us remain blind to anti-Semitism in our midst--be that manifest, latent, virtual, residual, insidious, thoughtless, or otherwise.
So I seek you counsel. What do you make of this controversy? Have you read the book? Is it just a weak effort? Tendentious? Is he being treated in some sense unfairly?
I have not read the book, so it wouldn't be fair for me to comment on it, though I did read President Carter's most recent Op-Ed in the Times defending the book.Then, yesterday, I was sent a link to a story on how, allegedly, the President pleaded for leniency for an indicted SS war criminal back in 1987.
I don't think President Carter is wrong -- at least not to the extent that he presents the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the Palestinian Territories (PTs -- and he does claim that this is the extent of his analysis). However, to use the term "apartheid" in his title was, not to insult the former President, stupid.
First of all, you have an entire wing of the anti-Zionist anti-Semites (who, as we have previously noted, do not always intersect) who are fond of calling Israel proper (Green Line border) an apartheid state. This is patently false, although a sort of de facto segregation exists in Israel, with even the "mixed cities" (Haifa, Akko, Tel-Aviv/Jaffa) remaining divided by religion and ethnicity. However, much of this segregation is either by choice (which has been the case among ethnic whites in the U.S. for years) or the outcome of the economic sitution in Israel (about 20 percent of the population lives in poverty -- an equally decriable situation in Israel is that Ashkenazi Jews remain an affluent elite, while the Sephardim and Mizrachi Jews remain an underclass, with Ethiopians below even that). And, of course, there are government policies that clearly favor Jews, including some land laws that many of us on the Jewish left have a big problem with.
All of that said, Israel does not practice apartheid. It is, in fact, the only nation in the world with an Arab population of 15 percent or more in which those Arabs can vote and be represented in the parliament. (France will soon reach that status as well.) This is incredibly embarrassing for anti-Zionists to admit, as well as, obviously, Arab leaders and the Arab street.
Back to Carter: He said his analysis of the situation was limited to the PTs. OK, fine. He says the key to peace is Israeli withdrawal to the 1949 cease-fire borders and separate Israeli and Palestinian states. I agree 100 percent with this position. He decries the situation in the PTs and calls it "apartheid." On this, I have to disagree.
As bad as it is (and it is godawful), the situation in the PTs is not apartheid. While it is true that Jews and Arabs are strenuously kept apart via the settlement system and blockades, etc., to call it apartheid is to make it equivalent to a fundamentally racist form of government, i.e., pre-1994 S. Africa.
Of course, there are some Jews living on the West Bank who are racist; it would be pointless to deny it. But the Revisionist Zionist program of West Bank settlement is not, on its face, a racist program. Yes, it is expansionist. Yes, it is unfair to the native population. But there is not an inherent supposition of the inferiority of the Arab people in the program. And that's where President Carter is wrong.
So it gets boiled down to a single word: Apartheid. Big mistake on the President's part.
As for President Carter himself, I would be hard-pressed in the absence of strong evidence to call a man, who distanced himself from the Southern Baptist Convention because of their stances on the ordination of women and gay rights, racist or anti-Semitic. I think he's an exemplary Christian in so far as he considers the question "What would Jesus do?" in his thoughts and words. No person like that could be an anti-Semite. It would just be too idiosyncratic.
Thus I find the dogpiling on the President to be distasteful, particularly when led by the likes of Foxman or Hier, who "represent organized Jewry" but have never represented the Jewish left and, thus, myself.
The only other thing I can comment on, and this is hearsay, so it's probably worthless, is that the President focuses much more on Israeli atrocities than Palestinian atrocities in his book. I don't know if this is true or not. If it's true, then it should be borne in mind that, when the Hamas-led Palestinian government allows the firing of missiles from Gaza, which is no longer occupied, into Israel proper, Israel has an absolutely just casus belli to attack Gaza in return. However, admittedly, the response is usually disproportionate. The real question
we're left with, then, is how to stop the cycle of violence. The election of Olmert was a step in the right direction, but the election of Hamas and the Lebanese government's inability to control Hezbollah have put peace negotiation on a far back burner.
That's extremely unfortunate, because the current situtation, if it continues, could lead to civil war in the PTs, Netanyahu back in office, or worse.
At the very least, I hope Israel is providing for Mahmoud Abbas's security. If not, he's a dead man.
I quickly pointed out to my (other) colleague who sent me the link that this was being reported by the Israeli far right and no reputable news services were carrying it. However, at the same time, yet another colleague indicated that she knows Neal Sher, the principal source for the story, and that she trusted him.
So, this morning, early, I fired off another e-mail to my colleague (the first one):
If this is for real, it's truly shocking.At this writing, still no Israeli or American newspaper of any merit is carrying the story. So I'm still skeptical that Arutz-Sheva and Neal Sher have entirely told the truth on this one.
Fortunately, the story was "broken" by Arutz-Sheva, a far-right radio station in Israel that is very pro-settler. And so far, only Fox News (right of Mussolini), the New York Sun (neoconservative), and a few Jewish papers and wires in the U.S. and Canada are the only news sources outside of Israel to pick up the story, and *no* Israeli newspapers (or the Jewish Forward -- about as reputable as you can get for Jewish papers in the U.S.) have reported it at all.
So, it seems, this is more of the dogpile effect on Carter for his book.
If they have not, then shame on them.