Carter’s book meets the press

PeaceNotApartheidWhen a compelling book hits the stores, journalists covering the same subject can’t help but write about it. Rare and special are the books that break news with any real content, so in lieu of that, journalists seek external news angles in order to write about the book. It’s better than simply shilling for the publishing industry and writing a review, right?

The release of President Jimmy Carter’s Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid brought on a predictable set of news stories, and it’s not surprising that they contained strong religious angles, seeing that the author is famous for stating on the campaign trail that he was born again.

Early attempts at hooking the Carter book to real news were weak. Take, for instance, this Washington Post piece by Karen DeYoung on the resignation of “a veteran Middle East scholar affiliated with the Carter Center in Atlanta.” The scholar, Kenneth Stein, doesn’t even work for the center. His full-time job is as a professor at Emory University. But somehow this is news and makes the book’s release an “escalating controversy.”

That’s not to say that the book hasn’t ruffled a few feathers. Check out this Associated Press article on Carter’s prayerful attempts to smooth over his relationship with a group of rabbis in Phoenix:

Former President Jimmy Carter prayed with rabbis who are angered by his new book’s reference to apartheid in describing the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, but he didn’t change their minds.

The Board of Rabbis of Greater Phoenix said they wouldn’t call for a boycott of Carter’s book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid,” but they also won’t suggest that anyone read it.

. . . Carter met with the rabbis’ group for almost an hour, prayed with them and invited them to help him teach Sunday school.

Am I the only one wondering what Carter and the rabbis were praying about? And whom did they pray to? And why is this news? Well, Carter was president for four years and he has had quite the post-presidential career. All the furor over the book appears to be focused on the word “Apartheid” in the title. At least that’s how The New York Times saw it in a rather pedestrian article Thursday.

If I were a writer looking for a fresh angle on this book, I would turn to the proposition contained in this Post book review by Jeffrey Goldberg, which makes the compelling claim that the book is written to shock evangelicals away from unwittingly supporting an apartheid-like state that supposedly doesn’t like Christians:

Why is Carter so hard on Israeli settlements and so easy on Arab aggression and Palestinian terror? Because a specific agenda appears to be at work here. Carter seems to mean for this book to convince American evangelicals to reconsider their support for Israel. Evangelical Christians have become bedrock supporters of Israel lately, and Carter marshals many arguments, most of them specious, to scare them out of their position. Hence the Golda Meir story, seemingly meant to show that Israel is not the God-fearing nation that religious Christians believe it to be. And then there are the accusations, unsupported by actual evidence, that Israel persecutes its Christian citizens. On his fateful first visit to Israel, Carter takes a tour of the Galilee and writes, “It was especially interesting to visit with some of the few surviving Samaritans, who complained to us that their holy sites and culture were not being respected by Israeli authorities — the same complaint heard by Jesus and his disciples almost two thousand years earlier.”

Hey, major U.S. papers, take that for a perspective on this book. How are evangelicals responding? I’m not suggesting that the reporter should start with Pat Robertson or other self-proclaimed experts in international relations, but what about Rick Warren or others like him? We know that the rabbis don’t like the book and that Carter is willing to pray with them, but what effect is the book having on the views of your average evangelical? Do they even care what the born-again president thinks these days?

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  • Darrell Grizzle

    dpulliam wrote, “And whom did they pray to?”

    I’m assuming they prayed to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Creator of heaven and earth. Why would you even ask this question? Do you believe there are different Gods for Jews and for Christians?

  • Mark Kellner

    The heart of the matter, it seems to me, is contained in the following sentence from Mr. Goldberg’s review:

    And then there are the accusations, unsupported by actual evidence, that Israel persecutes its Christian citizens.

    Accusations. Unspported by Actual EVIDENCE. That would suggest — to me at least — that this book is hooey, plain, pure and simple, and should be treated with the same serious consideration accorded claims that the 1969 Moon Landing was accomplished on a sound stage.

