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Jimmy Carter’s Jewish Problem


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For those with eyes to see, there were hints as far back as the 1976 presidential campaign of the trouble to come. Early that year, Harper’s magazine published “Jimmy Carter’s Pathetic Lies,” a devastating exposé of Carter’s record in Georgia by a then little-known journalist named Steven Brill.

Reg Murphy, who as editor of the Atlanta Constitution had kept a close eye on Carter’s rise in state politics, declared, “Jimmy Carter is one of the three or four phoniest men I ever met.”

Speechwriter Bob Shrum quit the Carter campaign after just a few weeks, disgusted with what he described as Carter’s penchant for fudging the truth. He also related that Carter, convinced the Jewish vote in the Democratic primaries would go to Senator Henry (“Scoop”) Jackson, had instructed his staff not to issue any more statements on the Middle East.

“Jackson has all the Jews anyway,” Shrum quoted Carter as saying. “We get the Christians.”

Relations between Carter and Israel were tense from the outset of the Carter presidency. Carter’s hostility was evident to Israeli foreign minister Moshe Dayan, who in his memoir Breakthrough described a July 1977 White House meeting between Carter and Israeli officials. “You are more stubborn than the Arabs, and you put obstacles on the path to peace,’’ an angry Carter scolded Dayan and his colleagues.

“Our talk,” Dayan wrote, “lasted more than an hour and was most unpleasant. President Carter … launched charge after charge against Israel.”

On October 1, 1977, the U.S. and the Soviet Union unexpectedly issued a joint statement on the Middle East calling for an Arab-Israeli peace conference in Geneva, with the participation of Palestinian representatives. The communiqué marked the first time the U.S. officially employed the phrase “legitimate rights of the Palestinian people.”

Reaction in the U.S. was immediate and furious. “[A] political firestorm erupted,” wrote historian Steven Spiegel. “After American officials had worked successfully for years to reduce Russian influence over the Mideast peace process and in the area as whole, critics could not understand why the administration had suddenly invited Moscow to return.”

Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, who five years earlier had expelled thousands of Soviet military advisers from Egypt, neither liked nor trusted the Russians, and decided to kill the U.S.-Soviet initiative in the womb. His decision to go to Jerusalem to address the Knesset electrified the world and caught the Carter administration completely off guard.

Eventually the U.S. would broker what became known as the Camp David Accords and oversee the signing of the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. But Carter was far from a dispassionate third party. His disdain for Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin and near hero-worship of Sadat were clearly reflected in his demeanor and has informed nearly everything he’s written on the Middle East since leaving office.

In The Unfinished Presidency, his book about Carter’s post-White House activities, the liberal historian Douglas Brinkley provides a detailed account of the former president’s obsession with helping Palestinian terror chief Yasir Arafat polish his image. Carter, according to Brinkley, regularly advised Arafat on how to shape his message for Western journalists and even wrote some speeches for him.

Carter was also a vocal critic of Israeli policies and “view[ed] the unarmed young Palestinians who stood up against thousands of Israel soldiers as ‘instant heroes,’ ” wrote Brinkley. “Buoyed by the intifada, Carter passed on to the Palestinians, through Arafat, his congratulations.”

Former New York mayor Ed Koch, in his 1984 bestseller Mayor, recounted a conversation he had shortly before the 1980 election with Cyrus Vance, who’d recently resigned as Carter’s secretary of state. Koch told Vance that many Jews would not be voting for Cater because they feared “that if he is reelected he will sell them out.”

“Vance,” recalled Koch, “nodded and said, ‘He will.’ ”

In Dangerous Liaison: The Inside Story of the U.S.-Israeli Covert Relationship, Andrew and Leslie Cockburn revealed that during a March 1980 meeting with his senior political advisers, Carter, discussing his fading reelection prospects and his sinking approval rating in the Jewish community, snapped, “If I get back in, I’m going to [expletive] the Jews.”

Carter – such was the country’s good fortune – did not get back in. But as evidenced by his years of pro-Palestinian advocacy, reams of anti-Israel op-ed articles, and the release last week of his latest book/screed, Palestine Peace Not Apartheid, he’s been trying to [expletive] the Jews ever since.

About the Author: Jason Maoz is the Senior Editor of The Jewish Press.


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