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I grew up during the 1970’s, universally acknowledged as a truly horrendous decade. In 1970’s America we danced to disco music, wore leisure suits, and watched “The Brady Bunch.” And as if that weren’t torture enough, we had Jimmy Carter as our president.
I can still recall just how depressing it was to watch Carter’s taciturn face on TV announcing one catastrophe after another, from the skyrocketing misery index to Americans being taken hostage in Iran to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to the tragically botched attempt to rescue our countrymen from their Iranian captors.
It would not be a stretch to say that Jimmy Carter was arguably the most hapless president in all American history, and indeed most presidential historians rate him at or near the very bottom of the list. Now, with the publication of his ignorant rant against Israel, Palestine Peace not Apartheid, many in the American Jewish community have come to believe that Carter is not simply a loser but an anti-Semite. I disagree. Jimmy Carter is not so much anti-Semite as anti-intellectual, not so much a Jew-hater as a boor.
The real explanation behind Carter’s limitless hostility to Israel is a total lack of any moral understanding. Carter wants to do what’s just. His heart is in the right place – he just can’t figure out what the right is. He is, and always has been, a well-meaning imbecile, a well-intentioned fool, a man of good intentions bereft of good judgment. He invariably finds himself defending tyrants and dictators at the expense of their oppressed peoples. Not because he is a bad man, but because he is a confused man.
Carter subscribes to what I call the “Always Root for the Underdog” school of morality. Israel has tanks and F-16’s, the Palestinians don’t. The Palestinians therefore are being oppressed. Never mind that the Palestinians have rejected every offer to live side by side with Israel in peace, and have just elected a government pledged to Israel’s annihilation. Their poverty dictates the righteousness of their cause even if their actions speak otherwise. If Israel builds a barrier to cordon off the Palestinians, it is not to prevent their suicide bombers from dismembering children but to punish them for having darker skin.
Carter’s obsession with the unrighteous underdog has embarrassed him many times before. It was what motivated him to visit and legitimize Fidel Castro and take his side in a bio-weapons dispute with the United States. Castro runs a tiny island in the shadow of the world’s Superpower. He therefore must be a victim of American bullying, even if he is a brutal dictator and tyrant.
Championing the unrighteous underdog also led Carter to praise the murderous North Korean tyrant Kim Il Sung with these words: “I find him to be vigorous, intelligent and in charge of the decisions about this country,” adding, “I don’t see that they [the North Koreans] are an outlaw nation.”
He also hailed Marshal Joseph Tito as “a man who believes in human rights,” and said of the murderous Romanian dictator Ceausescu, “Our goals are the same: to have a just system of economics and politics. We believe in enhancing human rights.” Championing the underdog also led Carter to tell the Haitian dictator Raul C?dras that he was “ashamed of what my country has done to your country.”
As a marital counselor I have met many well-meaning arbitrators who always take the side of the wife in an ugly dispute in the belief that the woman, because she is weaker than her husband, is always the innocent and aggrieved party. Even where the evidence pointed to the wife being violent and unreasonable, the arbitrator could not conceive of the husband as anything but an oppressor. Needless to say, such arbitrators cause more harm than good, which is why Jimmy Carter would make an even worse marital counselor than he was a president.
No, Jimmy Carter is not an anti-Semite so much as a man whose shallowness and lack of judgment render him absolutely incapable of telling right from wrong.
Carter’s obscene comparison of Israel with apartheid South Africa ignores the fact that Israel airlifted tens of thousands of black Africans ad made them free and full citizens of the Jewish state, a phenomenon that has no historical precedent.
By saying the Palestinians are being subjected to apartheid Carter has grossly maligned not Jews but black South Africans. Whereas black South Africans inspired the world with their humane capacity for forgiveness and peaceful coexistence with their white brethren, even after having been so egregiously wronged, the Palestinians have unfortunately embraced murderous hatred and racism. Arab newspapers are filled with grotesque caricatures of Jews, and the Palestinians teach kindergarten children to grow up and blow up Israeli buses.
Nelson Mandela rose to become a great statesman with his articulation of brotherhood and reconciliation. But Yasir Arafat fathered international terrorism and stole hundreds of millions of dollars from his own people who continue to live in abject poverty.
All of which leads to one conclusion in the matter of James Earl Carter. Before one runs around the world as a global do-gooder, one should first develop the ability to identify the good.
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is a TV host (“Shalom in the Home”) whose most recent book is “Parenting with Fire: Lighting Up the Family with Passion and Inspiration.” His website is www.shmuley.com.