Former presidents hold a place like no other politicians in a democracy. Regardless of their politics, they are honored for their service. And their choice of activities after their presidencies immediately raises the profile of the debate and calls us to arms for good causes.
Being an ex-president is a very important job with great power and prestige.
That is why Jimmy Carter’s decision to abandon his responsibility and descend into the muck of anti-Israel propaganda is not only sad, it is dangerous. With his book Palestine Peace Not Apartheid, Carter trades on his prestige to become Polemist in Chief.
Why does it matter? Simply put, because people may believe and follow him.
People write crazy things all the time. When Ann Coulter attacks the widows of 9/11 victims or a moviemaker fantasizes about assassinating President Bush, we are tempted to simply lament the bottom feeders and continue on our way.
But when a former president makes up facts and laments the “apartheid” of Israel and blames the “Jewish lobby” for the continuing terror in the Middle East, many observers give the charges the credibility they don’t deserve.
Recently, Carter traveled to Brandeis to engage in what he claimed would be a discussion about the points in his book. Rather than submit to an actual dialogue, however, the former president hid behind pre-screened questions and did not allow for a free-flowing discussion about the peace process.
At Brandeis, Mr. Carter claimed Israelis do not “permit the Palestinians to exercise their basic human and political rights.” Even a cursory understanding of the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict proves that not to be the case. On at least four occasions, the Israelis have offered the Palestinians a state of their own.
Most recently, with President Clinton at Camp David, Yasir Arafat simply walked away from the table, choosing a campaign of terror over the hard work required to establish a working Palestinian nation.
Those views are reflected in the book itself. On pgs 51-52, Carter claims that important provisions of the Camp David Accords have not been honored. “The Israelis have never granted any appreciable autonomy to the Palestinians,” Carter writes in an attempt to illustrate his point. Carter omits that the PLO and Yasir Arafat opposed autonomy at the time, and that the Israelis have pulled out of Gaza unilaterally and 40% of the West Bank, ceding control to the Palestinian Authority.
At the same speech at Brandeis, Carter charged that Israeli policy – West Bank checkpoints, security fence, etc. – “makes the lives of Palestinians almost intolerable.” That is putting the cart before the horse. It was the Palestinians’ continuing terror campaign against the Israelis that forced them to employ checkpoints and build a wall. If the terror had ended, the wall would never have been built.
And while Carter took the occasion of his speech at Brandeis to concede that his use of the word “apartheid” in the title might cause offense, his decision to equate the treatment of Palestinians with the racist policies of South Africa turns history on its head. It is the Israelis who have for years faced attack from every border and who have repeatedly offered to make peace. It is the Palestinians, so bent on the destruction of Israel, who have walked away from the table and chosen to attack Israeli civilians rather than engage in the much more difficult task of governing themselves and building a peaceful existence in the Middle East.
But Jimmy Carter is more than guilty of overstatement and being plain wrong. He is guilty of anti-Semitism. When he rails against the power of the pro-Israel lobby and nods his agreement when the host of “Meet the Press” asks if he thinks “the Jewish lobby” is to blame for the ills of the region, he puts power and respectability behind the same language that anti-Semites have been using from time immemorial.
Thanks to Carter, it is no longer difficult to imagine David Duke defending his views by quoting a former president of the United States of America.
In the gutter that is popular media, we have another sad entry.