    More succinctly, I’m reminded of a New York Post headline following a speech by President Peanut: “More Mush From The Wimp.”

  • evagrius

    Where does Goldberg get the idea that Israel does not persecute Arab Christians?

    They have, through quite a few “legal” means from 1948 and continue to this day.

    I belonged to an Arab Chrstian church, ( the Antiochan Orthodox Church- Antioch was where people were first called Chrsitians). I heard plenty of stories of how they and their families lost their lands, were driven out through harassment, were discriminated against, etc;etc;.

    It is apartheid and the most serious victims are Christians.

    Of course, evangelicals don’t recognize the Arab Christians as Christians. They worship in a funny way, kinda like Catholics, worship idols, pray to saints, etc;etc; plus they speak and chant in Arabic and their hymns aren’t Protestant classics but 1500 year old hymns.

    Carter is at least familiarizing himself with what’s really going on.

  • http://www.metapundit.net/sections/blog metapundit

    Early attempts at hooking the Carter book to real news were weak. Take for instance, this Washington Post piece by Karen DeYoung on the resignation of “a veteran Middle East scholar affiliated with the Carter Center in Atlanta.” The scholar, Kenneth Stein, doesn’t even work for the center. His full-time job is as a professor at Emory University. But somehow this is news and makes the book’s release an “escalating controversy.”

    I don’t think the Washington Post story is as weak as you make it out to be. Dr. Stein was the Executive Director of the Carter Center for a decade, so formally ending his affiliation with the center does seem to be news. It helps that his disagreement with Carter’s book is phrased mostly in terms of academic standards and that Stein is a scholar in Middle Eastern studies. It’s not just that he doesn’t like the book – he’s saying that the book contains demonstrable untruths posing as history that threaten his academic standing by association. That seems like news to me.

    I did like the the Goldberg story. Is he implying that Carter is opposed to the secular state of Israel because he is a Christian? The “Golda Meir story” he refers to was interesting in that vein…

    On his first visit to the Jewish state in the early 1970s, Carter, who was then still the governor of Georgia, met with Prime Minister Golda Meir, who asked Carter to share his observations about his visit. Such a mistake she never made.

    “With some hesitation,” Carter writes, “I said that I had long taught lessons from the Hebrew Scriptures and that a common historical pattern was that Israel was punished whenever the leaders turned away from devout worship of God. I asked if she was concerned about the secular nature of her Labor government.”

    Jews, in my experience, tend to become peevish when Christians, their traditional persecutors, lecture them on morality, and Carter reports that Meir was taken aback by his “temerity.”

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    I agree with metapundit that Stein’s break from the Center — which he used to be executive director of but REMAINED a fellow of for many years — was definitely newsworthy.

    Not to mention, he says he was a third party in many of the meetings mentioned in the book and that Carter lied about what transpired in them.

    That’s newsworthy.

  • http://postwatchblog.com Christopher Fotos

    And up until a few days ago, Stein’s photo with bio was incorporated into the center’s website. I too thought this was a decent hook.

  • dpulliam

    I’m going to cry uncle re: the story on Stein’s resignation. I’ve been convinced that it was a decent hook for a news story. What confused me was the inclusion of the explanation by Carter’s people that it wasn’t a big deal. I’m glad you all were able to help me see that.

  • Dennis Colby

    “I’m assuming they prayed to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Creator of heaven and earth. Why would you even ask this question? Do you believe there are different Gods for Jews and for Christians?”

    THERE’S a set of questions that would make for an interesting news story, especially given the often unthinking commentary about the “Abrahamic faiths” so common these days. DO Christians and Jews worship the same God? I don’t know; Christians think Jesus is God, and Jews think he’s not. That’s the kind of theological discussion I’d love to see the press dig into.

    As for the Carter story, I think a piece examining evangelicals’ reactions would be good, but I don’t think we can say that Carter’s intent with the book was to diminish evangelical political support for Israel. The evidence for that claim is a hostile book review, after all, and besides: it’s not like evangelicals are the only Americans who support the state of Israel.

