Carter and the A-word

Carter and the A-word December 28, 2006

[Originally Posted on]


First, respected scholars Mearsheimer (whom I noticed today sits with Daniel Pipes on an the advisory council of The National Interest) and Walt were tarred as raving conspiracy theorists for acknowledging the impact of that 800 pound gorilla–the Israeli Lobby spearheaded by AIPAC–on Washington Mideast policy and debate.


Now, President Jimmy Carter is being called an anti-Semite for talking honestly about how Israel’s treatment of Palestinians looks to its critics. His cardinal sin?  Using the A-word, even though by any objective standard the comparison is fair game.


Contrary to the pro-Israeli spin doctors working furiously in the MSM at the moment to convince Americans that this perspective is found exclusively in the fetid fringe inhabited by hate groups and kooks, it’s hardly an unusual comparison to make, whether in academia or the wider world.  It is forbidden only in Washington. 

The characterization in inevitably debatable in some respects, but it is hardly an outrageous slur, given the compelling evidence–"facts on the ground", if you will–that exists for this perspective.

Outside the safe, self-censored confines of the American mainstream media, comparisons of Israeli policy to that of South Africa aren’t unusual.  In fact, the most prominent symbols of the anti-Apartheid movement, Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu have openly and explicitly noted the parallels:

In a 2002 speech in the United States, Tutu said he saw "the humiliation of the Palestinians at checkpoints and roadblocks, suffering like us when young white police officers prevented us from moving about." Back in 1999, former South African statesman Nelson Mandela told the Palestinian Assembly: "The histories of our two peoples correspond in such painful and poignant ways that I intensely feel myself at home amongst my compatriots."


Notice that Mandela felt such kinship as a former victim of South African Apartheid with the suffering of Palestinians under Israeli policy that he referred to as his "compatriots".


Now, etymologically Apartheid means separation, and if there’s one hallmark of Israeli social policy, it’s the conscious and legally institutionalized  separation of Palestinians from Jews.  Secondarily, Apartheid means discrimination, which is rampant against Palestinians in Israel proper and within the Occupied Territories.  Finally, there are the miserable, cramped, severedly under provided-for enclaves in the Occupied Territories wherein Arabs are allowed to live, areas commonly referred to as "Bantustans", an infamous term from South African history.


Israel is not guided by the same unabashedly racist philosophical worldview positing the inferiority of non-white races–though it certainly has serious problems with racism, even against other Jews (e.g., the Ethiopian Falashim, the Sephardim)–but the central focus of Apartheid is law, not philosophical or biological speculations.  From a legal standpoint, the Israeli system is kindred to that of South Africa and qualifies as Apartheid.


Is Israel as bad as South Africa?  Of course not.  Does it resort to a form of Apartheid?  Undeniably.   Ergo, there are grounds for a comparison and to do so is neither a mark of insanity nor hatred of Jews.

So how can there be such a shrill and polemical reaction against his book in the MSM?  Because the major media outlets simply don’t believe in open debate on the Middle East.  In his  recent LA Times op-ed, Carter hits the nail on the head:

The many controversial issues concerning Palestine and the path to peace for Israel are intensely debated among Israelis and throughout other nations — but not in the United States. For the last 30 years, I have witnessed and experienced the severe restraints on any free and balanced discussion of the facts. This reluctance to criticize any policies of the Israeli government is because of the extraordinary lobbying efforts of the American-Israel Political Action Committee and the absence of any significant contrary voices.


Some of the reactions from the MSM, as highlighted in The Week,  illustrate Carter’s contentions perfectly.  Rich Lowry in National Review Online ludicrously (but predictably) compares Carter’s blunt but thoughtful analysis to Mel Gibson’s infamous curses against Jews while in a drunken rage, and whines that Carter "apes the Palestinian position and calls it evenhandedness".  Even if the latter contention were true, so what?  Does not much if not most MSM coverage of the Middle East slavishly "ape" the Israeli position and call it "evenhandedness"?!?  How about a little sense of perspective.


Many of Carter’s critics claim that he distorts history but then themselves engage in a particularly offensive (but common) form of revisionism.  It is quite striking how often those seeking to rebut Carter resort to the hoary Myth of the Generous Offer (i.e., that Arafat and the Palestinians turned their backs on peacemaking by walking away from a fair treaty in at Camp David in 2000).   As this article in the National Catholic Reporter and this study by Seth Ackerman of FAIR show, the Palestinian rejection of Barak’s much exagerrated "concessions" was and remains eminently defensible.  Yet time and time again, this canard gets resurrected to prove how perfidious and violent those nasty Arabs are.  The subtext is that Arabs force poor Israel to oppress them by being so darned uncivilized.


In a way, that’s the most galling thing of all, this demand that Israel not only be allowed to resort to discriminatory practices, but that any mention of said practices be banned from polite conversation.  Israel gets to do all sorts of ethically ambiguous things without suffering the normal political consequences, and observers are barred on pain of political death from discussing these things with a modicum of honesty and directness.


People can indiscriminately toss around sensationalistic and prejudicial labels about Muslims like "Islamofascist", "Jihadi" or "pro-terrorist", but it’s beyond the pale of civilization to make an obvious policy comparison between two states that are formally committed to containing the growth and movement of their indigenous populations?  The chutzpah of some people.

I’m sorry this comparison causes some supporters of Israel such pain, but imagine how much pain the reality behind the uncomfortable analogy causes for Palestinians!  Their situation needs to be factually discussed regardless of who this discussion makes uncomfortabe.

What really saddens and shocks me is how oblivious so many of Israel’s self-declared defenders appear to be to how such frivolous accusations of anti-Semitism reinforce the mindset of Jew haters by appearing to confirm their conspiratorial theories.  When politicians and pundits treating disloyalty to Israel as tantamount to treason and when every attempt to openly explore Arab grievances against Israel is met with a firestorm of shrill denunciations and smears, it’s considerably easier for bigots to sell their noxious yarns about Jewish domination of the world.  Crying wolf about anti-Semitism is playing with fire.

Carter really deserves credit, respect and gratitude for his leadership and vision.  He’s using his prominence to singlehandedly, and at a great political price to himself, jumpstart a much needed (and regularly suppressed) debate in American society about our involvement in the Middle East.  His courage is really breathtaking when you judge him by the pedestrian engagement of other ex-presidents.  He’s putting his political neck on the line for the sake of the national interest.   

This quote from his op-ed highlights how courageous and unconventional his actions are in the Beltway, not to mention how biased the whole political establishment is against open debate on this vital topic.

It would be almost politically suicidal for members of Congress to espouse a balanced position between Israel and Palestine, to suggest that Israel comply with international law or to speak in defense of justice or human rights for Palestinians. Very few would ever deign to visit the Palestinian cities of Ramallah, Nablus, Hebron, Gaza City or even Bethlehem and talk to the beleaguered residents. What is even more difficult to comprehend is why the editorial pages of the major newspapers and magazines in the United States exercise similar self-restraint, quite contrary to private assessments expressed quite forcefully by their correspondents in the Holy Land.

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