The former President has written a book, Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid, that has been condemned by a wide variety of people on both left and right. The deputy foreign editor of the New York Times, Ethan Bronner, refers to the book’s “misrepresentations” and says that Carter suffers from “tone deafness” regarding Jews and Israel. Rich Lowry of National Review Online uses the word “creepy,” and says the book “marks Carter’s further disgraceful descent from ineffectual president and international do-gooder to apologist for the worst Arab tendencies.” Martin Peretz of the New Republic referred to it as “a tendentious, dishonest and stupid book.” Michael Kinsley, liberal columnist for the Washington Post, wrote that “It’s not clear what he means by using the loaded word “apartheid,” since the book makes no attempt to explain it, but the only reasonable interpretation is that Carter is comparing Israel to the former white racist government of South Africa. That is a foolish and unfair comparison….” Alan Dershowitz, who supported Carter in his presidential campaigns, writes in the New York Sun, “Mr. Carter’s book is so filled with simple mistakes of fact and deliberate omissions that were it a brief filed in a court of law, it would be struck and its author sanctioned for misleading the court.” And Kenneth Stein, the first permanent director of the Carter Center, wrote in the Middle East Quarterly that Carter “does what no non-fiction author should ever do: He allows ideology or opinion to get in the way of facts….It contains egregious errors of both commission and omission. To suit his desired ends, he manipulates information, redefines facts, and exaggerates conclusions.” (See the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America [CAMERA] for a roundup of the criticism that Carter is getting for his book. See Joshua Muravchik’s article in Commentary entitled “Our Worst Ex-President” for one of the most exhaustive looks at Carter’s historical amnesia, political viciousness, and theological ineptitude.)
So why does this matter to me, aside from my interest in the well-being and future of Israel? Just this: entering this week into the ranks of Carter’s defenders is the blog of FaithfulAmerica.org, which just happens to be a National Council of Churches operation (you knew that was coming, didn’t you?), one that’s billed on the NCC site as a “web-based community for people of faith who want to make a difference.”
In a post entitled “A Seasoned View of President Carter’s Book on the Middle East,” NCC blogmeister Vince Isner treats us to a letter from Professor Emeritus James Sanders of the Claremont School of Theology in California to President Carter. Isner prefaces the letter by writing, “President Carter has carefully and courageously stated a very real and (in this country) underreported injustice.” Uh, right. Anyway, Sanders writes to Carter as follows:
I am very proud of you for tackling the Israeli-Palestinian problem again, with your usual honesty and openness. I agree with your thesis that there are similarities between the Apartheid of old South Africa and Israeli policy toward Palestinians.
Which mostly goes to show that Sanders doesn’ know much about apartheid. Let’s get something straight here: South African blacks were citizens of South Africa who were treated as second-class or worse, and who were eventually supposed to be pushed out through the formation of bantustans. The Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza are not citizens of Israel and have no desire to be. They desire to be citizens of an independent Palestine, one that will eventually supplant Israel through the Holy Land.They have no right whatsoever to enter Israel, trade with Israel, work in Israel, or receive any benefit from Israel. Furthermore, blacks in South Africa simply wanted to take their rightful place as full participants in the life of their country, and there has been no mass flight of Afrikaaners since the African National Congress came to power. The Palestinians, on the other hand, are looking to replace Israel with a state that they will dominate, so that in short order they can drive the Jews out of the country. The comparison between the South African situation and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is wholly bogus.
Sanders goes on to talk about his two-week experience in South Africa in 1973, which he apparently thinks relevant to the situation in the Holy Land more than 30 years later. He then writes:
Upon my return to the States that fall I went with my family to Acadia University in Nova Scotia where I was awarded an honorary degree. I was asked to give the address for the convocation. for which I gave a paper comparing the three forms of zionism that were extant at the time: American zionism, Boer zionism, and modern Israeli zionism. I suggested a seven-point typology all three have used in defense of taking land occupied by others. The typology was largely based on the biblical Exodus epic. I sent my paper, after I returned to New York, where I taught at Union Theological Seminary and Columbia University, to three colleagues who I thought might react and thus be helpful in strengthening the thesis and argument. The Jewish and Afrikaaner colleagues were horrified that I compared their form of zionism with any other; each claimed his was unique.
I then added an eighth point to the typology: each form of zionism claims to be unique. But I have not published the paper. The reason is that I have a serious back problem–a yellow streak down the middle–which you clearly do not have.
I obviously haven’t read his paper, but I don’t really need to. I think I’m on solid ground to suppose that he finds a collection of superficial (or incorrect) characteristics that his three “zionisms” have in common (one of which is likely that all three lands–North America, South Africa, and Palestine–were invaded by conquerers with no prior connection to that land, which in the case of Jews would be an extraordinary thing for a biblical archeologist to say), while ignoring the obvious differences–for instance, Jews lacking a homeland of their own, their history of persecution by Christian Gentiles, their historic connection to the Holy Land, etc. And his response to his colleagues is hilarious–”they thought I’d missed an important point, so I included another that indicated that I must have hit a sore spot with my thesis.” It’s no wonder he never published it.
I have a graduate degree from the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati and have long urged my Jewish colleagues not to identify Judaism with zionism; Judaism will long outlast this latest form of zionism.
I’m not sure what he means by “this latest form of zionism;” as far as I know, the cry, “Next year in Jerusalem!” has long been used at the Passover Seder to indicate the Jewish desire to return to the land of our forefathers. As for not “identifying” Judaism with Zionism, the two are inextricably linked by the promise God gave to Abraham (Genesis 12), and while it is true that there is a small minority of ultra-Orthodox who reject the legitimacy of Israel, it isn’t because they reject Zionism, but because they believe that Israel would only legitimately be restored to the land of the promise with the coming of the Messiah.
It takes courage, such as you have shown, to tell the truth and show appreciation for both sides of an issue. I admire you for it as I admired your presidency in many ways, especially your role in bringing rapprochement between Israel, Jordan and Egypt in the Camp David accords.
Only Sanders thinks that Carter has shown “appreciation for both sides of an issue” in this instance. Even among those who have some good things to say about the book, even-handedness is definitely not one of its virtues. (For instance, Bonner, who says that Carter is right that most Americans “have a distorted view of the conflict,” and that “someone with authority and knowledge needs to provide a fuller picture” than what one gets from most American media, goes on to say that “the problem is that in this book Jimmy Carter does not do so….his contribution is to offer a distortion of his own.”) Sanders also shows off his ignorance of the history by saying that he admired Carter’s “role in bringing rapprochement between Israel, Jordan and Egypt in the Camp David Accords.” Jordan, of course, was not part of the Camp David accord, not signing its own peace treaty with Israel until October, 1994, a treaty that Carter had nothing to do with, but that was negotiated in the wake of Jordan’s ill-fated support for Iraq in the Persian Gulf War. Given that, it’s not surprising that Sanders thought Carter’s book even-handed when it wasn’t, or truthful when it repeatedly wasn’t. The fact is that Carter’s book, and Sanders’ and Faithful America’s support of it, are disgraceful, just like so much of the National Council’s approach to Middle East issues over the years.