  • Scott Allen

    dpulliam’s closer itself begs a question: “What is an ‘average evangelical’?” Per the Wheaton College discussions we had on this blog approx. 1 year ago, that is subject to great debate.

    Now, if I were a rabbi, I’d be praying that we never again have a President like Jimmy.

    Regarding who they were praying to, do Christians (liberals and Bible-believers) pray to the same God? Given the dim view of Scripture espoused by most liberals, I don’t think so. So why should anyone expect Carter and the rabbis to have much commonality in this respect? Further, why should it matter if Carter and the rabbis pray to the same God? The point of such staging is political/symbolic: it signifies love and/or obedience to a greater (in power and character) “person” (that is, not a blind uncaring force). So to a limited extent there is a possibility of compromise or cooperation, since they are theoretically willing to subject their desires to the standards and will of a God (regardless of who that God may be). The prayer accomplished that purpose. The press put it in context by interviewing the rabbis afterward. They did OK.

  • Joel

    On praying to the same God, I wonder if the Jewish-Christian divide is actually less than the liberal-conservative divide.

    That is to say, is it hard to imagine that a Reform rabbi, a liberal Episcopalian, ministers from the United Church of Christ, Metropolitan Church and a Unitarian Universalist would be unable to find a common way to pray? Is Bishop Schori that far from the Unitarian prayer? And are there not Reform rabbis that would go along with this?

    OTOH, an Orthodox rabbi, an Orthodox priest and a Pentecostal pastor might have more difficulty, if for no other reason than they have a more specific conception of G*d and are less likely to blur the lines?

  • dpulliam

    Darrell,

    I appreciate your thoughts on this and agree to an extent that they believed they were praying to the same God, but every good journalist knows you should never ever, without exception ASSUME anything. It’s the best way to make mistakes, miss stories and generally mess everything up. So there will be NO assuming on this blog. We ask questions.

  • Darrell Grizzle

    Daniel: So you’re making the assumption that making assumptions is wrong? :)

    Just joking! I appreciate your response; now I understand your original question. I’m troubled by the polytheism in some of the comments, though, which seem to assume there are a variety of gods out there to whom we can pray — or that our conception of God determines which god hears (or doesn’t hear) our prayer.

  • http://www.didonline.com Dennis Francis

    I find it interesting that everyone forgets that the only lasting peace between Israel and an Arab country was brokered by President Peanut. It seems that those who would prefer ongoing violence and revenge on both sides of the political divide are willing to dismiss the last surviving Nobel recipient from that peace accord.
    I intend to get Carter’s book and keep an open mind. Jesus believed in confronting your enemies and if that meant taking a hit to show them that you are not afraid, then so be it. The fearful are always ready to strike first. Perfect Love casteth out fear.
    Much love to my blog brothers and sister.

  • evagrius

    The concept of the “Abrahamic faith” eas first enunciated by Louis Massignon, a French theologian who had converted to Islam, became a noted scholar of the Koran and taught in Egypt, encountered the story of Al-Hallaj the Sufi mystic and martyr and, as result, re-converted to Christianity becoming a Melkite priest.
    His understanding of Who or What God is was deepened by his encounter with Islam, Judaism as enunciated in the Old Testament and Talmud, and Christianity.

  • str1977

    Or Islamic imperialism, for that matter, Bobocool?

  • John Fleischer

    The Nobel Peace prize winner makes a valid contribution with his book. Don’t forget that he got the peace prize for bringing Egypt and Israel together. In Israel there is more practical freedom to discuss the “Apartheid” issue than in America. Too many Palistinian Christians have suffered at the hands of the Jewish state. Remember, God is not a racist. As the apostle Paul stated, all believers are the new Israel. As an Evangelical, I do not approve of the “Christian Zionist” agenda that is too often prevalent in our churches.


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